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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pens vs Canes: New Faces, First Impressions.

I think I speak for everyone when I say the NHL season could not have arrived any sooner. Yes, I realize the Penguins already played in Columbus. But because it was a 0-0 snooze-fest until Beau Bennett won it in a shootout, for all intents and purposes I'm going to say that NOW real watchable and exciting hockey is back. I put an emphasis on exciting because, wow. The Penguins didn't disappoint in their first action at the Consol Energy Center. These were the high-flying, fast-paced Penguins we all were hoping to see once the preseason started. Yes I realize it was the preseason, and yes I realize that the Carolina Hurricanes entered the ice with a less than stellar lineup. In any event, they put on a show and many players showed what they have to offer.

I want to try and keep this relatively short, so I will cover five new faces that stood out the most to me.

Phil Kessel
I would be completely remiss if I didn't talk about Phil Kessel first, so here it goes. 17 seconds. 17 seconds was all it took before the Crosby/Kessel show premiered. Kessel chipped the puck from the defensive zone to Kunitz who found Crosby in flight with a golden opportunity to try and make it 1-0.  Though he didn't score, he drew a penalty and the Penguins new-look Power Play got their first look of competitive play. The chemistry between Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel was instant. Kessel's first goal as a Penguin was a beauty. If the tic-tac-toe passing doesn't make you excited for a full season of Kessel/Crosby I don't know what will. I can literally talk about what I liked from Kessel's game for hours.

Olli Maatta:
Not a new face, but Olli sure impressed. I'll be the first to admit that I thought it would take a little time for Maatta to regain the speed and precision to his game. Well, he proved me wrong and I'm not even mad about it. His goal was a blast. Olli is going to be a monster this year, book it.

Daniel Sprong
My mind is telling me he wont make the Penguins opening day roster, but my heart is telling me yes. Sprong showed off all the tools that made many NHL scouts believe he should have went in the first round. He also seemed very comfortable on the Penguins second Power Play unit earning an assist on the Gonchar Power Play goal. He could retire tomorrow and Jim Rutherford would have already drafted better forwards than Ray Shero had, but that's a discussion for another day. We obviously haven't seen enough to make a definitive prediction on Sprong, but if this was an indication of the future, this kid can be special.

Sergei Gonchar 
Like Maatta, not necessarily a new face but Gonchar scored a nice Power Play goal in his first action as a Penguin since 2009-2010. While Sarge looked great on the Power Play, his defense left much to desire. I don't use plus/minus to determine a players defense, but according to Jason Mackey of the Tribune Review, "Canes have three goals tonight. Gaunter has been on the ice for all of them. Last one was probably the worst of the lot." Not necessarily damning, but those also aren't sparkling words for a player often criticized for his lackluster defense in past seasons.

Adam Clendening
Adam Clendening was very solid. He isn't Rob Scuderi. Okay, okay. Jokes aside, Clendening was okay. He was pretty unnoticeable, and I mean that in a flattering way. He isn't the kind of defenseman to go end-to-end and score, but he also isn't going to single-handedly shut Ovechkin down. He was solid enough to have a home on a bottom pairing. 

Honorable Mention
Kevin Porter. He makes honorable mention because he isn't Craig Adams. This is especially exciting to me because this means we don't ever have to hear Steigy and Bob Errey make a Harvard reference during a broadcast as he dumps the puck in the offensive zone and lets the opposing defensemen clear it with ease. 

Obviously I could write a lot more, but for such a small sample size I'd hate to jump the gun. Only time will tell what the opening day roster will look like, but I think we will all agree this could be a fun year.

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