Zach Aston-Reese, Jay McClement and Olli Maatta all scored in the Penguins' 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at Pegula Ice Arena at Penn State University. Thoughts, musings and observations from Pittsburgh's preseason opener…
* The facilities were fantastic, and I thought the coolest part was how many Pens fans were in the student section, called the Roar Zone. I counted just four Flyers jerseys, while the rest were dressed in Pens gear. They started loud "Let's Go Pens!" chants on numerous occasions. "It was awesome," Bryan Rust said. "Kind of felt like a home college game for us."
* The Pens opened the game with Daniel Sprong, Greg McKegg and Carl Hagelin on a line, and those three got off to a strong start. As Mike Sullivan told me after the game, Hagelin is a bonafide NHL player - and when young players have the chance to skate with someone like that, it gives them a chance to be successful. That was apparent tonight, as those two were flying out there, and McKegg didn't seem to have any trouble keeping up "I think I'm getting better every day, and playing with a guy like Hagelin who's experienced and really fast has really helped me along through each day," Sprong said. "I was excited to play with him and McKegg and I thought we created a lot of chances and did a lot of good things."
* I've been talking a lot about Sprong's shot ever since the Prospects Challenge - I mean, the kid had 20 attempts in one game that weekend! But for as much as he continued to put the puck on net, he also didn't hesitate to pass when there was an opening. Sprong has been seeing the ice so well and made a number of beautiful feeds to teammates, especially on the power play. Overall, he's been real impressive so far this training camp.
* Speaking of the power play, the Pens ended up with nine chances on the night. Both Josh Archibald and Thomas Di Pauli drew penalties by using their speed to get behind defenders and forcing them to drag them down. They haven't spent much time on special teams so far this training camp, save for the coaches going over it a little bit this morning. They put some units together they thought would be cohesive and told their guys just to stick with it. Sullivan said it was a good opportunity for the young players to get power-play time against NHL players, and I especially liked seeing Sprong on that half-wall looking a lot like Phil Kessel. And Teddy Blueger made a fantastic play at one point when he threaded a pass through sliding defenders and a tripped Aston-Reese over to Maatta at the back door for the goal.
* Tonight, I thought we saw more of what Aston-Reese's game is all about. And while Sullivan acknowledged that it's still early, he said it was the winger's best performance to this point. Aston-Reese is starting to get used to the pace of this level, and it showed with the timing of his goal. "I noticed at camp, I might have been in the wrong spot," he said. "Just like a step ahead or a step behind. I got a lucky bounce when I followed up the play just right and the puck landed right on my stick." Aston-Reese is at his best when he's working along the boards and around the net, and he was able to do that tonight.
* After skating with Kessel and Evgeni Malkin in the intersquad scrimmages, Aston-Reese played with Blueger - someone he spent time with in WBS at the end of last season and the Prospects Challenge - and Bryan Rust. Aston-Reese said Rust was talking to them all night, "giving us tips and giving us confidence." Even though Rust is only a couple years older than those two, to them he's a veteran and someone to look up to, and it's cool to see him embracing somewhat of a mentor role. "I know when I was in their situation, I had older guys who tried to give little tips here and there," said Rust, who wore an "A" on his jersey along with Hagelin and Matt Hunwick. "I think that helps, just a lot of encouragement and tips of things we could do better as a line."
* The Sabres dressed a lot of their star players, including Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Jason Pominville, who played together on a line. Overall, it was a great experience for the Pens' young roster, going up against talent like that in a game situation.