After a weekend of intersquad training camp scrimmages, the Pens held a championship game on Monday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. Sidney Crosby's Team 1 played Evgeni Malkin's Team 2, with the captain's group skating to a 4-2 victory. Here's some thoughts, musings and observations…
* The coaching staff have kept Crosby and Malkin with the same linemates through the first few days of training camp. Crosby has skated with Jake Guentzel and Dominik Simon, while Malkin has skated with Zach Aston-Reese and Phil Kessel. "When a young player like Zach has an opportunity to play with established guys like Geno and Phil, it's a great opportunity for him," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We've tried to put some of our guys in those positions. We did the same thing with Dominik Simon, with Crosby and Guentzel. We're trying to put players in positions where they have an opportunity to be at their best and show what they can do. What better way to do it then put them with some established players?"
* Crosby and Guentzel picked up right where they left off in terms of chemistry, and today, Simon truly looked to be on the same page as them. They read and reacted off each other for a few sweet plays. Simon did a good job of finding soft spots and getting open, and was rewarded when Crosby fed him with a perfect pass off a turnover that the winger roofed short side. "I think when you get back to camp, you just look to build off of things," Crosby said. "And with Dom with us there, he did a great job for the three scrimmages. We'll see kind of moving on, but I think for me and Jake, we just wanted to continue to build."
* This is Aston-Reese's first NHL preseason, as he signed with the Penguins in March following his senior year at Northeastern. Which means this has been his first chance to play with elite talents like Malkin and Kessel. "The first day, when we saw the lineup on the wall, it was kind of like, 'wow,'" Aston-Reese admitted. "But they're just hockey players at the end of the day, and just got to have a good attitude and just play to your abilities as best you can and learn from it."
* It's been an eye-opening experience for Aston-Reese, who said his biggest takeaway was the pace. "I definitely noticed the puck has to be on your stick and off your stick a lot quicker," he said. "I found a lot of times, I'd wait an extra second to get the puck off my stick or shoot it on net or make a pass, and by the time I got the puck off the play wasn't there anymore. So it was definitely a good learning experience and having that mindset every day at the rink, that you've got to be quicker and quicker and learn from it." Moving into the exhibition games, Aston-Reese said he wants to continue his strong wall play and prove that he can handle the pace.
* Malkin and Kessel were a little slower to rediscover their chemistry, but today it looked like they found it. They had one lengthy offensive zone shift where they kept the opposing team pinned, and Teddy Blueger came in off a line change and scored against his tired opponents. They also had some nice passing sequences together.
* One defenseman who stood out today was Justin Schultz. Early in the game, he made a beautiful pass to spring Malkin on a breakaway, and later in the game, pulled out some incredible moves to create a quality scoring chance for himself. Overall, he definitely showcased his strengths, as he didn't hesitate to join the rush and contribute offensively. And though he was often involved in the play, he didn't let himself get caught out of position. While it's impressive how the Pens won with a bruised and battered blue line last year, seeing players like Schultz and Kris Letang shine in these scrimmages is so good to see heading into this season.
"Just trying to get back into it," Schultz said. "It wasn't that long of a summer, but being away for a couple months, you've got to get back into it and get the habits back. It takes a little bit, so it's good to play these games and get ready."