Penguins notebook: Jamie Oleksiak plans to give it his best shot
Because NHL defenses are growing quicker and more committed to shot blocking, it might not be the most notable weapon at the Penguins’ disposal, but it’s a weapon all the same.
If 6-foot-7, 255-pound defenseman Jamie Oleksiak is given time and space, he can get off a bomb of a slap shot.
He showed as much Thursday night, scoring the first goal of the season opener on a blast past Washington’s Braden Holtby from the top of the left faceoff circle. He’ll use it as much as he can moving forward.
“Just being a bigger guy, you naturally kind of get a little more weight behind the shot,” said Oleksiak, who is the second-heaviest player in the NHL, trailing only 260-pound Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.
“It’s, I like to think, a little bit of an asset. I try and get pucks on net as much as possible and see what happens. Whether it hits a stick or skate or it gives a rebound, I think that can help generate offense. It’s a tool to add to the arsenal.”
Oleksiak competed in a hardest-shot contest once in his career at the 2013 AHL All-Star Game in Providence, R.I. He really stepped into a pair of shots. Might have had enough velocity to challenge eventual winner Brayden McNabb and his 101.8-mph blast, too. There was only one problem. Both shots hit the post, and therefore, a speed wasn’t recorded.
Oleksiak can laugh about the experience now, especially because his goal isn’t usually to hit triple digits anyway. It’s to get shots through.
“You look at guys like Brent Burns and (John) Klingberg. They’re really good on the blue line, kind of moving laterally,” Oleksiak said. “It doesn’t have to be a hard shot. It has to get through and get to the net and, hopefully, get a rebound or get a tip or hit some bodies.”
Saturday night’s game against Montreal provided an early example of the more favorable schedule the Penguins have this season.
By this time last year, they had already flown to Chicago immediately after the home opener, suffered a 10-1 beatdown on the second day of the season and flown home. This season, they play four of their first five games at home with no back-to-backs in sight until late November.
“I definitely think we got a little bit luckier this year,” winger Bryan Rust said. “Our schedule is a little bit more favorable, but I think, regardless, we’ve got to take what we’re given and try to make the most of it.”
The Penguins used the same lineup as the one they dressed for the season opener. Defensemen Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel and center Derek Grant were scratched.
Coach Mike Sullivan said his message to Riikola, who was one of the team’s top performers in the preseason, is to stay ready.
“We have been really thrilled with his play throughout the course of training camp,” Sullivan said. “Juuso’s a guy that we believe will inevitably end up with an opportunity here. Certainly, we’re excited about where he’s at.”
In an apparent effort to improve their team speed, the Canadiens have made a couple of interesting scratches for their first two games. Veterans Karl Alzner and Tomas Plekanec have watched from the press box.
“They’re young. They’re fast. They’re trying to play a pace game,” Sullivan said. “It just seems like that’s just the evolution of the game.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.