Goals in exhibition season can mean a lot ... or a little
After center Greg McKegg scored his first goal in a Penguins uniform during Wednesday night's game against Detroit, he showered, put on his street clothes and checked his phone.
There was one congratulatory text. It was from his mom.
“Just from my mom. That's it,” McKegg said with a laugh.
There was a good reason for the lack of hullaballoo surrounding McKegg's goal, of course. He's a sixth-year pro with 65 regular-season NHL games to his credit, and the goal was scored in an exhibition game.
Finding the back of the net in the preseason can mean different things to different players. Some engage in joyful celebrations. Others barely lift their sticks.
“It's exciting, at least for me,” said defenseman Olli Maatta, who scored in the exhibition opener Tuesday at Penn State. “I don't score that much. I get pretty excited. But obviously it tastes a little better when the real games start.”
Zach Aston-Reese was just as cool and calm as McKegg after he scored his first preseason goal Tuesday. His mom was at the game, so she didn't have to text her congratulations. The one message he received was from his girlfriend.
“It was all right,” Aston-Reese shrugged. “I'm sure it's definitely not the same as scoring during the regular season.”
But for a player like Aston-Reese, a rookie with potential to play a goal-scoring role in the NHL someday, hitting the preseason scoresheet might be a significant moment in the early part of his career.
If his shot had hit the crossbar, Aston-Reese still would be a sturdy winger with a nose for the net and loads of NHL potential.
But it didn't catch iron. It was wired right under the bar. And coach Mike Sullivan noticed.
“When players score goals, there is an innate ability to finish,” Sullivan said. “When players score versus not score, they display that ability to finish. It's a pretty important skill. Sure, we evaluate that. We take all those things into consideration.”
A period or so after Aston-Reese scored, 34-year-old training camp tryout Jay McClement tipped in a Chad Ruhwedel shot from the top of the right circle for a power-play goal.
It was an oddity, no doubt. It would require a mumps outbreak the likes of which the medical community never never has seen for McClement, a checking-line center and penalty-kill specialist, to see significant power-play time this season.
But McClement kept his celebration to a minimum. He knows he isn't going to earn a contract to fill one of the team's vacant center spots in the bottom six because he found a way to get a puck past Adam Wilcox on Sept. 19.
“For me, personally, you've got to be a better self-evaluator than just what shows up in the stats,” McClement said. “For me, goals aren't a huge part of my game. If you get them, that's great. Sometimes it's a lucky break. Sometimes you make a good play. But you have to evaluate yourself on how you played the whole game.”
McClement is right, of course, but the goal wasn't meaningless, either.
After all, once the season starts, Sullivan will be interested in getting offensive contributions from lines other than the ones centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“When you look at the last two seasons we've had and the type of identity we're trying to create here, all four lines have the ability to play at both ends of the rink,” Sullivan said. “I think that's an important dimension of our team identity. It's not like our players are one dimensional. We want them to be multi-dimensional.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.