Penguins' Malkin looks sharp in scrimmage
WILKES-BARRE — The Penguins' Black-Gold intrasquad scrimmage Monday night turned into a showcase for the team's top two centers in the absence of Sidney Crosby.
Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal each scored twice, as Malkin's Gold team beat Staal's Black squad, 3-2, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre.
Malkin finished off feeds from each of his wingers, Steve Sullivan and James Neal, and looked sharp as he continues to round into form after February knee surgery.
"I'm glad to play a whole game," Malkin said. "My knee (was) not bad. A couple hits and pressure to my knee, and I felt nothing."
Staal scored on a breakaway in the first period and a tap-in in the second after linemate Tyler Kennedy stickhandled goalie Brent Johnson out of position.
"Me and Geno had a bet: Whoever lost had to untie each other's skates," Staal said. "We ended up losing, which was too bad, so I gotta get down on my knees and untie Geno's skates tomorrow."
Sullivan left the game early, but assistant coach Todd Reirden said the move was precautionary and not related to any specific injury.
Crosby made the trip and was in attendance despite not yet being cleared for contact.
Paul Martin also scored for the Gold team.
While the game decidedly had the feel of an intrasquad affair, it was played at a fast pace with a modicum of physical play and lineups similar to the one the Penguins will dress against Detroit in their traditional preseason opener Wednesday at the Consol Energy Center.
Coach Dan Bylsma said the experience was particularly valuable for young players such as 2011 draft pick Scott Harrington, who has yet to play in a professional game.
"That's a real NHL exhibition game. That's the way it's treated," Bylsma said. "From that standpoint, it's very good on evaluation."
Frankly, though, the Penguins didn't really need to fly their players across the state to put them in an NHL game-type situation.
"I can do the evaluation anywhere," general manager Ray Shero said. "We could have it in Timbuktu."
They played the game in Wilkes-Barre to thank the fans who, by buying tickets to watch the farm team, literally help the organization pay the cost of developing players.
"It's important to let the fans there know we appreciate the support we've always had," Shero said.
Aside from building goodwill, the game helps the Baby Pens in a business sense, too. While the team is still safely inside the top 10 in attendance in the AHL, it drew 6,270 fans per game last season — down from a peak of 8,337 in 2001-02.
Attendance last night was estimated at more than 7,500, and many of those seats were filled by fans who received free passes because they purchased a season-ticket plan.
"To be honest, if we sold it as a solo event, we could probably make more money because it's one of our bigger events of the year and everyone wants the best seats in the house," Baby Pens CEO Jeff Barrett said. "But it's a perk for our club-seat ticket holders and season ticket holders."
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