Penguins’ Dominik Simon works to create scoring chances
The way Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan sees it, three results can arise from shooting pucks toward the net, and two of them are good for the shooter.
The topic surfaced Friday after practice, when Sullivan was asked about third-line left wing Dominik Simon. The 24-year-old Czech does everything on the ice that a coach can ask of a player, except the one task that decides the outcome of games: He doesn’t score many goals.
“If he is going to finish (score), he has to put more pucks on the net,” Sullivan said. “One of two things will happen. He’ll either score goals himself, or, as we’ve said on a number of occasions, nothing breaks coverage down more than a shot on goal. It creates a next-play opportunity for his linemates or himself.”
Of course, there’s always the possibility of the third thing — he could miss or be turned away by the goaltender.
But there was a time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when Simon was the team’s leading goal scorer. That was the 2015-16 season, when he scored 25 goals, with 23 assists. That continued a trend he brought with him from two Czech teams where he totaled 26 goals, with 17 assists, in 116 games over three seasons.
But in the past two seasons — in Wilkes Barre/Scranton and Pittsburgh — Simon has totaled 55 assists with only 23 goals.
Sullivan has encouraged Simon to shoot more often.
“We think he has a sneaky shot. He’s got a sneaky release,” the coach said.
Simon is trying to oblige.
“I have to, for sure, put more pucks on the net,” he said.
Asked if he considers himself a passer or shooter, he said, “It depends how you feel. Once it keeps going in, you shoot more, obviously. You get a lucky bounce, and you keep going.”
Sullivan has moved Simon from Sidney Crosby’s line to one with center Derek Brassard and right wing Bryan Rust. Sullivan liked how the line had performed prior to the Penguins’ final exhibition game Friday in Columbus, and he plans to give it a chance to gain traction.
“We’ve liked the line,” Sullivan said. “We think they’ve had a couple really strong games, and that’s one of the reasons we keep it together: just to give it another look and see what kind of chemistry develops.”
Even if Simon doesn’t start scoring goals immediately, Sullivan likes other parts of his game.
“Dominik has been a big part of their success,” he said. “He makes a lot of real subtle plays. He protects the puck extremely well for a guy who isn’t all that big (5-foot-11, 190 pounds). He’s pretty stiff on the puck.
“He’s really good in traffic and tight spaces. He has very good hands and sees it pretty good offensively. He makes a lot of those subtle plays that create opportunity.”
Simon says he compensates for his lack of his size by trying to excel in other areas.
“I feel good on my skates and in battles. It’s not easy when you’re not the tallest guy,” he said, “but you have to put the speed in and other things to even it out.”
Simon liked skating with Crosby — “It’s really nice to play with him because he makes so much ice for you,” he said — but he said Brassard and Rust also can create opportunities.
“We make chances in a different way, maybe,” Simon said. “We’ve made a lot of them, and that feels great.”
Brassard hopes his line remains intact but knows how situations change over the course of a season.
“We’ve had some good looks, we’re making good decisions, we’ve had some good games, but it’s only preseason,” he said. “We know what kind of players we are. It’s just a matter of going out there and executing and being on the same page.
“In the season, the lines change a million times. There are always ups and down in a season, for the team, for players. If we can find some chemistry and try to keep it as long as we can during the season, that would be a positive thing for our hockey team.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.