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I expected a lot of young and/or marginal players to be in the line up for the Penguins and I was right. Looking at the roster a few names caught my eye. The first was Eric Tangradi who was obtained in the deal with Anaheim that also netted the Penguins Chris Kunitz. Tangradi would be on the same line as Kunitz and Sidney Crosby. Billed as a power forward I wanted to see how he would fit in with Crosby as his centerman. The lineup also featured 2009 1 st Round Selection Simon Despres, who would be paired on the blue line with Sergei Gonchar. The hockey pundits were surprised when Despres fell in the 1 st Round into the laps of the Flightless Ones so I was interested to see how the youngster would play in his first venture on NHL ice.
Two things struck me off the top to let me know that this was preseason and not the regular season and certainly not the playoffs. Firstly there was no Jeff Jimmerson. The talismanic singer of the National Anthem was not there but was replaced by the rather pleasant voice and body of Alyonka Larionov, daughter of Hall of Famer Igor Larionov. The dear Alyonka sang well and even provided some of the in between period entertainment so good for her. Secondly long time Public Address announcer at the Igloo John Barbero was out on Injured Reserve. Barbero’s voice at the Arena is kind of like an old shoe, comfortable and makes you feel like you’re at home and at ease with the world. Hearing his replacement, Ryan Mill, made it kind of feel like a road game. Mill certainly had the lungs for the job, he was loud, but it just didn’t have the same class and style as John. The funniest moment came when the Penguins were about to embark on a power play. Each time the Pens got a power play it was loudly proclaimed that we were on a “Power Ball Power PLAY!” Except for one time when it was exclaimed to be a “Power Play Power BALL!” Heh, it’s preseason for the off ice fellows as well.
The game itself was actually very entertaining. The first period saw many scoring chances for both squads. It also contained some very entertaining fisticuffs. Deryk Engelland of the Penguins felled some guy from Columbus with one punch. Not to be outdone noted Pens tough guy from last season Eric Godard went toe-to-toe with Tommy Sestito of Columbus. Both teams appeared to be taking the physical part of the game seriously. Eventually the Jackets took a 1-0 lead as Jakub Voracek was the recipient of a rather fortunate deflected pass which found his blade then the back of the net, oh well.
The second period found the Penguins in a familiar form of long change funk. Is it just me or do the Penguins sometimes lose a bit of focus in the second period when each team has longer distance for line changes? Perhaps, but whatever the case the Jackets beat Marc-Andre Fleury twice. Both Columbus goals were netted by Maxim Mayorov. Fleury I thought played well and only the third goal did I feel that he got caught cheating a bit and Mayorov made the puckstopper pay.
The third period was perhaps the best I have ever seen out of one player. That player was Sidney Crosby. Down 3-0 going into the third and Crosby single handedly led the Pens back. The talk prior to the game was how Sid was going to play with one of those one-piece sticks. Based on his play with it last evening the rest of the NHL should be afraid, very afraid. Crosby tallied twice and a third by newcomer Chris Conner brought the Penguins level at three. The pick of the litter of the Crosby goals was his second. The Blue Jackets were charging into the Penguins end and the Penguins defense was backing up giving up the blueline. Crosby caught the puck carrier at the left faceoff dot and with a deft stick check and turn the play was headed the other way. With the Jackets changing their defense Crosby found Tangradi with the pass. The young Eric swiftly skated to the goalie’s right, he shot and the puck went behind the net to the left of the goalie where Crosby found it and quickly tucked in, just a fantastic play. The Jackets to their credit took the lead again as Alexandre Picard beat young netminder Brad Thiessen. Chris Kunitz found his goal scoring touch 17 seconds later and the score stood tied at 4 at the end of regulation.
I didn’t know if overtime was a part of preseason hockey or not. I was pleasantly surprised when 5 minutes were put on the scoreboard and the teams returned to center ice for the faceoff. It only took 44 seconds for Crosby to find Kunitz whose backhander sent the Mellon Arena faithful of 15,766 home happy. Sure it was only preseason but, wow, I mean wow, what a show by Sidney Crosby.
Just some quick notes on a few of the players I kept an eye on during the game. I was really impressed with Eric Tangradi. He hit the post in the first period and could’ve scored at least a couple of times had he been in the right spot for the passes that Sidney Crosby was providing. I don’t expect him to stay with the big club as he was playing in Bill Guerin’s spot. The Penguins more than likely will send to the Baby Pens and give him plenty of playing time. Simon Despres after an impressive first 10 minutes made a bad pass and pretty soon the speed and tenacity of the Columbus fore check had his head on a swivel. He is a very good skater but it was easy to tell that the speed of the NHL was something he was not used too; a bit more seasoning he should be just fine. Columbus really played well and that Mayorov kid was the pick of the bunch.
All in all a fine evening of preseason hockey at its finest. Go Pens!!!