Penguins Debut Yields Pleasant Surprises

Scott BarnerContributor ISeptember 16, 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Chris Conner #23 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battles for the puck against Kris Russell #10 and Michael Blunden #12 of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second period at Mellon Arena on September 15, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Although it is too early in the preseason to get too wrapped up in evaluating players, two players shined in last night's preseason opener.

Chris Connor, an offseason free agent pickup from Dallas, did his best to shore up a spot on the roster. He played last season with the Dallas Stars and did an admirable job as a third or forth line forward. 

Last night, he worked hard in the corners and in front of the net. He had more than a few cracks at the net and finally found the back of the net with a much-earned third period goal. He showed flashes of speed and had a few good moves as well.

He also showed grit and was fearless in the corners and in front of the net. Connor certainly became the frontrunner for a spot with the big club. If he can keep up the pace that he played at last night, the coaching staff will have no choice but to keep him here instead of a trip to Wilkes-Barre.

The other forward that shined last night was Eric Tangradi, a power forward who came to the Pens in the Ryan Whitney trade along with Chris Kunitz. He skated well as Crosby's winger, working hard—especially in front of the net. This was a weak area for the Pens last year.  

With Tangradi's size (6'4", 221 lbs.), he just may be the second coming of Kevin Stevens. Now, if he can show half the scoring touch of Stevens, he can also punch his ticket for a spot with the big club.

Overall, the Pens looked asleep at the wheel and finally exploded in the third period with a pair of goals from Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Chris Connor finally got his much-deserved goal, also in the third period.

The Pens pulled it out in overtime with Chris Kunitz's goal early on. The game ended with a 5-4 overtime victory for the Pens.

Marc Andre Flueuy played the first two periods and apparently needs to shake off a little rust. His performance was lackluster. He gave up an especially soft goal that I'm sure he would like to have back.  

Overall, the Pens showed that they haven't lost the drive by not giving up in spite of being down 3-0 in the third period of a preseason game. They showed drive and determination against a tough Columbus team. 

Both Connor and Tangradi also did their best to prove they deserve a spot with the Pens this season instead of Wilkes Barre.

Only time will tell.