LONDON, ONTARIO – The Pittsburgh Penguins came to rookie camp in London, Ontario with three goaltenders on their roster – Brad Thiessen
, Mattias Modig
and Patrick Killeen
– so with three games on the docket it was expected that all three would make a start.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes, who is running camp for the Penguins, had other ideas. Hoping to challenge Thiessen, who by the end of last season was the Baby Penguins’ go-to netminder, Hynes opted to start the second-year pro in a back-to-back situation against the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday night at the John Labatt Centre.
The move paid huge dividends as Thiessen responded favorably to the challenge by stopping 23 of 24 shots to lead the Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs. In two games, the Aldergrove, British Columbia native has stopped 46 of the 50 shots thrown his way.
“Coming into this tournament we wanted to see Brad play back-to-back games,” Hynes said. “This was against Toronto in a hostile environment, so we wanted to see what he could do. He did a great job.”
“Coach Hynes told me after the game (on Saturday) to be ready to go (against Toronto),” Thiessen said. “It’s good to kind of get in that rhythm of playing back-to-back nights and get that feel back again and get into game speed.”
Pittsburgh actually overcame a 1-0 deficit for the second straight game, knotting the contest at 1-1 on Geoff Walker’s second-period tally, and securing the victory on Dustin Jeffrey
’s game-winning goal with just under 35 seconds remaining in regulation.RELATED ARTICLE: Penguins Notebook: Penalty Kill Near Perfect
>>RELATED ARTICLE: Pens-Leafs Prospect Game Blog
Jeffrey might have been the hero in the waning moments, but it was Thiessen’s play between the pipes that allowed the Penguins to survive a slow start and six Toronto power plays.
“It’s been a good start for him,” Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said. “You can really see his maturity from one year to the next. Confidence-wise he knows what he is doing better at this level. His positioning has been very good. His overall game is two notches ahead of where it was last year at this time.”
Thiessen was especially strong when the Penguins were shorthanded.
With the Penguins already trailing 1-0 early in the second period, a couple of penalties saw the Penguins down by two men for 1:48 minutes. Twice during that sequence the Maple Leafs Brayden Irwin – who had Toronto’s lone goal – was set up for quality scoring chances just inches outside Thiessen’s crease. On both occasions the Penguins goaltender was quick to get to the top of the blue paint and deny Irwin.
“He didn’t have much work early on, but he kept his concentration and stayed in the game,” Meloche said. “Then they got the five-on-three and he made a couple of huge saves, which gives everybody else a ton of confidence. He was our best penalty killer.”
“Penalty-killing is something that we take a lot of pride in,” Thiessen said. “To be able to kill off six again (on Sunday) – especially the long five-on-three – was big for our guys. There were a lot of blocked shots in front of me and we did a good job keeping guys to the outside.”
|Solid goaltending from Brad Thiessen and clutch penalty killing helped the Penguins defeat the Maple Leafs at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario. |
Not long after Thiessen and the penalty killers came up huge, Walker got the Penguins on the board by throwing the rebound of Reid McNeill
’s shot from the left point behind Toronto’s Ben Scrivens 9:21 minutes into the second period.
That’s the way the score remained until Jeffrey scored the dramatic game-winning goal as time was winding down in regulation.
On the winning tally Walker led a two-on-two rush into the Toronto zone and appeared to have been taken out of the play nicely by the Toronto defenseman as he stood in the far corner, so he simply threw a pass to the front of the net, where the puck pin-balled off Jeffrey and a Toronto defender. Jeffrey stayed with the loose puck and tossed the biscuit over Scrivens for his third goal in two games and the 2-1 final margin.
“We were at the end of a shift where they kind of had us hemmed in (the D-zone),” said Walker, who was named the game’s No. 1 star after picking up a goal and an assist. “I kind of got the puck and I saw Jeffer go to the net. I didn’t really have anything because I was in the corner, so I just threw it to Jeffer. He got a bounce and put it in.”
Jeffrey’s shot was one of the few pucks which got behind Scrivens, who stopped 31 of 33 Pittsburgh shots. But those 31 saves weren’t enough to overcome Thiessen’s performance at the opposite end of the rink and a Penguins’ squad which took over during the final 40 minutes.
“I think we stuck with the game plan the whole game,” Thiessen said. “We just kept grinding and grinding. We got a couple of goals right around the net, which is something we have been practicing the past couple of days. It paid off for us.”