New Penguin Mike Comrie became the answer to a trivia question Wednesday when he beat Detroit’s Chris Osgood for the first-ever goal at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center. It was an important landmark for the new building, and for a city that nearly lost its hockey club before it was built, but – with this being a meaningless preseason tilt, after all – the puck won’t earn a place of honor on Comrie’s mantle.
“I didn’t get it,” he said, chuckling at the suggestion. “I don’t know where it is.”
For Comrie and a number of other players, the primary goal in these otherwise meaningless games is to carve out a niche for themselves in the Penguins’ regular-season roster – or make the roster at all.
“As a professional, you’ve got to rise to the occasion, and I think we all know what’s at stake,” Comrie said. “We’re trying to make the team, and make the team better. I think every preseason game is going to mean a little more as we get closer, and everybody here is trying to do their job and be an important part.”
Comrie looks like a safe bet to make the cut – and to be among the Penguins’ top six forwards, for that matter – as he again skated on a line with star center Evgeni Malkin and Eric Tangradi. The combination as a whole, and major-league hopeful Tangradi in particular, earned postgame kudos from head coach Dan Bylsma.
“I thought that was an effective line, and Eric did what a big power forward is supposed to do,” Bylsma said. “He went to the net every time, he was in around the cage, they had to deal with him a couple times when he was whacking at the goalie. His skating was good tonight as well. He fit right in.”
But several other players also continued to distinguish themselves as they worked to make Pittsburgh’s roster decisions more difficult or, at the very least, put their names at the top of the list for an early call-up.
There’s Ryan Craig, for example, who popped in two of the Penguins’ goals en route to their 5-1 win over the Wings. A 28-year-old veteran, Craig scored 32 goals in 184 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but also drew Bylsma’s notice for his defensive contributions and skill in the faceoff circle.
“Ryan Craig is a guy who’s played a lot of NHL games, and he was good tonight,” Bylsma said. “He was good on the penalty kill; he was able to take draws on the PK and win.”
Then there’s Brett Sterling, who embraced the challenge of spending time on captain Sidney Crosby’s wing before Crosby left the game with a sore hip flexor. Both linemates contributed a goal to the win.
“It’s camp, and if you’re not going to have competition, if you’re not going to have pressure, what are you doing here?” Sterling said. “It’s great to play with a guy like that. You know he’s going to get you the puck, he’s one of the best passers in the league, and I’m a shoot-first guy, generally; I’ve had some success in the minors. So, hopefully, when he gets you the puck, you just bury it.”
The knock against Sterling – who stands 5-foot-7 – is his size, but that didn’t stop the former Atlanta Thrasher and Chicago Wolf from going right to the net for his goal.
“You always want a bigger guy. But, when it comes to the puck battles and the dirty areas and scoring goals, it doesn’t matter what size you are if you can do it,” Bylsma said. “Brett has been a dominating goal-scorer at the American League level, and he has a great shot, great release, but he’s done it around the paint just as much, and he did it for us tonight. You can be 6-foot-2 and not go to that area. And, if he can continue to do that and play the kind of game he did tonight, with some grit, and score some goals, nobody’s going to talk about his size.”
Bylsma singled out some other players for praise, including Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forwards Mark Letestu and Tim Wallace. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, putting in two periods of work, bounced back nicely from his last outing, when he was pulled in the Penguins’ Game 7 elimination against Montreal. New addition Zbynek Michalek led his club with an impressive six blocked shots on the night.
“We didn’t play them often [when Michalek was] in the West, so it was fun to see him go tonight,” Fleury said. “He did a great job on the PK and five-on-five, coming back and getting the puck out quick.”
It was a good night all the way around for the Penguins, as they opened their new barn in style.
“It was exciting,” Bylsma said. “It was loud, it’s bright in here, I love the atmosphere. And it felt nice to play a game like that where we had some success, saw some good things and got rewarded with some goals.”
Their first opponent might have had a little to do with the sense of satisfaction, too.
“It’s always fun to beat them,” said Fleury with a smile. “A good first one in the building.”