The Pittsburgh Penguins entered an important day today against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and for about 36 minutes it all looked good. Sidney Crosby was playing great, seemingly pulling the team along on his own, when he scored the game's first goal off a slick Patric Hornqvist feed. Brandon Sutter made it 2-0 after a large net-front drive by Steve Downie and Nick Spaling. The Blue Jackets had won 8 straight but looked a little sleepy for the early start.
Then, Columbus woke up. Nick Foligno scored following an inexcusable defensive zone turnover by David Perron. Then, 2:03 later, with Rob Scuderi and Derrick Pouliot scrambling in their own end like fools, Matt Calvert recovered enough to slide a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury and a host of traffic.
Just like that, what was a 2-0 lead totally evaporated headed into the second intermission. Surely the Pens would regroup, and get it together for a crucial third period, right?
The playoff eliminated Columbus team came out like their season was on the line. They out-shot the Pens 10-1 in the 3rd period's first 11 shots. They scored a goal too, when Pouliot coughed up the puck at his own blueline that Foligno scored his second goal of the game on. To make matters worse, a few minutes later in a scramble Fleury didn't quite have a puck covered, and it somehow slipped on in with some help from Scott Hartnell. 4-2, halfway through the 3rd.
That, finally, seemed to catch the Pens attention. Chris Kunitz played seemingly his first good shift in weeks (perhaps months) immediately after that goal. Pittsburgh got the puck back to Ben Lovejoy who blasted a point shot that Sergei Bobrovsky couldn't catch up with due to all the traffic. 4-3.
But the Pens would come no closer and Foligno capped off his hat-trick with an empty netter (after chipping the puck past Pouliot one more time for good measure). Game, set, match.
- Pouliot was on the ice for all 5 goals against. Ay yi yi.
- Perron's mistake really seemed to open up the floodgates. He *needs* to be a lot better than that.
- Renowned dirty player Brandon Dubinsky actually got called for a slew foot! That's a first. But, of course, they only called it a trip and didn't toss him from the game. Ditto Jack Johnson, who threw an MMA-worthy elbow well after the whistle in Hornqvist's face.
- PH72 is going to need an Advil or two after this game. He was constantly in Bobrovsky's grill, and paying the price to do so all game long. He had about 4 scoring chances, and other than Crosby, was the Pens best and most consistent player.
- Speaking of Bobrovsky, he has quite the artistic flair on some dives there.
- Back to the Pens who were bad story: Scuderi blew. Again. Not much new there.
- And nothing again from Beau Bennett , who even got 1:29 on the PP, including starting a power play off (when the first unit was tired). Might not be his fault, but he again was unable to make any sort of impact in any way, per usual this season.
- Nice to see Lovejoy let a shot go and get one in the net. That one had some shades of Matt Niskanen on it. Not flashy, not pretty, just a nice, hard, low slapshot.
- Ian Cole had 2 assists and played well in the first half of the game. But he made a couple of pinches too that didn't quite work out and seems to be a little uneven. Unlike most his teammates though, Cole was probably more good than bad in this game.
- 0-fer 3 on the power play. The first one early actually had some good time in the zone (despite Crosby losing an initial faceoff) and some nice chances and shots. The last two, not so much. Including one late in the 3rd that could have tied the game.
- The PK was good at least. This game saw another 2 Steve Downie minor penalties, probably both avoidable on his part, but it's not like they can scratch him now. The PK'ers did a good job and Fleury was good in this department.
But overall, it's a loss. A lot of chicken littles worrying about the Pens playoff hopes- but big picture things are OK. Pittsburgh has 95 points- usually enough to make the playoffs in the East. And a game against Buffalo too. Plus Evgeni Malkin is coming back. It was definitely a bad game and not comforting to watch the team blow it, but on the macro, I wouldn't put so much stock in a season collapse. This team isn't putting together consistent efforts- which is troubling- but considering their personnel, not especially surprising to see a team with this talent level struggling. Only one way to go now, and that's onward.