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Notebook: Vitale Finishes Strong

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
DETROIT – The Penguins finished preseason play on Sunday against Detroit, meaning time is winding down for players who are seemingly on the bubble to make an impression before the opening-night roster is announced on Wednesday.

Center Joe Vitale made a strong case for himself against the Red Wings to be on that final list, as he put forth another impressive effort in the Penguins’ 3-2 loss.

“He has been a factor with his speed in every game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He was again tonight.”

“He’s pushing for a spot,” forward Pascal Dupuis said. “He’s the kind of player that works really hard out there and leaves everything on the ice. So it’s good for him and good for us to have some inside competition here.”

Vitale made his presence known on the ice from the drop of the puck, as he was in the Penguins’ starting lineup. He threw a team-leading five hits, four of those coming in the first period.

With Pittsburgh getting whistled for three penalties in the second period, Vitale shined on Pittsburgh’s PK – finishing with 1:41 shorthanded minutes.

“Coach continued to give me good opportunities,” Vitale said. “Not just tonight, but all camp. I felt like I had good legs in the first and in the second.”

Vitale even helped get his team on the power play when he drew a penalty by forcing Red Wings defenseman Ian White to hook him as he sped into their zone.

“He broke through the D the one time and drew the penalty,” Bylsma said. “He chipped in behind their defense numerous times and got in and got it first. He was a factor with his speed.”

He skated in a fourth-line role, playing 13:34 minutes and centering Arron Asham and Craig Adams.

“For a guy who is trying to make an impact on the team with a fourth-line type of role, penalty-kill wise, face-off wise and speed-wise, he has been a factor in that limited role,” Bylsma said. “That’s been something he’s done pretty much every game. We saw that again (Friday).”

It’s a role Vitale feels comfortable in and one he’s been playing this whole camp, seeing a variety of linemates in games and practices.

“It’s where they put me. I’ll play anywhere,” he said. “It’s definitely good playing a fourth-line role. I like the guys I’m playing with. They’ve been helping me out a lot. It’s been good.”

Vitale finished the preseason by skating in five of six Penguins exhibition games – Richard Park being the only other player to play in that many contests.

He knows at this point, whether he makes the roster or not is out of his control. But he feels good about how he performed at camp, and hopes that translates into a spot with Pittsburgh.

“I built some momentum heading into the camp,” he said. “Each game I felt a little more comfortable and confident out there.”

Defenseman Paul Martin scored his first goal of the preseason when he evened the score at 1-1 at the 5:48 mark of the first.

And although these preseason games are technically meaningless, Martin agreed that finding the back of the net feels good no matter when it happens.

"Being the last game, getting one before going into the regular season, you get a little confidence," he said. "It definitely would have been more fun to get the win tonight, but I’ll definitely take the goal. It feels good."

On the play, forwards Matt Cooke and Dupuis were forechecking hard behind the net, battling with Detroit players for the puck. It ended up popping loose in front of the net, and Martin swooped in and sent it home for the score.

Pinching in so aggressively without hesitation is something Martin said he feels more comfortable doing with a full season in Pittsburgh's system.

"I think that was one of the points they stressed and had influenced us to do more tonight, was to take it up the ice," he said. "And the puck happened to pop out to me. So I was able to get a piece of it and it went in."

With the loss, the Penguins were denied the chance to finish with an undefeated record in the preseason for the first time in team history.

Instead, they finished with a 5-1-0 record.
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