Penguins newcomer Juuso Riikola makes another good impression | TribLIVE.com
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Jonathan Bombulie
Buffalo Sabres C.J. Smith (49) carries the puck in front of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola (50) during the second period of an NHL preseason hockey game, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, in Buffalo N.Y.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ever since he set foot in Penguins training camp, Finnish defenseman Juuso Riikola has done nothing but make a series of good first impressions.

His preseason debut Tuesday night was no exception.

Riikola scored a third-period goal, skated well, showed off a little physicality and held his own against a potent Buffalo Sabres lineup in a 3-2 Penguins loss.

“Even if we lose, I feel so great right now,” Riikola said. “It was fun to play with this shirt on. I enjoyed it.”

By reputation, Riikola is a pretty good puck mover with a strong shot. He’s been among the Finnish league’s top-scoring defensemen the past two seasons. He showed nothing to the contrary Tuesday night. His goal came on a low, hard wrister that went in with Derek Grant providing traffic in front.

He also delivered a hard, open-ice hip check to C.J. Smith that nearly sent the Buffalo winger flying and looked perfectly comfortable playing the right side as a left-handed shooter on a pair with Olli Maatta.

While some of his teammates were left in the defensive zone for extended stretches against a Buffalo lineup that included Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin, Riikola came out even in the shot-attempt battle.

“I liked his game,” assistant coach Jacques Martin said. “For his first game in North America, I thought he adjusted fairly well. For sure, it’s an adaptation, but I like what we saw. I think he has good vision. He can move the puck. He skates well. It’s encouraging, what we saw tonight.”

Little about his first NHL exhibition game seemed to faze Riikola.

He said he had no problems with the smaller, North American ice surface.

“I like it so far,” he said.

He also offered no complaints about the step up in competition given the quality of the lineup the Sabres dressed.

“I played in World Championships against the best players like (Connor) McDavid and those guys,” Riikola said. “It’s not kind of a new thing.”

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Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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