A busy week for the Penguins starts with a Monday night preseason home game against Detroit. Tuesday they’re at Columbus, then Minnesota and Columbus are here on Thursday and Saturday.
Head coach Mike Johnston said Sunday that he expects defenseman Olli Maatta to miss all of those games. If they’re lucky, they’ll have him back to test his surgically repaired shoulder for games at Minnesota on Sept. 29 and at Detroit on Oct. 1.
“It’s about competing,” Johnston said of the preseason. “It’s about competing for spots and learning how to play the system. But I don’t want the system and the strategy and the style of play to overtake the compete and the energy in the game.”
Here are five things to watch early on in the preseason:
1. Pairings. Will Rob Scuderi play with Kris Letang? Paul Martin with Christian Ehrhoff?
2. Third line. Johnston really wants Beau Bennett and Brandon Sutter together. Will it work?
3. Daniel Carcillo. Many have asked how he’s been doing. Fine. But you don’t toe the line — believe that’s what Johnston termed it — with your teammates in practices. Games will give Carcillo a forum to do what he does best, and that’s to be a pain and inflict it.
4. Goaltenders. How will Johnston use and evaluate Jeff Zatkoff and Thomas Greiss? Very doubtful they carry three goaltenders. Somebody has to prove something.
5. Simon Despres. His first game in the post-Dan Bylsma Era. Something tells me this will be quite a different year for Despres.
Tampa Bay all over again? Nah.
The Penguins have been working on a 1-3-1 neutral zone forecheck, but don’t expect Johnston to get too carried away with it.
He still wants to play with pace, tempo and a puck-possession style, the same things you’ve been hearing since he was hired.
“My feeling with the neutral zone forecheck is that it shouldn’t happen more than two or three times per game,” Johnston said. “If you’re really playing the right way, if you’re putting some pressure on the puck in the neutral zone … I don’t want to sit back and get into a forecheck.
“If a forecheck happens, it happens. Other than that, we’re going to try to push the puck a little bit and stay out of the neutral zone forecheck.”
As I wrote above, Johnston didn’t hide the fact that he’d love to have Steve Downie, Sutter and Bennett as his third line, specifically Sutter regularly paired with Bennett.
I got a chance Sunday to ask Bennett what he thought about that combination and whether he thinks it would be an effective third line.
“It’s a good mix,” Bennett said. “When you’re looking at piecing together lines, you look at three guys who complement each other. I think you can see that. ‘Sudsy’ is an all-around center. I try to be creative and make plays; sometimes I’ll be a little bit more risky than those guys. Downie will get in your face and be the guy around the net.”
‘They show up’
He’s yet to play a game here yet, but already the differences between Nashville and Pittsburgh are apparent to forward Patric Hornqvist.
Hornqvist was asked by TribLIVE Radio’s Ken Laird whether he felt comfortable in the city, and Hornqvist replied that he’s been enjoying himself. People notice him when he’s out, too, Hornqvist said.
Yes, even now.
Apparently this wasn’t the case before.
“That’s what people told me when I first got traded here,” Hornqvist explained. “They said, ‘It’s going to be a little different from Nashville, where nobody really cared about hockey.’ They show up. The fans were great (in Nashville), but you didn’t get recognized or anything like that. Here, it’s a sports city and you get recognized. It’s fun.”
Monday’s #TribHKY links
Penguins forward Megna’s skill set might be perfect fit
Notebook: Carcillo hopes to give Penguins a physical edge
Inside the glass: Ehrhoff, Martin look comfortable together
A look at Monday night’s lineup
Be GRATEFUL to each other,