Penguins notebook: Goalie Casey DeSmith solid in preseason opener
BUFFALO, N.Y. — When Casey DeSmith saw the lineups for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ preseason opener Tuesday night, he could have cringed.
The Penguins dressed a lineup so inexperienced that 23-year-old Jake Guentzel, 24-year-old Olli Maatta and 111-game NHL veteran Chad Ruhwedel acted as alternate captains.
The Sabres dressed a lineup that featured star center Jack Eichel, newly acquired sniper Jeff Skinner and No. 1 draft pick Rasmus Dahlin.
DeSmith was fine with it, though. He saw it as an opportunity to put his best foot forward in his training-camp battle with Tristan Jarry to serve as Matt Murray’s backup.
He largely did that in a 3-2 Penguins loss, making 26 saves to keep his team in the game throughout.
“That’s why we play hockey,” DeSmith said. “There’s always a good team on the other side, no matter who it is.”
DeSmith was especially sharp in the first period, stopping 13 of 14 shots. He thwarted Justin Bailey with a poke-check all alone in front after a turnover early and did the splits to kick away a C.J. Smith shot off a cross-ice pass later on.
Vladimir Sobotka’s goal, Buffalo’s first, came when a clearing attempt bounced in off Ruhwedel’s chest at the end of a 5-on-3 power play with 6.6 seconds left in the period. Eichel’s came on a short-handed breakaway.
“I’m really happy with how I played,” DeSmith said. “I was seeing the puck really well. I thought my rebound control was good. My reads, for the most part, were really good. A couple bad bounces there. That first one was tough.”
DeSmith said his confidence at the NHL level has increased dramatically in the past year. Last season at this time, starting the preseason opener might have left him a bundle of nerves.
“It kind of just seems like a preseason game instead of an NHL game like maybe in past years,” DeSmith said. “First crack at the NHL, it doesn’t quite feel like that anymore. Definitely no butterflies out there.”
After struggling to get anything going in the first two periods, the Penguins rallied with a pair of goals late in the third.
Will O’Neill scored on a shot from the left point after Teddy Blueger cleanly won a faceoff and went to the net to provide a screen. Finnish free-agent addition Juuso Riikola also scored, netting a shot from the right point with Derek Grant providing traffic in front.
“I think when we got the first goal, we gained some energy from that,” Riikola said. “First two periods was a little bit like watching what happened.”
The two players the Penguins traded to Buffalo in June — Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick — might not suit up for the Sabres for a while.
Sheary suffered an upper-body injury in a training camp practice and is listed as week to week. Hunwick has yet to skate for the Sabres because of a neck injury. The team listed him as out indefinitely.
For the Penguins, Assistant coach Jacques Martin said Derick Brassard, who has yet to practice in camp because of illness, continues to skate on his own and could join the team Wednesday or Friday. Martin said Riley Sheahan, out with a lower-body injury, isn’t as close to returning as Brassard is.
The funeral for George Sullivan, father of coach Mike Sullivan, is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Massachusetts. Martin said he expects the head coach will return to the Penguins soon thereafter.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.