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Penguins

3 Penguins predictions after the first 2 preseason games

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, 5:33 a.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry (35) stops a shot by Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) during the second period of an NHL preseason hockey game, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, in Detroit.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry (35) stops a shot by Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) during the second period of an NHL preseason hockey game, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, in Detroit.

Staff writer Jonathan Bombulie offers three predictions after the Penguins’ first two games of the preseason.

1. Winger experiments

Young wingers Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese grabbed headlines on the first day of training camp when they found themselves on the top two lines, playing alongside centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Rightfully so. They’re the top two prospects in the organization on the wing, and if they could develop into top-six players, it would create all kinds of options for a balanced attack.

That said, there will be time for those experiments later on this season, after some forwards get hurt or have a run of poor play. Dominik Simon will stick his nose in there as well. But on opening night, bet on Patric Hornqvist playing with Crosby and Jake Guentzel and Carl Hagelin playing with Malkin and Phil Kessel. Those are the safest, most sensible combinations with proven track records of success. They were the lines the coaching staff used at Wednesday morning’s practice, too.

2. The seventh spot

Defenseman Juuso Riikola has opened eyes with a well-rounded, mature game in the first week of camp. He’s not overly impressive in any aspect, but his toolbox has a little bit of everything in it – good skating, decent size, strong puck skills and a little physicality. He’s a good player.

Bet on Riikola slotting in as the seventh defenseman once the season starts, but heading to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton anyway. He doesn’t have to clear waivers to be sent down and he has no North American experience. He can go to the AHL and learn the ropes, then the first time a defenseman is needed, he can be called up and inserted into the lineup ahead of Chad Ruhwedel.

3. Goalie battle

Tristan Jarry looked very good while making 41 saves in a 3-2 loss at Detroit on Wednesday night. He’s developing at a steady pace and is a prospect with a high ceiling. That said, the race for the back-up goalie position is badly stacked in Casey DeSmith’s favor.

DeSmith would have to clear waivers to be sent to Wilkes-Barre. Jarry wouldn’t.

At age 23, Jarry could still benefit from a run as an AHL No. 1. At age 27, DeSmith really wouldn’t.

Add in their save percentages in limited NHL duty last season (a .921 for DeSmith and a .908 for Jarry) and it would require something truly unusual happening in the next two weeks of preseason action for Jarry to win the job on opening night.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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