Pascal Dupuis played in a hockey game, and his knee responded just fine. Steve Downie flashed some offensive skill. The battle to back up Marc-Andre Fleury in goal may be nearing a close, with Thomas Greiss a step ahead of Jeff Zatkoff.
Monday’s preseason game at Minnesota didn’t offer much in the way of a final score — Jason Pominville’s natural hat trick produced a 4-1 Wild win — there were a few more subtle storylines.
Dupuis had not played since Dec. 23, 2013, when he tore his ACL and MCL in a game at the Ottawa Senators. In 16 minutes, 28 seconds of ice time at XCel Energy Center, Dupuis was a minus-1, committed two penalties, tallied four shots, dished out two hits and blocked a shot.
Perfect? No. Better than Dupuis wearing a red, non-contact jersey? Absolutely.
Dupuis played on the right wing of a line that include Chris Kunitz at left wing and Nick Spaling at center.
“It’s all about getting into the flow and knowing what it feels like, what it’s supposed to feel like,” Dupuis said. “I’ve played enough games to know what it should feel and look like when I play. I’m not there yet, but it’s a big step.”
The Penguins practice Tuesday in Detroit and play the Red Wings at 7:30 Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Greiss, an offseason free agent acquisition, may have locked down the backup goaltender job ahead of Zatkoff, the incumbent. He stopped eight of nine shots Monday and looked more sound positionally, more comfortable in the crease.
Zatkoff wasn’t helped by a Pominville shot through traffic and a rebound that made him scramble a bit to try and stop the rebound stuff — which, obviously, didn’t happen.
“I went in and worked hard,” Zatkoff said. “I tried to work hard in practice every day and played well in the games. We’ll see what happens.”
Minnesota had only 17 shots in the game, meaning there was a lot of downtime for the goalies. Actually, the Penguins are allowing an average of 18 shots on goal over their past preseason games.
“I thought both guys were good,” Johnston said of Zatkoff and Greiss. “I thought Greiss looked really calm in the net to start the game. When you don’t have a lot of shots, you have to make sure you’re ready for when they take place.”
Some troubling trends continued. The Penguins allowed three goals in the third, bringing that total to six over five preseason games. They’ve coughed up five power play goals in five games. And the Penguins didn’t score on the power play, dropping that number to 12.5 percent through 16 chances.
One plus side was Downie, who had a beautiful finish on Letang’s shot in the second. He’s tough, but he also has hands. Just the other day I was watching Downie — a former first-round draft pick — stickhandle at practice, and it’s not what you would expect from a third-line tough guy.
“Downie has really good skill,” Johnston said. “Watch how he works the corners. He has a good stick down there. He has his head up all the time. He can make plays. A guy like him not only provides energy, but he is a threat.”
Be GRATEFUL to each other,