It was another slow start for the Penguins, who once again surrendered the first goal of the game and early in the game, as often has been the case lately. Brian Dumoulin got his pocket picked before he could clear the zone, and that hold would prove crucial as the Blue Jackets worked it around and eventually got it to Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand snapped his 100th career NHL goal past Casey DeSmith jsut 4:43 into this game.
Pittsburgh would get that goal back in the last minute of the first period from the most unlikely of sources. No, not Kasperi Kapanen, though he added an assist for his first point in 13 games on this play. Chad Ruhwedel caught Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins slippin’ and threw a shot from near the wall that just found a way on in. Nice job for the Pens to get out of the first all squared up at one.
RUDY! RUDY! RUDY! RUDY! pic.twitter.com/9Eom5JTEjA— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 28, 2022
Another Dumoulin mistake led to another Columbus goal in the second period and to again give the hosts a lead. Dumoulin could have played the puck in reverse to John Marino, he could have made a riskier pass up the middle to Brock McGinn. But instead Dumoulin fairly weakly tried to throw it up the wall. Bad idea, since Jack Roslovic was right there. Roslovic stepped into a heck of a shot that blew by DeSmith to make it 2-1.
The game wouldn’t turn in the Pens’ favor until mid-way through the third period. Defenseman Mark Friedman probably saved the game when he lent DeSmith a helping hand and pulled a puck away from sliding into an empty net and robbing Columbus of a two-goal lead.
THIS IS A MARK FRIEDMAN APPRECIATION POST. pic.twitter.com/Unh6SGA7sx— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 28, 2022
Shortly after, Pittsburgh went to their third power play of the evening when Sean Kuraly took down Evgeni Malkin. The first half of the power play was disjointed, the Pens could not really even enter the zone and establish possession to set up their offense.
With a whistle, Mike Sullivan used his timeout with 8+ minutes left in the game to give a breather for his top guns to be able and stay on the ice. It was a calm, focused, matter-of-fact regrouping and it paid off almost instantly.
When the Pens’ power play is on, it’s a piece of art. They drew up something beautiful in Columbus tonight. Sidney Crosby passed to Jake Guentzel down low. Guentzel clicked the puck to Bryan Rust in the slot. Rust quickly angled a puck to Evgeni Malkin, and almost all Malkin had to do was keep pressure on his stick to direct in a game-tying goal with 8:06 remaining.
Evgeni Malkin has power-play tallies in three straight games for just the second time in his career pic.twitter.com/9fTUSpiRf5— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 28, 2022
As the game clock dwindled down, the Pens played inspired and confident from pulling even. Kris Letang sent a point shot in, and with mayhem in front leads to Crosby slinging the puck into an open net and Merzlikins sprawled out.
Instantly, Columbus challenged the goal for goalie interference. However, after a fairly quick challenge (a sign it wasn’t good for ol’ CBJ), the officials noted that Merzlikins initiated contact with Crosby, therefore the goal would stand. There would only be 2:14 left in the game at this point, and the Jackets would take a two minute minor for failing on the challenge.
Which served as the closeout for this game, as the Pens just ran out the clock and for a second day in a row couldn’t hit an empty net. But they were able to complete a winning weekend.
- As rough as Marcus Pettersson was the other night against New Jersey, it was that kind of night for Dumoulin in this one. Always can be days like that, and defense can largely be boiled down to basically just weathering and recovering from mistakes...Tonight, Dumoulin couldn’t avoid the mistakes, nor mask them after the fact. Happens to ‘em all at some point, I suppose.
- After only scoring one PPG in the last two games, Pittsburgh’s offensive scoring mid-way through the third was one fairly fluky/weird goal from Ruhwedel. It wasn’t looking promising, but that late power play was a chance. The Pens’ power play has been clicking at near 30% since Malkin has returned, and it seems like too much to ask for the man advantage to stay this hot, but they really didn’t have a choice on this night. And the big guns came through.
- That’s now three straight games with a PPG for Malkin too. As I wrote just yesterday, might as well repeat it: Geno is as dangerous and productive as anyone in the league right now when it comes to the power play.
- A point for Kapanen! It’s a miracle! Hopefully this gets him going or grows some confidence. Otherwise, ehh, didn’t really think it was that impactful or good of a game for Kapanen, Ruhwedel just happened to score a goal that most goalies are usually going to stop in the NHL.
- One player who isn’t scoring but did have a good game? Evan Rodrigues. He had three SOG and eight total shot attempts. Merzlikins had to rob ERod off a Mark Friedman shot/pass from right in tight. Really liked the game of Rodrigues on this game. Didn’t find the net, but it should be coming soon if he keeps generating looks like this.
- Speaking of Friedman, he’s been a breath of fresh air in the lineup. You can’t help but notice him on the ice, he’s eye-catching on almost every shift with the way he plays. Sometimes that might not be a good thing, if he’s out of position or scrambling or absorbing big hits. but on this night Friedman was good, making positive impacts. Five total shot attempts. He only played 14:36, I would have guessed he was out there about 17-18+ though without looking at the stat sheet. When he’s on the ice, you’re just bound to take note of him. Good weekend for him back playing for the first time in a while.
- Patrik Laine had 13 goals in his last 12 games coming into tonight. But he now only has one career goal against Pittsburgh in 10 games, per Pens historian Bob Grove. He’s never been a big scorer against the Pens and that didn’t change today.
- Pens improve to 91-9-3 when both Crosby and Malkin score goals in the same game. Not bad.
Great weekend for Pittsburgh to take two division games in just over a 24 hour stretch. The Pens settle into the same routine they had last week, play on Sunday and off until Thursday. But this week will have plenty to look forward to with games @Tampa, @Carolina on the back-to-back and two very tough challenges lie ahead.