Friday was an uphill battle for the Pittsburgh Penguins well before the game even started. During a rare highly populated morning skate (the team has been going away from them), Bryan Rust got hurt sliding into the boards. He wouldn’t be able to play. The team called up forward Joseph Blandisi from Wilkes-Barre, but he couldn’t make it to the game on time (arrived at about 7:30) so with only 11 healthy forwards, welcome back to the forward ranks, Juuso Riikola.
The Pens come out very flat in this game. Like getting out-shot attempted 22-4 flat. Terrible performance early. The Blue Jackets would score the first game, some bad luck here with Oliver Bjorkstrand’s shot deflecting off the backside of Gustav Nyquist and jumping straight in the top corner of the net.
TYPE X TO HONK! pic.twitter.com/2fXtezEpgy— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) November 30, 2019
But for as bad as the Pens looked (which was pretty bad!), they still emerged from the first period tied, thanks to Evgeni Malkin lofting a beautiful saucer pass on a 2-on-1 over to Jake Guentzel. Guentzel makes a masterful play to wait for goalie Joonas Korpisalo to slide all the way over, open up subtly to suggest going farside, forcing the goalie to open up the 5-hole to lean back. No sooner does Korpisalo do this does Guentzel slam it home through said 5-hole. 1-1 game on Guentzel’s 15th of the season.
That was it for the scoring, the Pens again managed so few looks at net and got badly outplayed for the entirety of the period. It looked like Columbus was skating at super-speed and Pittsburgh all had half a dozen IPAs during warmups.
Pittsburgh’s good luck to stay close despite not really deserving to stay close in this game ran out early in the second period. The Pens gave up two goals in the first 2:52 of the period.
First, Malkin left a lazy drop pass in traffic. Bad idea. Nick Foligno takes it the other way and beats Tristan Jarry to the far-side with a quick shot.
Picked his pocket Ⓒ pic.twitter.com/SmYYOZ0MnN— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) November 30, 2019
Then after Dominik Kahun took a penalty, CBJ would cash in to make it 3-1. Nyquist scores his second of the night on a backhander. Not sure if Jarry just couldn’t pick this up quickly enough or what, but not the greatest goal to allow with a team on the ropes.
A goose emerges from the circle, determined and alert, with no other purpose than to beat the goaltender. pic.twitter.com/btOxPTT8jM— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) November 30, 2019
The game turns a bit nasty in ways that NHL games don’t really turn too much. Brandon Tanev catches a gusher and face full of blood after getting punched by Pierre-Luc Dubois. Somehow Josh Anderson gets the penalty and only a 2 minute minor.
The ensuing Pens’ power play is one of the most disjointed and ugliest examples of a power play in league history. It was v, v, v bad.
With Guentzel in the penalty box next, the Jackets would score when Foligno and Jack Johnson spun around, one of them found the puck first (guess who) and Jarry, again with a guy in front of him either struggled to pick this one up on time, or I don’t know. Do know it’s a 4-1 game now and getting ugly.
“Jack Johnson is easily playing the finest hockey of his Penguins’ career. He simply looks like a different and better player.” pic.twitter.com/V9DmFPTXEj— (@j_a155) November 30, 2019
The game continues to get ugly, the Jackets just full out assaulting Patric Hornqvist in front of the net for little to no reason and the NHL refs do little to stop it.
Shots in the second end up 16-11 Pens, but the goals tell a much different story.
The Pens do what they do, initiating a third period comeback. It’s Kris Letang one-timing a slapper past Korpisalo to make it 4-2 with 14+ minutes left in the game.
They can’t get closer, not for a lack of trying. Malkin is robbed by Korpisalo jutting a leg out to deny his deflection. Guentzel can’t score a slam dunk later on. Some nice chances and won’t go.
The Pens would get a few more power plays, but got no traction on them. Just not one of those games.
Nyquist tacked on an empty netter to finish his hat trick and set the final score at 5-2.
Three final thoughts
F’ed up from Jump Street. Rust has been one of the team’s top players on undoubtedly the team’s best line. Having him go down in morning skate, and his replacement not able to get from Wilkes-Barre to Columbus in time for the game, it just all was messy from the start and a bad omen that carried forward. Doesn’t excuse a bad effort or some of the lesser moments, but an incident like that sets a bad tone.
Galchenyuk in the dog house? The esteemed Bob Grove noted that Alex Galchenyuk only played 19 seconds after being on the ice for Vancouver’s fourth goal on Wednesday. This game Galchenyuk found himself skating on the fourth line with center Sam Lafferty (an AHL/NHL type who isn’t really an NHL center) and a right wing with Riikola (a defenseman) on it. Yikes. It’s telling that Galchenyuk has been shuffled out by Mike Sullivan as his odd man out. The penalty in the third he took was lazy too, and surprisingly wasn’t benched but still only ended up with 9:50 played (7:39 at ES).
Un-special teams. Pittsburgh power play went 0-for-4 and felt even worse than that, often sapping the team of energy and momentum with uninspiring performances. The Pens’ PK was no better, going just 2-for-4, with two times Johnson contributing to traffic in front of the net and Jarry unable to pick up the shot in time. Add it up, and that’s basically the difference in the game before the empty net goal to have a negative PP and PK.
The Pens didn’t have a bad game in a long time before tonight, but tonight certainly was one of them. It was a tough sled and didn’t go well. But the team can look to bounce back soon, with a strong challenge in St. Louis. But at least they’ll have 12 forwards for it.