The Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Detroit Red Wings tonight and more than a score will be decided on after the game. Thankfully, this bout with the Red Wings is the final preseason game for the Pens which means two things; the regular season is closer than a Sweeny Todd shave and the excitement of playing armchair-general-manager is at pandemic levels. Mostly it's the former, but the latter makes sports writer's jobs pretty interesting and easy. Here's the major storylines to follow during the game.
Opening in the Top Six- The first line is set in the oldest of stones by the oldest of chisels, but the right wing on the second line is open. Many considered it Beau Bennett's spot, but the preseason play of Jussi Jokinen now has them in a two-cat fight for it (scoring a natural hat trick will turn some heads your way after all). This is prime real estate these guys are going after. Being on a line with Geno and Neal will get you some points. Bennett's got the skill set, but Jokinen's got the stats. They're both playing tonight, so keep a notebook on the coffee table to log their respective ice times with Malkin and Neal.
That Pesky 3rd Line- Aside from Brandon Sutter, who the heck's on this thing? The loser of the Jokinen/Bennett battle will most likely receive a spot here as a consultation prize. Chuck Kobasew's played like a poor-man's Matt Cooke this preseason and that's not a bad thing. Tom Kuhnhackl being sent down to the minors is the kiss of death for Jayson Megna, who'll probably join him in Wilkes-Barre. And then there's 'old chip-on-his-shoulder' Dustin Jeffrey, whose played very well so far. Kobasew and Jeffrey are dressing tonight and Megna's not, so it looks like a four-man race.
Defense *clap, clap* Defense- Kris Letang, Paul Martin? In. Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi? In. Those are the easy ones. Simon Despres, Rob Bortuzzo, Deryk Engelland? Um . . . ? Is Matt Niskanen going to be with the team when the regular season starts? Did Pouliot, Harrington, or Maatta leave good enough impressions to make the Penguins? The third defensive pairing is not accounted for yet and there's that seventh rotator defender which Dan Byslma likes to use. Math says that's three openings for at least four and at most seven guys. This will be the most interesting battle to watch.
Can the World Rest on Flower's Shoulders?- Tomas Vokoun's gone for . . . a while. Blood clot removal surgery will do that too you. Right now, Marc-Andre Fleury is looking at starting every game in October. That's a lot for a guy who's been under a microscope to handle. If he stumbles out of the gate, the city might come after him with torches and pitchforks. Rookie Jeff Zatkoff looked great against Chicago, but the Blackhawks didn't play any of their superstars. The Penguins brass made it clear Fleury was their guy after the playoffs. Time for Fleury to repay them. or drag them down with him.
Puck drops at 7:30. Coaching staff's migraines began three days ago.
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