To borrow a line from a long time Penguins sportscaster, “Hallelujah Hollywood”. Jake the Snake Strikes. In a game that featured an offensive landslide, Jake Guentzel picked up where he left off 100 or so days ago, pacing the Penguins to a 6 – 5 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Joined by frequent partner in crime from last year, Conor Sheary and new comer Adam Johnson, Guentzel potted himself a goal and picked up four helpers, involving himself in 5 of the 6 goals the team scored last night. Sheary notched a goal and 2 assists for his nights work and Johnson (making a case for himself as a possible answer to the third line center question) notched 2 goals for himself.
No, the game wasn’t particularly pretty. In fact, it was rather choppy; pockmarked with a plethora of some real head scratching calls from the referees, 16 penalties called in all. All of the slashing penalties and even the phantom boarding call against Zach Trotman were understandable, protecting the players from serious injuries. However, the face-off violation penalties were a real distraction from the game.
Darren Helm of Detroit opened up the scoring with the only goal of the first period. Johnson evened things up 15 seconds into the second period. Guentzel and Sheary showing that they still have their chemistry generated a great scoring chance with Johnson parked on the far side corner of the crease, to the left of Jimmy Howard, Detroit’s Goalie. Wasting no time, Johnson slammed the rebound home.
Making his own case for sticking with the big Penguins, Greg McKegg, gave the Penguins their first lead, converting good work from Scott Wilson and Lukas Bengsston, 39 seconds later. But that lead was short lived as Ben Street pulled Detroit even again about 2 minutes later. Sheary gave the Penguins the lead back on a power play marker after some great work by Tom Kuhnhackl in front of the net knocked a loose puck over to Guentzel, who quickly moved it to the Sheary camped out to the right of Detroit’s goal. Gustav Nyquist even the game back up on a power play goal of his own.
Guentzel opened up the third period with a goal 15 seconds into that frame, wasting no time slamming a bouncing feed from Justin Schultz past Tom McCollum, who replaced Howard in Detroit’s goal. But Detroit wasn’t going away that easily, Matt Loritto even up the game beating Tristan Jarry, who replaced Matt Murray in the third period, on the first shot Jarry faced. Johnson put the Penguins back up on top off a beautiful feed from Guentzel from the right corner. Johnson took a couple of strides then ripped the puck over McCollum. Unfortunately, another penalty and another power play goal by Nyquist and Detroit tied the score again, sending the game into over-time for the second straight game.
Schultz finally ended the tilt; Sheary retrieved a loose puck off to Jarry’s stick side and chipped it up to the open ice that 3-on-3 hockey provides, open ice that Schultz could get to first and then with a burst of speed out raced Detroit’s defenders the length of the ice. As Schultz closed in on goal he looked like he lost control for a moment, but with his long reach, he brought the puck under control again, angling to McCollum’s left before slipping the puck into the back of the net for the game winner.
To be sure the penguins gave us a lot to talk about. Besides the 2 goals he scored, Johnson continued to look strong in the both the offensive and defensive zones. He continued to look right at home, stick handling in traffic, holding on to the puck with patience, looking for openings. He also delivered a solid fore check behind the Red Wings net, belying his lighter frame and was Johnny on the spot supporting his defensemen and cleaning up loose pucks before skating them out of harm’s way and up ice. His defensive work surely helped him finish the game with a +/- of +2. Johnson’s skating also drew several penalties.
Teddy Blueger also displayed flashes of why Jim Rutherford, Mike Sullivan, and Clark Donatelli have been gushing over him. Blueger played smart and dished several nifty passes.
Although Johnson, McKegg, and Bleuger all auditioned well for the third line center in most areas of their games, none of them really distinguished themselves in the face-off circle. No Penguin center won more than 44% of their face-offs. However, I am not sure how much of that was due to the referees. Waving centers out of the face-off circle and not really giving them any reasons making the Penguins’ centers look very tentative most of the time. The Red Wings were apparently unconcerned about it and attacked the face-off circle very aggressively even after receiving multiple penalties for face-off circle violations.
The battle for the third line center is really heating up.
Adding more interest to this training camp, a real battle is heating up for wing positions as well. With Patric Hornqvist’s injury, Tom Kuhnhackl was a major force last night. Kuhnhackl got the nod fo be the net front presence on the power play and acquitted himself quite well, blocking the view of Detroit’s goalies effectively. It also gave him the opportunity to set up Sheary’s marker. Kuhnhackl also was his usual shot blocking beast and showed good speed and offensive skill swooping down the left wing and swinging around the back of the net for a quality scoring chance on a wraparound attempt on goal.
On defense, not only did Schultz look ready to play, but so did Ian Cole. Bengtsson also looked right at home playing with NHL level talent.
Only Murray and Jarry looked like they had a bit of rust on them. Four of the five goals against would seem to have been stoppable. Only the goal scored on a deflection off of a Penguins defensemen would seem to not have been a weak goal. Yes, both Murray and Jarry made some big saves but they also let in goals that have routinely stopped in the past.
If these kids keep playing as hard as I saw some of them play it certainly is going to be interesting. The Penguins opening day line-up may contain some surprises that no one would have foreseen a month ago