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Penguins/Columbus Recap: Sick game. Crosby returns from illness, scores twice

The Pens win again, Sidney Crosby pops in two more goals in a 4-1 victory over Columbus

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images


The Pens substitute Danton Heinen back into the lineup for the injured Ryan Poehling and are lucky enough to get Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin back in time from illness to play tonight.

First period

Just one minute into the game, Columbus scores on the game’s first shot. The Pens can’t leave the zone with possession and turn it over to Patrik Laine. Laine makes a nice spinning pass to Johnny Gaudreau who jets down the left side in space and blasts a shot high to the glove of Tristan Jarry. 1-0 CBJ.

Pittsburgh’s start continues to be slow, often hemmed in early. Brock McGinn takes a cross-checking penalty as a result of all the Columbus pressure.

The Pens kill that off, but then Jake Guentzel takes an offensive zone high-sticking penalty to send them right back to the PK. On that PK, Bryan Rust is struck by a puck in the hand area and leaves the game, but Pittsburgh kills off the penalty.

Shots through one are 10-8 CBJ, which belies the point of how poorly the Pens played (only one high danger scoring chance, per Natural Stat Trick). Total shot attempts being 29-12 more accurately depict who had the puck (Columbus) and where it was (in Pittsburgh’s end) for the majority of the first. Pretty blah start.

Second period

Rust returns after intermission and the Pens’ second line scores the team’s first goal of the night. With Evgeni Malkin causing mayhem at the net, Rust follows up to the blue paint and sweeps a puck in under Elvis Merlikins before the net can come off. Takes 1:15 into the second to make it a 1-1 game.

Not wanting to be left out, the first line scores only 47 seconds after Rust’s tally to give Pittsburgh the lead. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel do their thing, Guentzel gets it to the net, Crosby finds the rebound and is able to just swat the puck in above the leg pad from one knee and Pittsburgh is suddenly up 2-1 with a little bit more of that classic Crosby magic.

The Pens get a power play and the first unit looks great and scores! It’s Crosby in front of the net. But Columbus challenges for goalie interference. Crosby is in the blue paint and Merzlikins does bump into him trying to stretch to make the save, but the refs don’t agree and let it stand. And CBJ is back on the PK as a result of the failed challenge.

Columbus kills that off, but they slash Teddy Blueger during a breakaway trigger a penalty shot. Blueger tries to shoot five-hole but his Latvian counterpart in net has that covered all the way.

Huge response period (or wake up) for the Pens, who take the shot edge 19-13 in the second, and roar back on the scoreboard to take a 3-1 lead into the final intermission.

Third period

The Pens keep buzzing and Guentzel draws a power play after nearly scoring two different times on the first shift of the third. No goal, but another very encouraging looking power play with Crosby darting around here, there and everywhere.

Josh Archibald heads to the box with 15:21 still remaining, the Pens kill it off.

The Pens go into a defensive shell, Guentzel goes down hard into the back boards shoulder and head first and leads the game.

Archibald makes up for his penalty by drawing a high-stick with 5:15 to go, which serves well to take two more minutes off the clock, until Jeff Petry gives it back with a trip of his own.

The Blue Jackets pull the goalie but before he can get off the ice the Pens have the puck. Merzlikins dives to stop Rust from a goal (even though the shot was wide), but the rebound is corralled by Blueger and deposited into the open net anyways. 4-1 Pens.

The Jackets keep the goalie out for a 6v4, why not? They keep zone time, Laine puts as many shots on Jarry as possible from distance but they’re all turned away. Gustav Nyquist gets a goalie interference penalty to end that. The Pens call off the dogs in the last minute and don’t use their top power play group and it’s over.

Some thoughts

  • The Rust injury brought back deja vu to October 2019, where he broke his hand blocking a shot and missed a few weeks at the start of that season. Coming on the PK, that’s always a risk to throw out important players in a scenario where they’re more likely to be called on to absorb shots, tough situation. Luckily he returned, though we’ve seen several instances where adrenaline or sheer nerve has injured players finish out a game, so hopefully all is well on that front.
  • If that wasn’t enough, there was another nasty 2019 injury flashback for the way Guentzel tripped into the back wall, similar to his major injury against Ottawa, though without the pure force and speed of the earlier one. He looked more stunned than in pure pain and was able to come back out for the power play, so again, hopefully more of a bad memory than current pain.
  • I’m usually on team “keep goals on the board, don’t reverse for close call moments” type of plays, but Crosby was in the blue paint. He wasn’t pushed, and his presence altered the goalie’s ability to stretch in his crease. By rule, that should be no goal. If Crosby was about a foot back, that would have been fine. Would the goalie have stopped it anyways without the contact? Probably not. Does that or should that matters? Who even knows any more.
  • And, knowing NHL officiating, gotta wonder if that’s Josh Archibald in the blue paint scoring, is that getting overturned? (Didn’t he have one taken away not too long ago?) Probably a bigger chance, which speaks to a different bucket of problems, but hey, what can ya do?
  • Final thought on the matter - it remains dumb that the consequence for losing a challenge is a penalty against the team that challenges. Especially when calls are so close and who the heck knows how the officials will see the play. Losing the timeout as the rule used to stand, was more equitable.
  • The first power play group now with 100% more Ricky Raks is looking reaaaally good. Maybe it was just a matter of time before they turned it around anyways, but everything about it now looks fresh. There’s puck movement, there’s bodies and pucks going to the net. It’s a big improvement over how not only ineffective they’ve been but just sad and stale. That’s not all due to one little tweak in the personnel, but sometimes that little moves can make a big difference.
  • PK still doin’ the deed, 4/4 tonight, including two huge situational kills in the first period when the Pens were losing 1-0. If it had failed and it becomes a 2-0 game, maybe Pittsburgh could have still climbed out of the hole they were in anyways with the second period push, but then again, maybe the game would have unfolded differently from that point on.

That wraps up a successful 3-1-1 home-stand for Pittsburgh, who pull away in the second and never look back in this game tonight. Up next is a Friday-Saturday home-and-home with the Buffalo Sabres.