It’s a bare bones defense with Zach Trotman making his NHL season debut and Juuso Riikola back from the healthy scratch pile to replace the injured Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang
The first period moves very quickly, both teams play several stretches between whistles, free-flowing game but not a ton of shots and no penalties. A lot of board battles, races up the ice, dis-possession, sloppy passes abound.
It’s the Penguins who get on the board first, Patric Hornqvist does a nice job entering the zone and makes a funky one-handed pass over to Sidney Crosby. Crosby wastes no time firing of course a pitch perfect pass to Jake Guentzel in the slot. From there, Guentzel does what Guentzel does - score goals against the Blue Jackets. 1-0.
Columbus thinks they tie it up when Seth Jones hammers a puck into the net but it’s challenged and over-ruled for goalie interference. A Blue Jackets player was in the crease and bumped the goalie but, ehh, I’m not really sure that was why the goal was scored, Matt Murray was out of sorts. Fortunate call to be on the sunny end of.
Pittsburgh loses a player to injury when Bryan Rust and Adam McQuaid collide, and McQuaid finishes his check and falls on the leg of Rust. Routine enough looking play with an unfortunate outcome.
That McQuaid hit on Rust sure was something pic.twitter.com/LYS2Z6v2Kf— geoff stat boy (@G_Off817) February 27, 2019
The Pens even make it 2-0 before the end of the period, the defense has a poor gap on Jared McCann, so he takes what they give him a uses the player as a screen and rips a shot past Sergei Bobrovsky.
Shots end up 8-5 Pens through 20 minutes. Man, when’s the last time Pittsburgh held a team to five shots in the first period? Feels like forever.
The era of good feelings for tight defense ends pretty quickly in a period filled with poor decision by forwards in the neutral zone, bad defensemen plays and getting pinned in the zone. But not before a little Geno magic to score from way out, another tough one for Bob to give up against the Pens. Definitely deflected off something in front though.
He's going the distance! pic.twitter.com/3nfv059eqc— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 27, 2019
But then Pittsburgh’s poor play starts costing goals. Chad Ruhwedel can’t check or close on Oliver Bjorkstrand quick enough and the CBJ forward gets to the middle of the ice and fires one past Murray to make it 3-1.
Ruhwedel takes an offensive zone penalty, gah, hate to see that. Matt Cullen loses the ensuing faceoff and before you know it a bad bounce off Justin Schultz’s skate kicks a puck to Cam Atkinson with an empty net if Jack Johnson can’t block the shot. 3-2.
Ruhwedel leaves the game injured after taking a hit into the wall.
Late in the period, Patric Hornqvist going crazy and getting mugged after the whistle, love to see him getting emotional and involved. Can never accuse that guy of not caring.
The Blue Jackets get another power play late in the period with Dominik Simon to the box. Crosby loses the faceoff clean and CBJ pushes for a goal, but luckily the Pens are saved by the bell. Or goal horn to end the period, more accurately.
Much better second period for Columbus. They started flat and fell behind 3-0 at home, but you had to expect a bounce-back in an important game now as the season gets a little later. Shots in the second were 12-11 Pittsburgh, but it felt like almost 65% of the game was played in their end.
Columbus starts on the power play, Nick Foligno drives to the net and unleashes a shot past Murray and off the post, and the Pens kill it off. But not before a bad clear leads to this...
is this good hockey defense pic.twitter.com/Adtqwib2fo— SportsPickle (@sportspickle) February 27, 2019
..And somehow Columbus doesn’t score.
The refs are pretty much in playoff mode, McCann gets blatantly high-sticked in the middle of the ice, no call. A couple shifts later, McCann gets his revenge with some nifty puck skills to advance the puck up the ice for a developing 2-on-1, he rips the shot past Bob. 4-2 game
Malkin gets tripped middle of the ice, but his team is winning so no penalty. Marcus Pettersson does grab a guy, and he gets called for it with 4:19 left to play.
Columbus doesn’t do much with it, Crosby with some nice PKing, creates a breakaway and gets hacked to finally draw a call and eliminate the CBJ power play. But even with two defensemen out in Riikola and Schultz the Pens still give up a BAD chance, but Murray pushes to his right to stop Artemi Panarin to salt the game away.
And then Sidney Crosby just is mean and lifts Seth Jones’ stick and scores on an empty net for good measure.
- Still like Zach Aston-Reese on the Malkin-Kessel line, but not sure if his playmaking chops make him a long-term option there. On a 2-on-1 with Kessel having about a tap in if the pass comes, ZAR wasn’t even taking a peak or thinking anything but shot. For now, it’s working though.
- Ruhwedel’s play on the first goal against and taking an o-zone penalty that led to the second goal against...Not good looks. The Pens don’t have much other option at this point, but just because these guys are battling admirably doesn’t mean they’re performing well.
- That’s not to pile on Ruhwedel individually, aside from noting his miscues ended up being costly. You can point to Riikola falling way off his guy (similar to how McCann scored) and yielding a shot that Murray had to save like Jay Caufield pointed out at intermission.
- Malkin’s getting rewarded with some weird and long-range goals the last couple games, but this a good thing. He hasn’t really been shooting enough and good things will happen when a player that talented is gaining confidence and throwing more on net and getting rewarded.
- The Pens’ power play without Letang looks even worse than it has been lately. Zone entries and advancing the puck through the NZ without #58 (and with Kessel demoted off the first group) was just atrocious. But, it kinda makes sense being as Letang and Kessel are the primary puck carriers through the NZ.
- Another game, another two players leave and don’t return. The Rust injury is a lot more serious and concerning, especially since he skated off slowly and favoring a bit to put weight on a leg. That’s potentially very bad news, to state the obvious.
- The Pens only have 12 forwards on the NHL roster, at the moment. So if Rust is going to be out, welcome back, Teddy Blueger? Would seem likely, you’d have to think. By now there’s no more 23-man roster limit post-trade deadline, but the team does have to comply with the salary cap.
- Weird night for the refs. Three calls against the Pens, one against Columbus. Seemed like after the goal was disallowed, Columbus could do no wrong in the refs eyes as they only took a call when Crosby got obviously slashed on a breakaway. Bit of a makeup for a close call against?
- McCann was a difference maker in this one. That kid has some great hands, and his ability to battle around defensemen is a thing of beauty. Shot isn’t bad either. Great to see him continue to put things together, especially if Rust is going to be absent for a bit, there’s going to be a need for some key secondary scoring and McCann filled that role big time tonight.
- Pittsburgh beat Columbus in a huge game with essentially 5 replacement level defensemen, and the only objectively good defenseman has only been back 11 days from missing most of the season with a broken leg. Wow. Just seems like Columbus can never, ever get over their Pittsburgh hurdle at this point.
- Huge save by Murray on Panarin with 44 seconds to go. Murray needed that kind of a bounce-back after allowing bad goals late last game in Philly. This time he slammed the door with authority and earned a win. Obviously with a less-than-great group on the blueline the team wasn’t going to win without sturdy goaltending. They got it tonight.
Two more days off, which could be very valuable in perhaps getting one (or both) of Dumoulin and Letang back.
It’s a good thing the Pens won - they didn’t get any help at all in other games. Washington waxed Ottawa. Montreal mugged Detroit and Carolina crushed LA. All those playoff teams beat up on bad teams, which is what you expect this time of year, but it was without much drama at all. Pittsburgh couldn’t have really afforded a loss tonight. And they won. Now everyone can get off the bridges and not worry about firing everyone for two more days.