Starting next Thursday the puck will drop on a new season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Much like preseason in any sport, it gives the fans a taste of what to expect from the team and give a look at some younger talent. The Penguins are 2-2-1 with their final preseason game Wednesday against at the Detroit Red Wings.
Penguins opened the preseason with a 4-5 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Froward Chuck Kobasew scored twice for the Penguins, including at 13:05 of the third period to knot the score at 4-4. Kobasew joined the Penguins for the start of training camp on a tryout contract, and there are potential openings among the bottom-six forwards for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury started in net for the Penguins and allowed two goals on 14 shots in two periods of work. The one takeaway from the game was the power play unit of Bennett-Malkin-Neal.
The following night, Pittsburgh faced the Detroit Red Wings and yet again dropped the game, this time 4-1. Pittsburgh outshot Detroit 24-19 but failed to convert on three first-period power plays and lost for the second time in as many nights. Tomas Vokoun faced 15 shots while allowing four goals.
Pittsburgh picked up its first victory in a 5-4 shootout. Beau Bennett had the shootout winner, in the last appearance in Chicago before the teams meet at Soldier Field on March 1 in the fourth and final game of the NHL’s Coors Light Stadium Series. One of the takeaways from the game was 19-year-old defender Derrick Pouliot getting his first goal. Pouliot looked poised and mature working with Matt Niskanen on the second line.
Saturday, Pittsburgh dropped another heartbreaker to the Blue Jackets losing 5-3. Jussi Jokinen scored a hat trick in the loss. Marc-Andre Fleury was on his way to another rough outing, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced.
After the game ended, Pittsburgh announced that Tomas Vokoun would be out indefinitely after undergoing a procedure Saturday to dissolve a blood clot in his pelvis. With Vokoun almost certainly unavailable to begin the season, the Penguins will turn to goaltender Jeff Zatkoff — who has never played in an NHL game — as starter Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup. However, Fleury has not looked steady this preseason. To note; Vokoun’s surgery was a success.
In a recent article with the Pittsburgh Tribune, GM Ray Shero didn’t give Fleury a ringing endorsement when asked about his off-ice work during the past few months stating, “It’s been OK,” Shero said. “A work in progress.”
In a previous article, I talked about the goalie situation in Pittsburgh. It is interesting to hear Shero as describing Fleury’s off-ice work as “OK.” It’s not very warming to hear it being described this way, as Fleury needs to have a great start to the season to build his confidence. It is also discerning to have Vokoun out. When Vokoun came in last year it was a peace of mind. Vokoun recorded 14 victories in the 17 games he started. Vokoun is still a valuable piece to the Penguins team, especially if Fleury is struggling.
Zatkoff has a plenty of experience at the American Hockey League level. He has a career record of 77-63-6, hitting the 20-win mark three times in four seasons with Manchester and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Zatkoff played his first season with WBS last year and was voted as the team MVP after posting 26-20 record with a 1.93 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and five shutouts.
As much as I like Hartzell, I do think he could benefit from time in the AHL to grow and get some experience under his belt. However, he’s now the Pens’ primary back up at the moment with no NHL experience, creating a bleak scenario for Pittsburgh.
Could there be a trade in the near future for another veteran goalie for Pittsburgh? Possibly. In another previous article, it has been mentioned that the Penguins could wheel and deal defender Matt Niskanen to another team to clear up some cap space. With young defenders like Pouliot playing pretty decent, and Simon Despres having a partial season under his belt, it could be their time to step up for the Penguins in October.
The Penguins on Sunday trimmed their camp roster to 35 players. Pittsburgh needs to trim the roster a bit more before Monday’s deadline.
Update: Pittsburgh defeated Chicago Monday night, 3-2 in Pittsburgh. Chicago jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, those Penguins stars led a comeback attempt for the Penguins. Letang had two third-period goals to force overtime, while Neal and Crosby scored in the shootout to give Pittsburgh the win. Zatkoff did get the start and stood strong allowing two goals on 32 shots.