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3 Impressions: Pens 7, Canes 3

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Michelle Crechiolo gives her three impressions from the press box of the Penguins’ 7-3 win over  the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday at CONSOL Energy Center.

1. Pens’ offense looks scary good
The Pens dressed most of their star players for tonight’s game, and those guys put on a heck of a show. I know it’s just one preseason game, but after what I just watched I honestly believe that Pittsburgh’s attack is going to be absolutely deadly again after a season of struggling to score goals. They have so many talented players capable of taking over the game at any time and tonight it seemed like they were all reading and reacting off each other so well. Evgeni Malkin was dominant early on, earning a pair of gorgeous primary assists in the first six minutes of play, before Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel took over. And it’s not just forwards who are included in that – Kris Letang and Olli Maatta both contributed with a goal apiece as well. As Kessel told me after the game, “Hopefully keep it going, eh? It was a good first night.”

2. Kessel and Crosby are clicking
Chemistry is a tricky thing. No matter how much of a fit two players might appear to be on paper, sometimes they just don’t work well together on the ice. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby, as their line with Chris Kunitz was terrific tonight. The three of them were just thinking and executing plays at a different speed than everybody else. Take, for example, Kessel’s first goal of the night, which came off a tic-tac-toe sequence. On the play (which happened in the span of a few seconds) Crosby quickly sent the puck up to Kunitz. He then one-touched it across the slot to Kessel – who reached out with one arm and tipped it past goaltender Cam Ward. Just ridiculous. As Kessel noted after the game, this was only their first time playing together, so they still have work to do in terms of continuing to learn about each other and building on that chemistry. And Kunitz is by no means a lock for that spot on the left wing. But if tonight is any indication, those guys definitely have potential together.

Johnston’s take: “The one thing about (Crosby and Kessel) is that they think the game really well. You can hear them on the bench as a line, talking about what they saw on the ice and what was available. They’re not going to miss a lot. From game to game, as we prepare as a coaching staff, they prepare as a line. Sid is a very detailed guy as you know. Kessel is exactly the same. I know people don’t think of that. From what I’ve seen of Kessel so far, he thinks the game and he has great reads out there. His instincts during the game on how to take advantage of a certain defense pair or what he wants to do, I think those guys will work well together.”

3. Sprong was impressive
After watching Daniel Sprong at the rookie tournament in London – where he left a terrific impression on the organization after a strong weekend that included him scoring an overtime game-winner off a breakaway – I remember thinking I couldn’t wait to see how the 18-year-old winger, taken in second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, looked playing alongside the elite talent on Pittsburgh’s roster. We got that chance tonight, and he didn’t disappoint. Even though he's a young kid who was playing in his first NHL exhibition game, Sprong never once looked timid. Just the opposite, in fact, as he played with a healthy amount of confidence. Sprong wasn’t afraid to make plays with the puck, whether it was skating it to the net – which he did on his power-play goal – or just winding up and ripping it with his NHL-ready release whenever he got the chance. All in all, it seems like he’s stood out in every situation he’s been in with the Penguins thus far, and that’s a positive.

Johnston’s take: “He definitely has (exceeded my expectations). He caught my eye in the London tournament. If you’re looking at a guy who’s just been drafted, an 18-year-old kid, Sprong has a good stick, he’s strong on the puck. His awareness, he sees people all over the ice. He has good deception. I’m excited because he is going to be a top winger. To get top wingers in an organization which has good centers is very positive. That was a good pick by our scouts, especially getting him where we got him. All camp he’s gotten better. He’ll probably get a long look through training camp.”

BONUS: Here was what Johnston had to say after watching Phil Kessel in his first game action as a Penguin...

"Two things that really stood out for me. One, he hits holes off the puck really well. Kunitz gets the puck or Sid gets the puck, they turn and Kessel is already hitting an open spot, like a receiver at the right time hitting a hole. I thought he was very good at that. If our guys can find him and read off of him. His speed in open ice, he has dangerous speed. Everybody knows his shot. That’s something we all knew. I saw those other things in his game. I thought that was as impressive as his quick release shot."
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