Courtesy of Point Park University

Priorities shift for Penguins as season nears


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Sidney Crosby challenges Evgeni Malkin during Penguins camp. – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

It will be eight days before the Penguins play a game that counts in the standings.

But that doesn't mean the one they'll be playing about eight hours after completing their morning skate today doesn't matter.

Indeed, they are approaching their game against the Red Wings tonight at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the regular season.

Same with their preseason finale at home against the Sabres Saturday afternoon.

While the first four exhibition games were intended mostly to give the coaching staff and front office a look at prospects and players in game conditions, the focus during the final two will be more on getting ready for the regular-season opener Oct. 3 against Buffalo, and the 81 games that follow.

"The first few games for everyone is just trying to find that next pace, that next level," center Nick Bjugstad said after the skate. "A lot of guys played summer hockey, so it's a totally different game.

"These last few games are important. You've gotten your feet wet, you're in shape after a couple weeks of camp. It's important to treat them like regular-season games, and I think that's what we're doing."

Center Sidney Crosby, who sat out the first four exhibition games, will be in the lineup against Detroit.

"You don't have a lot of time to prepare, necessarily, so you have to make the most of the games," Crosby said. "It's great to practice and go over things, but learning in games and getting your timing and all those things are the most important."

The Penguins will have two more opportunities to deal with such issues and fine-tune their game for the challenges ahead.

"With cutting down the roster and the last couple of practices, it already seems like we're in the season," forward Alex Galchenyuk said. "These last couple of games, we'll be working on details and getting adjusted even better to be ready for Opening Night."

Also at the skate:

• Here are the lines and pairings the Penguins used:

Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Brandon Tanev
Alex Galchenyuk-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust
Jared McCann-Nick Bjugstad-Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese/Dominik Simon-Teddy Blueger-Dominik Kahun

Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson-Justin Schultz
Juuso Riikola-Erik Gudbranson
Jack Johnson-Chad Ruhwedel

Matt Murray is scheduled to play the entire game in goal. He stopped 27 of 28 shots in his only previous exhibition appearance, a 4-1 victory against Columbus.

Mike Sullivan suggested that the Penguins won't necessarily go with the same personnel on the No. 1 power-play unit all of the time. "We have the ability, I think, to have some different looks this year," he said. "Maybe the personnel won't be quite as consistent as it has been the past four years, when we've essentially had the same five or six guys." One factor, he said, is that "other players are developing and emerging," citing Guentzel as an example. "He led our team in goals last year," Sullivan said. "He was a 40-goal scorer. I'm sitting at home in the summertime saying, 'Would I be crazy to think he should be on the first power play?' That's not a question that should go unanswered."

• Rust is penciled in on right wing on the second line tonight but has proven he can switch sides and move up and down the lineup as needed. "He does a lot of things well," Crosby said. "That allows him to play with different guys. His speed, the way he forechecks, he creates turnovers. He's obviously a guy who kills a lot of penalties, too. He's just a responsible guy who can play in any spot."

• It sounds as if the experiment of using Simon at center has been shelved, at least for now. "I think he has more of a comfort level on the wing," Sullivan said. "Based on the group we have, I think we like him better on the wing. But I do think that if we're in a crunch and we need a guy to play center, he's a guy we could utilize. That was one of the reasons we tried him there."

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