It’s no secret that the fans have fallen in love with the shootout since its inception following the lockout. That fact was highlighted once again on Sunday during the Penguins training camp scrimmage at CONSOL Energy Center.
Teams B and C played to a 1-1 draw following 40 minutes of action. Everyone thought the game was over since that was all the time that was allotted for, but then forward Eric Tangradi
skated to center ice at the same time that public address announcer Ryan Mill announced, “We will hold a sudden death shootout.”
At which point the crowd erupted into a frenzy.
Tangradi proceeded to beat Team B netminder John Curry with a wrist shot over the glove, but the puck clanged off the left post.
Center Mark Letestu, who has been the offensive star during camp’s first two days, improved Team B’s record to 2-0 as he skated down the opposite end, made a quick move with his wrists and fired a shot through the five-hold of Alex Pechurskiy to secure the 2-1 victory.
The story of Sunday morning, however, was the play of the Tangradi-Mike Comrie-Evgeni Malkin line, which was debuting for the first time in game conditions.
While the trio was held scoreless, the stat sheet doesn’t tell the story of how well the unit quickly gained chemistry.
On their second shift, Comrie dug the puck out behind the net in the offensive zone and fed Tangradi in front. Tangradi’s shot was denied by goaltender Mattias Modig
, went into the air, and appeared to catch part of the cross bar.
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That was the first of many quality scoring chances they created throughout the game because of their work below the goal line.
“Tony Granato came up to me and said it looked like we were in mid-season form with our cycling,” Comrie said. “It’s still early in camp but we had some opportunities. Every day you try to get a little better and get better chemistry together.”
“We all know what we do well on the line,” Tangradi added. “‘Geno’ has a ton of skill and Comrie the same thing. I think we all bring different skills that when put together can really allow us to be effective. (Sunday) was a good day for us and (Monday) will be even better with one scrimmage under our belts.”
There are high expectations from the line, which features Malkin shifting from his natural center position to right wing, in part because of the potential Tangradi brings as a power-forward presence along the boards and in front of the net.
“He is a big kid,” Comrie said. “He’s young and he’s a guy who goes hard to the net. He is going to open up space for us. We only scrimmaged for 40 minutes, but we did a great job of cycling. Sometimes we get caught watching Geno stickhandling because he does that so well, but if Eric can go to the net and create space that will make our line successful.”
And it’s not just Comrie who has taken note of Tangradi’s early performance. Head coach Dan Bylsma mentioned Tangradi’s name on Sunday when he was asked to name some of the players who have stood out thus far. From Bylsma’s comments, it’s obvious he has high expectations for the 21-year-old winger.
“I don’t see him as a fourth-line guy on our team,” Bylsma said. “I think you could see him in any of the top three lines at winger positions. The projected high end is top six. But depending on how our team shakes up after camp with Jordan (Staal) not being around for the exhibition games and possibly for the first couple games of the season, I can see (Tangradi) at different spots, depending on how the lines look.”
Tangradi was happy to hear those words, but he said he still has a lot of work to do to earn a roster spot.
“I felt good out there,” Tangradi said. “I am just trying to do the simple things and use my size and my speed to my advantage and open the ice for those guys. I think me playing my power forward game has really opened the ice for them and that will help us all be successful. I have to keep that up.”Regulation Recap
Letestu once again was one of the stars of the scrimmage, scoring his team’s lone regulation goal at the 12:10 mark of the first period. On his goal, Letestu took a Matt Cooke
pass and sprinted by a defenseman down the left seam and fired a shot over the shoulder of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
Team C notched its only tally five minutes after Letestu’s goal when Brett Sterling made a deft saucer feed to Dustin Jeffrey
, who took care of the rest. Jeffrey fought off a defender and made a move to create an opening on Modig before sliding a shot along the ice into the cage.
The Penguins will hold their final scrimmage of training camp on Monday morning when Malkin’s squad battles head-to-head with captain Sidney Crosby