Exhibition Games Aren’t Child’s Play … Usually

It will be loud inside PPG Paints Arena when the Pittsburgh Penguins play there this afternoon.

Nearly every seat is likely to be filled, and the patrons will be lively, even raucous.

Some will be excited that hockey has returned. Others will be fired up about seeing a favorite player.

Many will, frankly, sometimes act like children.

That’s OK, though, because the Penguins’ exhibition opener against Columbus at 1:08 p.m. will be the team’s annual “Free Game for Kids,” for which over 18,000 tickets have been distributed to youth organizations around the region.

What the crowd witnesses should be standard early-preseason fare: A few prospects hoping to make a favorable impression on the front office before returning to their junior teams, borderline players trying to get the upper hand in the competition for a roster spot and some established veterans working mostly to get their games fully in synch for the regular-season opener Oct. 13 against Arizona.

“You want to just get a feel for where your body’s at, get the timing,” top-six winger Rickard Rakell said. “Just get back to that compete (level) and try to get close to regular-season tempo and feel for the game.”

The same is true for defenseman Jeff Petry, although his preseason appearances will come with the additional layer of getting acclimated to new teammates and systems, since he was acquired from Montreal during the offseason.

“(The idea) is just to get that timing back,” Petry said. “The one thing you really can’t get the feel for in the summer as much is the speed of a game. Not just the speed of the players, but thinking quicker under pressure, with guys coming down on you on breakouts and on a forecheck.”

Personnel combinations

Here are the forward units and defense pairings the Penguins deployed during warmups:



Casey DeSmith will start in goal, with Filip Lindberg as the backup.

What’s the benefit?

Precisely why the Penguins and Blue Jackets decided to play a home-and-home double-header today isn’t clear. Neither is what the upside is for either club.

OK, so the coaching staffs can direct all of their attention into game preparations, rather than getting ready for a game with one group and running a practice for those who wouldn’t be in the game, but that’s about it.

That hardly would seem to outweigh the fact that most of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaches will be able to attend only one of the games, denying them an opportunity to observe some of the players on whom they will be passing judgment in coming days.

Mike Sullivan plans to be at both, but if he intends to make the roughly three-hour trip by car, there’s a chance he’ll miss at least a bit of one game, if not both. (And if he tries to make up some time on I-70, he should be aware that Ohio’s Highway Patrol officers have been known to issue an occasional speeding major to drivers on that road.)

Now, it’s unlikely that any player’s short-term future, let alone career, will suffer irreparable harm because his work in one of these games is viewed by a smaller-than-usual contingent of the decision-makers, but it’s also difficult to see how this arrangement truly works to the advantage of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Columbus Blue Jackets.

Best line in camp so far

Ron Hextall had a mic-drop moment before he even fielded the first question during a session with reporters on Day 2 of camp.

Hextall doesn’t do all that many interviews, which is unfortunate because, in addition to a predictably deep knowledge of — and feel for — the game, he has an outstanding dry sense of humor.

As the media people gathered around him, Hextall surveyed the group and deadpanned, “Why do you guys want me? Sid’s here …”

There was nothing particularly hilarious about that comment on the surface … until it registered that he was echoing a line Evgeni Malkin had thrown out as reporters convened at his locker-room stall the previous day.

(Dan Kingerski will cover the second half of today’s double-header, which is scheduled to begin shortly after 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.)

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