Late in the first period the Pittsburgh Penguins found themselves down 1-0 to a scrappy Columbus Blue Jackets team, much like they were last week in a 2-1 loss to the same squad. Like last week, backup goalie Curtis McElhinney , who again seemingly had all the answers. James Wisniewski had scored a 4-on-3 power play goal for CBJ, and it appeared the Penguins were going to be in their second uphill battle game in a row against this team.
And then Evgeni Malkin stepped back on the ice, roared into the offensive zone and threw a shot on his backhand that popped into the net, no small thanks to Chris Kunitz parked right in front.
The second period started the power play fest, and the Pens big guns didn't let them down. David Perron tried to center a pass on a 5-on-3 that ended up in the net on a deflection off a Columbus player. There would be no let up, on the ensuing 5v4, Malkin scored again to push the Pens lead to 3-1. Then later in the second, again on the power play, Derrick Pouliot scored his first goal in 20 games to give Pittsburgh an overwhelming 4-1 edge after 40 minutes.
They wouldn't stop there either- the first shift in the 3rd period the new look 3rd line of Brandon Sutter , Daniel Winnik and Steve Downie combined for a really nice goal. Sutter made a good play behind the net to Winnik, who beautifully fed Downie out front. Downie put a really nice shot by McElhinney for his 11th goal of the season, and it was 5-1 just like that.
Columbus was pretty much down and out, but they still made a minor push. Ryan Johansen scored on a shorthanded breakaway after he stole a puck from Pouliot and then left the Pens PP in the dust. Then in the dying seconds of the game Nick Foligno used a defenseman as a screen and rifled a long shot by Marc-Andre Fleury. All formalities by that point though, and the Pens win their 4th straight game.
A few more thoughts on the game:
- Simon Despres got rocked into the boards from behind late in the 3rd period by Corey Tropp . Despres was left bloodied. Hopefully no further damage. The refs would give Tropp a major and a misconduct, and for good reason- at that point in the game no need to have things spiral out of control. Realistically, that's a borderline suspendable hit, especially if Despres is left with an injury. Hopefully the league looks into that.
- One other potential bad spot: Christian Ehrhoff missed the game. Ehrhoff returned from a concussion last game, and got roughed up a little in the game, we remain to see how that will shake out, hopefully it won't be long before Ehrhoff can return.
- 2 assists on the night for Kris Letang , who now sits alone atop the league leaderboard for defensemen. Aside from that, he also played a game high 28:43 and he led the way for the Pens on the PP, SH and ES while out there. Another beast of a game for him.
- 41 shots on goal and 65 shot attempts for the Pens, it was a shooting gallery on poor McElhinney. For their part, CBJ only had 25 shots on goal for the night and just 16 through two periods.
- Columbus took a bunch of penalties in the competitive portion of the game, but all were obvious, and all avoidable. A roughing, a high-sticking, 2 puck over the glass, a closing the hand on the puck. They shot themselves in the foot by taking all those bad penalties and never seemed to be able to stay out of the box.
- Malkin was a hoss with 2 goals, an assists and 6 shots on goal, as we wrote above his early play changed the whole course of the game and tipped it to the Pens favor. However, only 3 for 11 in the faceoff circle his second poor game in a row in that regard. Might be worth watching in the future.
- The new look lower lines looked great on this night. As outlined above, Winnik-Sutter-Downie scored a goal. The new "4th" line of Nick Spaling - Maxim Lapierre - Beau Bennett didn't get on the scoreboard but did have some strong shifts, highlighted by Bennett drawing a penalty.
- What went unsaid, but looms large: the team chose to play Bennett over Craig Adams in a 4th line role. Has to be a good sign going forward. By picking up Winnik, the Pens don't need to play Adams with the excuse of needing a penalty killer. Adams settling in as the 13th forward would be a big plus for the team, who will be better on the ice with him in the press box.
- Interesting night for Fleury, he played well early in the game but then surrendered a pair of goals in the third. The last goal against Foligno is one he would have wanted back, but with 5 goals of "run support" and a healthy lead, not really a big deal.
The Pens celebrate their first four game winning streak since very early in the season, and now it's time for the last, lengthy West coast road trip of the season with four games (COL, ANA, LA, SJ). Tough sledding, so nice to take care of business in this one.