DETROIT – The 2010-11 regular season is still four days away, but Penguins newcomer Mike Comrie continues to look like he’s in midseason form.
Comrie, who signed a one-year contract with the Penguins as an unrestricted free agent on Sept. 3, was the star on Sunday night, scoring twice against the Detroit Red Wings, as Pittsburgh finished off a 5-1 preseason with a 5-2 victory at Joe Louis Arena.
For Comrie, it was the perfect conclusion to an impressive exhibition season which saw him register a team-leading four goals and five points in four games.
Comrie opened the scoring for the Penguins on Sunday 4:19 into the opening period. The 5-foot-10 center began the play by picking up a loose puck along the far boards. He sent a pretty saucer pass across the ice to Evgeni Malkin
, who dished over to Zbynek Michalek
at the top of the near circle. Michalek’s shot deflected off the shoulder of Comrie in the low slot and jumped past a startled Chris Osgood to make it 1-0 in favor of Pittsburgh.
Later in the period, with the Penguins on the man-advantage, Comrie picked up goal No. 2 of the evening, stretching Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-1, when he camped out on the doorstep to the right of Osgood and tossed an Alex Goligoski rebound home at 19:46 the opening frame.
Comrie has spent the majority of the preseason slate centering a line with Eric Tangradi
on his left wing and Malkin to his right. The three have had almost instant chemistry since Day 1, particularly Comrie and Malkin.RELATED ARTICLE: Malkin Leads Penguins Past Red Wings
“I think that our line’s main focus was to get better every exhibition game,” Comrie said. “I think that (on Sunday) we played within the system and executed very well.”
Comrie is not surprised he and Malkin have been able to read and react off each other so fast.
“Like I said all along, even before I played with him, I knew he is the kind of guy who sees the ice very well,” Comrie said. “He makes his linemates better. If you just get open he will get you the puck. That is what I have been trying to do. He really gets you the puck in great spots.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma had an inkling the two’s styles would mesh nicely.
“Mike is an extremely smart and intelligent hockey player,” Bylsma said. “I wanted to give him a chance to read off of ‘Geno’ – that was my initial thought. They have shown some chemistry that seems to just keep getting better.”
Comrie, who has experience playing both center and either wing, spent most of his early years in the league in the middle before seeing more action on the wing the past couple of seasons. He said he has enjoyed the chance to get back to his natural position, although he doesn’t have a preference on where he is slotted.
“When I was talking to (general manager) Ray (Shero) and Dan during the summer, they said there would be an opportunity (to play center) depending on the situation of where we are during the season or depending on what the team needs,” Comrie said. “For me personally, it doesn’t matter. You just have to adapt and use your strength to create plays wherever you are on the ice.”
Comrie’s success can also be traced to logging major minutes on the Penguins top power-play unit, where he has been able to use both his deft playmaking touch and sharpshooting instincts manning the high-slot spot on Pittsburgh’s re-configured setup.
“That’s an area where that guy has to be able to read, respond and react to everybody,” Bylsma said. “A smart player has to go there. He has done a great job of reading and reacting and going to places. He has the ability to shoot the puck or make a play when it comes there.”
Now that Comrie has began feeling at home in a Penguins sweater, the next step for both him and the rest of the team is continuing their strong play when the regular season begins on Thursday night.
“I think as a group we want to prepare ourselves for the season,” Comrie said. “That’s what the exhibition season is for. We haven’t always had a full NHL lineup in, but I think we have gotten accustomed to the system and have learned our linemates’ tendencies. We are all looking forward to it starting for real.”