In their first two preseason games together, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel appeared to instantly click – combining for five goals over that short span. And Crosby said that chemistry is something they’ll continue to work on tonight when the Pens host the Red Wings at CONSOL Energy Center.
“It’s been pretty good,” Crosby said. “I think it just takes time. You can talk all you want and communicate and that’s important. There’s just a lot of things that happen in a game where you just want to get on the same page. But I thought we’ve done a good job of communicating and sorting out some details as games have gone on and I think we’ve gotten better over the couple games.”
Head coach Mike Johnston said something interesting after the pair's first game together, when he pointed out that both players think the game the same way.
“From game to game, as we prepare as a coaching staff, they prepare as a line,” Johnston said. “Sid is a very detailed guy, as you know. Kessel is exactly the same. I know people don’t think of that.”
I asked Crosby how that dynamic worked between them.
“If we both get to a play where one of us is unsure what to do or where to look, everything happens pretty quick out there,” Crosby explained. “He’s a fast skater, so you don’t really have time to look up and then see where he is. You have to understand and try to figure out where he’s going to be out there. I think just finding out that kind of thing.”
Crosby said their communication varies, explaining that sometimes, they can go a whole period where they don’t have to discuss anything and then they’ll have three shifts in a row where something happens and they talk about it.
But one thing’s for certain – the two of them are using these exhibition games to get to know each other on more of an individual basis before the focus is shifted onto the team when the regular season beings.
“Details are so important and obviously the more we can get to know each other now, in preseason, that’s better,” Crosby said. “As we move along, it’s going to be more about our systems and stuff like that, and making sure we understand where each other are going is pretty important.”
PERRON GETS A LOOK Chris Kunitz skated on the left wing alongside Crosby and Kessel in those first two games together. Tonight, it appears David Perron will slot in and get a look there as the coaches experiment with their lines and try to get things set for the regular-season opener – and he’s looking forward to the opportunity.
“I’m sure every other guy in the league, probably more than 200, (would love to play in that spot),” Perron said. “It’s a great opportunity for me and I’ll try to make the most of it.”
Perron, who reported to training camp healthy and in terrific shape after burning out down the stretch last season after being traded to Pittsburgh from Edmonton, spoke with Johnston yesterday about how to do just that.
“He wants me to make sure I play the same game that I play even if I wasn't with them,” Perron explained. “That’s being intense. That’s shooting a lot of pucks on net. It kind of feeds my energy after and I get my legs going on every play after that. Really dictate the pace and play with some intensity, having a shooting mentality and that’s what I’ll do tonight.”
Johnston had been playing the right-handed Perron on the right side throughout training camp, but said tonight he wants to get a look at him on his off wing.
“That’s where I’m most comfortable, normally on the left wing,” Perron said. “I was hoping to get that chance maybe a little bit earlier in the camp but with a lot of numbers he wants to see different things. I’m just glad I’m getting one there and I’ll work hard and try and accomplish a lot of good things tonight. “
Crosby said he and Kessel will be ready to support Perron in all situations.
“Ronnie likes to hold onto the puck, (so) just making sure we support him,” Crosby said. “He’s got the puck in the corner, he can hold guys off pretty well and hold onto the puck. So just making sure one of us is there to support him and other than that, both him and ‘Kuni’ like to go to the net and create a lot of space that way. So it shouldn’t be a big adjustment.”
PIVOTAL GAME FOR GONCH? Tonight will be a pivotal game for defenseman Sergei Gonchar. He is attending camp on a professional tryout and is not a lock to earn a contract from the team.
Gonchar has played in three preseason contests already for Pittsburgh, meaning tonight could be his last game to show that he deserves to be on the Pens’ roster for the start of the season.
“I’m looking to play a solid hockey game, make sure I have a good gap, play well defensively, do my thing on the power play,” Gonchar told me. “I have to put those things together and show the coaches.”
The 41-year-old blueliner has scored one power-play goal, but is a minus-5 during the preseason. He was a minus-3 in his first game against Carolina on Sept. 22, and has played better as the preseason has continued.
“I’m feeling better. I’m finding the chemistry with my teammates. It’s not easy in the beginning of the year, but I’m getting there,” Gonchar said. “I’m in a situation (as a tryout) where it’s not an excuse. I have to do it. I have to make sure I’m doing it tonight.”
Gonchar will forever be a beloved figure to Pens fans for his play over five seasons with the club from 2005-10, which included a Stanley Cup championship in ’09. He’s hoping to cap his career in Pittsburgh, and tonight could be the deciding factor in his fate.
“Every game is very important for me,” he said. “I have to make sure that I play well.”