A very successful home-at-home, indeed (if you can call Saturday's game a home game for the Blue Jackets. The "Let's go Pens" chants rang loudly from start to finish).
The Pittsburgh Penguins strung together six periods of great hockey against the Jackets, and were absolutely lights out—literally and figuratively—the final three periods. While the Jackets had their fair share of opportunities Friday night, with the shot totals to vouch for them, Saturday's game was the opposite. The Pens tightened up their game and gave the Jackets little room to make something happen. As a result, Jeff Zatkoff skated away with his first NHL shutout and win in his third appearance.
From start to finish, the Pens dominated every aspect of this game. Offensively, this was your standard "Penguins hockey". On the Pens' first goal, Dustin Jeffrey won a puck battle along the boards with two Jackets on him. Jeffrey got the puck to an open Joe Vitale who then dished the puck to an unmarked Deryk Engelland. No clue why Ryan Murray gave Engelland that much space (I mean, I know it's Engelland, but still) in front of the cage. Engelland is definitely proving to be a formidable fourth-line winger.
That goal was probably Jeffrey's best moment in a Pens uniform this season. I know a lot of people are gunning for Jeffrey to get a permanent spot on the team, but at this rate, I would keep Jayson Megna up here over Jeffrey in a heartbeat. It's a tough situation for Jeffrey since he can't establish himself when he's a healthy scratch, but you have to wonder how much longer the Pens are going to keep this up. Jeffrey doesn't have much of an identity on this team and younger players are bypassing him for roster spots.
The second goal was a thing of beauty (or nightmare, depending on whose team you cheer for). The rewards you get for crashing the net can be seen in this goal. All Chris Kunitz did was center a pass, aimed for Sidney Crosby who was speeding toward the net. Blake Comeau tried to intercept the pass but the puck took a strange bounce off his stick and went behind an unsuspecting Curtis McElhinney.
Defensively, the Pens looked so good. We remember at the start of the season seeing an immediate change in the Pens' defensive approach which we attributed to Jacques Martin. Suddenly, that poised defense disappeared in the Florida road trip. As a team that has had its postseasons cut short because of defensive breakdowns, this was the last thing we wanted to see.
The defense certainly got its groove back Saturday night and was a huge factor in the shutout. They gave the Jackets offense very little room to get anything going and what little opportunities they had, the defense erased with some incredible shot blocking. Friday night, Marc-Andre Fleury faced 39 shots. Zatkoff saw only 19 shots and that's because 15 attempts were stopped by another player in white. I don't want to take away from Zatkoff's performance, but the sacrificial defense was a big reason for the shutout. It truly was a team shutout.
Also, shoutout to Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo who have really established themselves as a strong defensive pairing. Those two keep getting better and better together. What's really great about them is that they play these strong games and you forget just how inexperienced they are, but then when the mistakes inevitably happen, there's such poise in correcting them. No panic, just calmly get the puck out of danger and move on. Adjusting to NHL speed and strength for young defensemen can be a huge test of patience, but right now, the adjustment for Maatta and Bortuzzo has been pretty smooth and we all hope it stays that way.
Solid back-to-back wins for the Pens and now they get a well-deserved three days off before another Rivalry Night game, this time against the New York Rangers.