A few pregame thoughts prior to tonight's Penguins-Stars game.
-First things first, a housekeeping note. As you may have guessed from the preseason, we will not be doing any live game blogs for the foreseeable future. We abandoned the format occasionally last season and the one thing we noticed is we actually got to watch the game more without doing a live blog.
That might not make much sense but hear us out. Instead of looking down to make sure "Mouillierat" was spelled correctly on our screen, we actually got to watch all 43 seconds of Kael Mouillerat's shift during the preseason. Trying to type on screen without actually keeping your eyes on the rink or the screen, you really do miss a lot. A sport like hockey is in constant motion and it is easy to miss a lot of the details.
Second, it's 2015. When we started doing live game blogs in 2007, Twitter wasn't nearly as prevalent and a doing something like a live blog for a game was a little more practical. It's time to move on.
Third, the software we currently use for Empty Netters doesn't always show off any updates or edits for the front page of the blog unless the reader constantly clears his or her browser history. That just isn't practical.
After Game 5 of the 2008 Stanley Cup final - when Maxime Talbot scored to send it to overtime and Petr Sykora scored in overtime - we got an e-mail from a college student studying abroad in Italy who was not able to watch the game live. So he read our game blog a day later in an small cafe. Without knowing the score or outcome of the game, he told us he was yipping and yelling and celebrating when he read about the goals by Talbot and Sykora, much to the befuddlement to other patrons of the cafe.
That e-mail always stuck with us about the importance of doing a live blog and often served as justification for continuting it. But that was 2008. We will have some pregame and postgame thoughts for each game. And we will be posting "Jersey Hunt" round-ups of jersey sightings for any games we are attending. But the live blogs have been put to rest.
-As far as tonight's game goes, the Penguins will be opening their 2015-16 season tonight. There are a few curious lineup decisions, mainly on defense.
-Adam Clendening had a good preseason and he appears to be a healthy scratch tonight. With Mike Johnston expressing a preference for puck-moving defensemen, Clendening appears to be a good fit for that style of play. He was arguably one of the Penguins' four best defensemen in the preseason. Yet, he'll likely be wearing a suit when the game begins at 8:30 p.m. tonight.
-The defensive pairs are curious. Kris Letang is expected to be paired with Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy with Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin with Rob Scuderi.
-Entering the preseason, it was anticipated that Letang would be paired with Maatta and the other two pairs would just be sorted out. Letang and Maatta would play a ton of minutes while the other four or five defenders would get the scraps. Maatta and Letang were staying on the ice together after practice for upwards of a half hour to work on their passing and shooting. Everything pointed towards them being the Penguins' version of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
-Yet, it looks like they'll be separate in order to balance the pairings to start the season.
-There are some question marks on the statuses of injured forwards Pascal Dupuis, Eric Fehr and Tom Kuhnhackl. The Penguins' Web site roster has Dupuis listed as being on injured reserve but does not have Fehr or Kuhnackl listed whatsoever on the main NHL roster. (Kuhnhackl is listed as part of the "In The System" tab for prospects). Meanwhile, in the official game notes, Fehr is listed as being on IR while Dupuis is part of the active roster. Kuhnhackl is not mentioned in the notes either.
-Writer Mike Colligan, who is very well versed on this subject, wrote Fehr and Kuhnhackl are on the injured non-roster list, a strangely worded designation a gaggle of lawyer surely penned.
-Regardless of what designation they have, all three won't be in the lineup. But it's confusing. And it's not the first time this team hasn't been clear with regards to information on player injuries.
-Those injuries have opened the door for Bobby Farnham and Daniel Sprong to prove they belong in the NHL, albeit on very different wavelengths.
-Farnham is a minor-leaguer with NHL speed. He draws penalties and creates havoc. And on a team with very little toughness, he's one of the few sources of it. With analytics seemingly dictating every discussion of evaluating a player, toughness often times gets regarded as an antiquated relic associated with the 1970s. But having watched the Kings and Sharks as well as the Canucks and Flames beat the snot out of each other last night in the first game of the season, it's seems like there's still some value for it in the game, at least by those making actual decisions for NHL lineups.
-To often "toughness" gets strictly defined as "fighting." Toughness in hockey can be displayed in a variety of ways. Patric Hornqvist is tough in that he can take a beating and score garbage goals. Rob Scuderi is tough in that he can get hit by a ton of pucks and play 82 games. Farnham is tough in that he will skate through the boards in order to stay in the NHL. Sergei Plotnikov is tough in that he boxes out opponents from the puck. Kings forward Milan Lucic is tough in that he will attack Sharks forward Logan Couture after a clean hip check. Raffi Torres is tough in that he will deliver illegal checks to the head. The Blue Jackets are tough in that they have 482 forwards (approximately) who will crash the net and bug the heck out of Sidney Crosby.
-Whatever value there is in "toughness" these days, we just don't see a lot of it on the Penguins' roster at the moment.
-Farnham will be in and out of the lineup on a regular basis. Injuries - his own as well as his teammates' - will dicate how often he plays.
-Sprong will likely make his NHL debut tonight. We're curious as to how he'll be used. He seems set to play on the fourth line with Farnham and Matt Cullen.
-One day early in training camp, Sprong was shooting the puck with a few other Penguins prospects at the end of practice. Watching the puck come off his stick, it just looked completely different compared to the likes of Dominik Uher or Bryan Rust. He has a really special shot and he isn't afraid to use it.
-Dupuis' injury gives David Perron a chance in an elevated role. Perron would have likely been on the fourth line if Dupuis was healthy. After a so-so preseason and a rotten stretch run last season, Perron needs to make the most out of any chance he gets.
-With the team on a two-game swing to Western Conference locales, Kevin Porter was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as an extra forward. Johnston certainly seemed to take a liking to him as a utility forward. He can play a few positions and take faceoffs. That said, his career numbers in the faceoff circle aren't that strong. He looks like this seasons' version of Andrew Ebbett.
-The Penguins did their seemingly annual preseason transaction of sending an established player to a minor league affiliate in order to get close to the salary cap for the benefit of maximizing their use of the long-term injured reserve designation. Maatta "went" to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. We have no idea if Maatta was physically in Northeast Pennsylvania the last two days. All we know is when the Penguins assigned a few players to Wheeling last season for the same reason, we asked one of the players if they actually went Wheeling and the only response we got was a wry smile.
-We watched a bunch of the Flames-Canucks game last night since it was the debut of former Penguins center Brandon Sutter. He was used on a wing with the always dynamic Sedin twins and he looked pretty good in that role. He ended up with a goal and an assist. The Penguins used Sutter as a wing for Evgeni Malkin for a two or three game stretch in 2013-14 and he looked about as comfortable as a duck in a volcano.
-The Stars are an interesting team. Jamie Benn and Tyler Segin, two of the NHL's most exciting players, are the wings on Dallas' top line. Their center? Cody Eakin.
-Eakin is a persistent bull dog of a center who plays a hard game. He had a solid season in 2014-15 with 19 goals and 40 points. But he doesn't seem like someone who should be centering two players capable of winning the Art Ross Trophy.
-Long-time Penguins nemesis Jason Spezza will center an intriguing second line with power forward Valeri Nichushkin and former 30-goal threat Patrick Sharp. Nichushkin is trying to rebound from a hip injury which sidelined him last season while Sharp is trying to rebound from a sub par 2014-15 with the Blackhawks. Playing with a creative playmaker like Spezza should help quite a bit.
-The Stars' defense looks like this:
Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka - Jordie Benn
-Good, not great. The Stars just don't have that one defenseman who they can put out there in any situation. The don't have a Letang, a Keith, a Ryan McDonagh, a Zdeno Chara, a Drew Doughty. That's what separates them from true Stanley Cup contenders.
-The Stars goaltending situation is ... confusing. They brought in Antti Niemi after he failed to take the Sharks to a Stanley Cup final. He figures to platoon with chronic underachiver Kari Lehtonen.
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A preview of the Stars.
When and where: 8:30 p.m., EDT, American Airlines Center.
TV: Root Sports, Fox Sports Southwest.
2014-15 Record: 41-31-10, 92 points. The Stars finished in sixth place in the Central Division.
Leading 2014-15 Scorer: Left winger Jamie Benn (right), 87 points (35 goals, 52 assists).
Last Game: 4-1 home win, April 11. Benn had a hat trick and an assist.
Last Game against the Penguins: 2-1 home win, March 19. Benn had a goal and an assist.
Stars Player We Would Bet Money On Scoring: Benn. He won the Art Ross Trophy last season on a bad hip.
Ex-Penguins on the Stars: Defenseman Alex Goligoski, amateur scout Jiri Hrdina.
Ex-Stars on the Penguins: Associate general manager Jason Botterill, assistant general manager Bill Guerin, special assignment scout Gilles Meloche, player development coach Mark Recchi, amateur scout Warren Young.
Useless Stars Trivia Vaguely Related to the Penguins: Benn (fifth round, 2007) is one of three winners of the Art Ross Trophy who were not drafted in the first round since the draft was instituted in 1963. The others are Lightning right winger Martin St. Louis (undrafted) and Islanders center Bryan Trottier (second round, 1974). Trottier spent three seasons with the Penguins
The last time the Penguins played the Stars, this happened:
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury (34-20-9, 2.32 GAA, .920 SV% in 2014-5) for the Penguins. Antti Niemi (31-23-7, 2.59 GAA, .914 SV%) for the Stars.
Injuries: For the Penguins, right wingers Pascal Dupuis ("lower body") and Tom Kuhnhackl (undisclosed) are out. Center Eric Fehr (left elbow) is on injured reserve. For the Stars, they are reporting no injuries.
Potential lines and defensive pairings: The Penguins' held an optional skate this morning. Based on their recent practices, consider this a guess:
14 Chris Kunitz - 87 Sidney Crosby - 81 Phil Kessel
61 Sergei Plotnikov - 71 Evgeni Malkin - 72 Patric Hornqvist
57 David Perron - 13 Nick Bonino - 19 Beau Bennett
24 Bobby Farnham - 7 Matt Cullen - 41 Daniel Sprong
58 Kris Letang - 28 Ian Cole
12 Ben Lovejoy - 3 Olli Maatta
8 Brian Dumoulin - 4 Rob Scuderi
-The Stars' lines and pairs at today's morning skate were:
14 Jamie Benn - 20 Cody Eakin - 91 Tyler Seguin
43 Valeri Nichushkin - 90 Jason Spezza - 10 Patrick Sharp
27 Travis Moen - 38 Vernon Fiddler - 18 Patrick Eaves
21 Antoine Roussel - 13 Mattias Janmark - 83 Ales Hemsky
33 Alex Goligoski - 3 John Klingberg
27 Johnny Oduya - 4 Jason Demers
2 Jyrki Jokipakka - 24 Jordie Benn
-Maatta and center Kevin Porter were recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton while center Oskar Sundqvist was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
-Centers Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and right winger Phil Kessel are expected to make their Penguins debuts. Left winger Sergei Plotnikov and right winger Daniel Sprong are expected to make their NHL debuts.
-Sprong is expected to become the Penguins' first second-round pick to make his NHL debut in the same year as his draft since center Richard Park in 1994.
-Left winger David Perron has played in 499 career games.
-Niemi, defenseman Johnny Oduya and left winger Patrick Sharp are expected to make their Stars debuts. Center Mattias Janmark is expected to make his NHL debut.
-Stars center Colton Sceviour has played in 99 career games.
-Stars defenseman Jason Demers has 99 career points.
(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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