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Insider Only Pens Camp: 3rd, 4th lines a strength; Malkin & Comrie showing early chemistry

Weekend Wrap-up: Notes from Day Two of Penguins Training Camp.

SCRIMMAGE TWO: Group B vs Group C

Group B beat Group C 2-1 in a 40 minute continuous clock scrimmage Sunday. Dustin Jeffrey and Mark Letestu scored. Letestu beat Alex Pechurski in a sudden death shootout to break the tie and score his second game winner in as many days. Of the four goals scored in the two scrimmages, Letestu was responsible for three of them.
Player groupings remained the same as Saturday:
GROUP A FORWARDS:
Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Connor (AHL), Eric Godard, Joe Vitale (AHL), Joey Haddad (AHL), Casey Pierro-Zabotel (AHL), Geoff Walker (ECHL), Nick Petersen (QMJHL)
GROUP A DEFENSE:
Brooks Orpik, Zbynek Michalek, Simon Despres (QMJHL), Robert Bortuzzo (AHL), Brian Strait (AHL), Jason DeSantis
GROUP A GOALIES:
Brent Johnson, Brad Thiessen (AHL)
GROUP B FORWARDS:
Mike Rupp, Mark Letestu (AHL), Matt Cooke, Maxime Talbot, Craig Adams, Arron Asham, Jesse Boulerice (AHL), Chris Collins (AHL), Zach Sill (QMJHL), Tyler Brown (OHL), Alex Smigelski (collegiate)
GROUP B DEFENSE:
Alex Goligoski, Ben Lovejoy (AHL), Derek Engelland (AHL), Andrew Hutchinson (NHL-AHL), Derek Peltier (AHL)
GROUP B GOALIES:
Mattias Modig (ELITSERIEN), John Curry (AHL)
GROUP C FORWARDS:
Evgeni Malkin, Mike Comrie, Nick Johnson (AHL), Eric Tangradi (AHL), Tyler Kennedy, Kevin Veilleux (AHL), Ryan Schnell (tryout), Ryan Craig (NHL-AHL), Tim Wallace (AHL), Dustin Jeffrey (AHL), Brett Sterling (AHL)
GROUP C DEFENSE:
Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Carl Sneep (collegiate), Corey Potter (AHL), Steve Wagner (AHL)
GROUP C GOALIES:
Marc-Andre Fleury, Alexander Pechurski (WHL)
The biggest thing to take from the scrimmages over the weekend is the apparent strength of the Penguins’ third and fourth lines. They were the only of the three groups to feature two lines of NHL players, and they were consistently the most impressive players in camp.
For the first two days of camp, Dan Bylsma has been fielding a third line of Matt Cooke – Mark Letestu – Arron Asham and a fourth line of Max Talbot – Craig Adams – Mike Rupp. The Letestu line was on the ice for all of Group B’s goals, Letestu chipping in each of the scores.
Matt Cooke and Arron Asham crashed and banged through the offensive zone, keeping opposing forward lines hemmed in their defensive zone. They cycled well, caused turnovers and put the puck into scoring areas.
Letestu’s first goal came on a scrum in front on Saturday. Today’s goal came on a rush in which he skated around a defender and beat Fleury low glove side with a single-deke snap shot. Letestu’s third was the shootout goal against Pechurski.
The fourth line of Talbot-Adams-Rupp looked equally good, laying hits, causing turnovers and keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Staal’s eventual return to the second line may cause some shake-up in the lower two units, but so far the Pens seem to have two lower lines that will, at the least, be very difficult to score against.
Just as good was the line of…..

Evgeni Malkin – Mike Comrie – Eric Tangradi. Comrie looked comfortable in the center role, Malkin flew around the ice, reminiscent of his play in the 2009 playoffs and Eric Tangradi gave another solid showing alongside the two veterans.
Malkin and Comrie are almost certainly going to start the season on a line with Comrie at center. If the two develop a chemistry and play well by the time Staal returns, Comrie might make the move to second line wing.
They looked good together Sunday during drills and scrimmage, connecting on passes, taking good shots and cycling the puck deftly. The Group C first line, presumably the opening day second line, was the only forward line to sustain pressure against Group B.
It is just camp but Mike Comrie looks like a relative steal as a $500,000 dollar second line center. Comrie skated well with Malkin, made good passes, looked strong on the rush and cycled the puck nicely.
If Comrie can distribute the puck to Malkin, he stands to collect a lot of points early on. The coaches will be put in a very comfortable position if they can keep Comrie on the second line due to Letestu’s emergence. If Letestu keeps up his improved play, a second line of Malkin-Staal-Comrie could become permanent.
Part of that line today was Eric Tangradi, who is expected to push for a permanent roster spot out of this camp. Tangradi looked mostly comfortable alongside Malkin and Comrie, using his size to win battles in the corners, cycling well with the rest of the line and keeping plays alive in the offensive zone.
Tangradi’s eventual assignment may be to replace the Ryan Malone-type netfront presence that the Malkin line has missed since 2008, but in scrimmages mostly stayed along the boards and fed pucks to Malkin and Comrie.
Tangradi’s biggest competition, at least until Staal’s return, will be Tyler Kennedy. Kennedy has been played out of a third line role by Mark Letestu thus far and the Penguins fourth line has also looked solid in their time together. If Tangradi can outplay Kennedy (and perhaps Nick Johnson), he may spend at least the first couple games of the season on the second line.
Much has been made of Malkin’s renewed focus this offseason. Dan Bylsma spent a few days in Moscow this summer to spend time with the star forward after a relative letdown last year. Malkin has also told reporters his only goal for the season was to win the Cup.
In today’s scrimmage, Malkin’s energy was apparent. He flew up and down the ice in drills, skated the puck around the offensive zone without turning it over and was exceptionally energetic for someone not playing for a roster spot. Most impressive was his skating. Malkin has an ability to gallop around the ice untouched, and he reached that gear every time he touched the puck Sunday.
With the acquisitions of Mike Comrie and Arron Asham and a healthy Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy will spend this camp fighting for his job. Kennedy played decently, scoring an assist on the Letestu goal and driving hard on a couple rushes.
However, he wasn’t able to create offense 1-on-1, was handled several times by defender Paul Martin and did nothing to suggest he would be a better fit than an Eric Tangradi or Mark Letestu. Kennedy will likely need a very strong rest of camp to secure his spot with the team.
Martin, the second of two big defensive additions, is going to become very popular in Pittsburgh. Martin played excellent positionally today, was decisive and smart with the puck and played well without the puck, too.
Martin may not replace the productivity of Gonchar as a scorer but is going to make very few mistakes defensively. If Martin becomes a second-pair defenseman behind Orpik and Michalek, the Pens will have two defensive lines that will be very hard to beat.
Thoughts:
– Alex Pechurski has the look of a potential late round gem if he continues to develop
– Nick Johnson batted a puck out of the air into the net during drills. Good, quick hands.
– Despres impressive in drills again, breaking up a few odd-man rushes with his stick. Was beaten badly by Godard and Dupuis on one rush, though.
– Michalek looked much improved over yesterday’s practice. Good with the puck, crips passes and tighter defensively.
– Fleury made some good saves. Was hung out to dry on Letestu goal.

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