Penguins release journeyman Jay McClement after loss in preseason finale
After the Penguins wrapped up their preseason schedule with a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday evening, coach Mike Sullivan said the team faced some difficult decisions over the next couple of days.
They made one of those decisions in a matter of hours.
The Penguins released veteran center Jay McClement from his tryout contract less than three hours after the game ended, bringing the team closer to its opening-night roster, which is due at the league office at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Unless and until general manager Jim Rutherford makes a long-rumored trade for a third-line center, the winners of the competition to replace departed free agents Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen in the middle of the team's bottom two lines and on the penalty kill are Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney.
The Penguins need to cut only one more player before Wednesday's opener against the St. Louis Blues. They could achieve that goal by placing winger Patric Hornqvist on the injured list. Hornqvist is still recuperating from offseason hand surgery.
If Hornqvist is ready to play against the Blues, however, Josh Archibald and Derrick Pouliot look to be on the bubble.
McClement, 34, took his last chance at making an impression in Saturday's exhibition finale. He played 12 unremarkable minutes.
Afterwards, he said he did what he could to make the team.
“I wanted to make sure I didn't have any regrets,” McClement said. “I think I played pretty well. I'm definitely not disappointed in the way I played. That's all I can ask for.”
Sullivan was generally complimentary of McClement in his postgame comments. He was less charitable in his assessment of the rest of the team.
The Penguins turned in a largely flat effort to fall to 3-3-1 in seven preseason games.
Matt Calvert and Oliver Bjorkstrand scored during a sloppy 68-second stretch for the Penguins in the first period. Artemi Panarin added a power-play goal in the third.
“This game is rooted in emotion,” Sullivan said. “In the absence of it, it's hard to be good. With this group, I know we're at our best when we play with some juice and I don't think we had it tonight.”
The most useful element of the game for the Penguins might have been in getting No. 1 goalie Matt Murray prepped for the season opener.
Murray played the whole game, making 25 stops. He made a trio of flashy glove saves in the first period and got a chance to work on his puck-handling, an area of the game that had been neglected in his previous two preseason starts.
“I think my timing's back,” Murray said. “It doesn't take long once you get into the game. You stop thinking and just kind of feel the flow of the play and feel the pace of the game. I felt pretty good. A couple of those goals were just nice plays.”
Murray, frankly, had little to prove this preseason, having won the Stanley Cup twice before turning 24, but he doesn't look at it that way.
“Nothing's given to you in this league,” Murray said. “You've got to keep your foot on the gas pedal, and that's what I intend to do. I definitely don't feel like I've earned anything.”
His coach is glad to have a goalie with that kind of drive.
“The fact that he has that appetite to improve and get better and grow as a player and person is one of the reasons he's as good as he is at the young age he's at,” Sullivan said.