Recap: Black and Vegas Gold (White) Game

We’re not doing a real recap of this non-real game. I’ll be honest I didn’t really watch the entirety of the game and it was pretty disorienting to try to tell who each player was with so many AHL guys filling out the rosters. Below will just be a few thoughts on the guys who jumped out the most last night.

Sorry we didn’t do our winger previews yesterday, Mike is dealing with the illness that seems to be hitting everyone and I’m just not prepared to take this on all by myself. One way or another we’ll publish the wingers, centers, and predictions before 3:00PM Saturday. Can’t say it enough: thanks for bearing with us for this thing.

BRANDON SUTTER: 2 beautiful, head’s up assists, a gritty power play goal, and a flashy shootout goal, not to mention holding point over Sid and Geno at even strength in his defensive zone and Sutter’s first appearance in a Penguins jersey couldn’t have been better. The Bibster made the hasty comment of “Jordan Staal who?” but Sutter showed A LOT in his debut. He showed hands that Jordan Staal could never pretend to muster, and he looked quick. In terms of being an excellent shutdown third line center with a modicum of offensive talent, like Jordan Staal has been, Brandon Sutter should prove a one for one replacement.

MATT COOKE: Go to the net and good things happen. If you played forward in pee-wee hockey, that was probably the first tutorial you were given. Matt Cooke picked up on his ridiculous goal scoring clip from late last season last night by potting two, both off of Sutter’s smooth passing, simply by going to the net. The first goal was literally a can’t miss, and the second was a sneaking rising shot through the 6 hole (I think, I only saw the replay and I was only half focused). You talk about second wind, don’t be shocked to see Cookie get a lot of time with Malkin-Neal, especially if Big Dawg doesn’t get off to a good start.

KRIS LETANG AND SIMON DESPRES: Apparently these two have been paired together throughout camp, which seems to suggest that the Pens think Despres can play at the NHL level right now. What I saw yesterday begs to differ. There was no bigger gulf between two guys playing together than Tanger and Despres yesterday: Letang looked like he was in mid-season form, making smart pinches, netting a power play goal and just doing what Kris Letang does. Despres looked smooth with the puck and he seemed to make some head’s up decisions in the offensive zone, but he was badly beaten on several occasions (both of Cooke’s goals) and generally looked confused as to his man. Again, I don’t doubt that Despres can become the total package, but again, I see one more year in the AHL, getting primary minutes in all facets of the game will be better for Despres than being thrust into a situation that he’s not ready for.

BRIAN STRAIT AND ROBERT BORTUZZO: In contrast to Despres, Strait and Bortuzzo both looked cool and composed last night. Like really composed. They definitely aren’t flashy players. They aren’t going to post big point totals, but each looks confident in their own zone and both were able to throw a couple of hits. I think both guys will stick around for the first games of the season at least. I also feel increasingly confident that if the Pens tried to pass them back to the minors they would get picked up.

BROOKS ORPIK AND PAUL MARTIN: I honestly believe that they both looked dynamic last night. There was definitely some inconsistencies and rust in terms of their d-zone assignments, but Brooks brought the body, and Paul-Mart was skating with purpose. I like the dichotomy between Paul-Mart and Brooksie as the “shutdown” pair, Martin can play the puck, block shots, and so on. Brooksie can be the dominant punishing defender that he’s been in years past. They definitely need time to play together but so far so good.

ERIC TANGRADI: It seems obvious, from watching last night anyway, that the Pens have already made their decision about Big Dawg. I think he is the second line left winger for the Penguins. Even though Bylsma put Tangradi and Beau Bennett on the same team and suggested they would split time with Malkin and Neal, and despite Bennett’s highlight reel goal, Tangradi got most of the reps. And I’m still not sure how to make sense of his game: PensBlog slammed him pretty hard, but I thought he looked okay, a couple of missed opportunities but he was definitely standing tall in front of the net, he looked quick enough, and he had a couple of quality hits. Given the way that Bennett has looked Tangradi is probably playing for another team soon (possibly before the end of the season) but in the interim I don’t think he is going to hurt the Pens by any stretch.

BEAU BENNETT: No doubt about it, this guy has some chops and he’s way further along in his development than we expected. Now there is a problem with that goal: he scored it against Philip Samuelsson and Brian Dumolin–these guys aren’t playing in the NHL for a while still. That play never would have worked against real NHL-caliber guys, not a couple of raw players who have played in a handful of AHL games. He would have probably been lit up if he were to try that move against the Flyers Saturday.

With all that said, this guy has the potential to be a stud. His vision, skating, and decision making, as evidenced by that play are literally incredible, and even when we look at the rest of the game he just looks like a highly skilled hockey player. I’m still not convinced that he has earned a starting position in the NHL, and I would like to see him gain some weight, but things are looking up.

POWER PLAY: We got to see the new-look PP in place yesterday. You can’t argue with the results, but it lacked fluidity and I don’t know that the Pens will be able to complete the “Whitney Play” ™ to James Neal all that often. Anyway, hopefully everyone is happy and comfortable.

GOALIES: Both Fleury and Vokoun let-in goals on the first shot they faced. After that they both got more comfortable and confident and both had some good, if not spectacular saves. I think both of these guys took the game relatively lightly so I’m not too worried, but they looked a step behind the skaters if I’m honest.

WRAP UP: Joe Morrow looked fantastic and a much better compliment to Letang last night. Wonder if he could get time with the big guys in the event of injury? Jayson Megna, who I know nothing about, and was the biggest surprise call up to camp looked excellent. Dustin Jeffrey must have played half the game, but I feel like he still looked a step slow. Bylsma now has his coveted “game tape” expect the decisions to come fast and furious.

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