The Penguins head down the stretch after the trading deadline for their first game with new addition Rickard Rakell fresh off a red eye and ready to jump into the lineup.
It would be the Columbus Blue Jackets to try and play spoilers though, and they started off well enough with a power play goal in the first period. Mike Matheson went off the ice for four minutes on a double-minor high-sticking penalty and Gustav Nyquist would cash in on it. Zach Werenski loaded up from the point and fired, with Nyquist in front. The puck just barely got through Tristan Jarry and rolled slowly into the net to get Columbus on the board.
NHL Video Highlight - Gustav Nyquist scores a power-play goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins to make it 1-0. pic.twitter.com/fmBRtaP1yC— Blue Jackets Game Bot (@CBJGameBot) March 22, 2022
From there though, it was all Penguins. Shots in the first were 12-7 in favor of Pittsburgh. 5v5 scoring chances were 11-3, Pens. The expected goal split was 75%-25% for the Pens. Only a strong first by Joonas Korpisalo held the home team at bay and sent the Blue Jackets into the first intermission with a lead.
That lead would not last very long. The offensive force known as Chad Ruhwedel would step into the play and activate with a shot that Korpisalo saved, but the rebound leaked out and big Radim Zohorna (sporting a new number, #63) got his long reach towards and knocked into the open net. 1-1 game.
Just 36 seconds later, the Pens would take the lead. The first line tuned up the band and Sidney Crosby froze Korpisalo and then sent the cross-ice pass over for Jake Guentzel. From there, Guentzel had an easy finish into another wide open net for his 30th goal of the season.
Two Penguins goals in 36 seconds? You know it. pic.twitter.com/xLdcJYbl1c— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 23, 2022
The Pens would go ahead and tack on a third goal just a few minutes later. Evgeni Malkin put a serious test into the “you can’t give a good player a bad pass” idiom when he throw almost a belt-high puck at Bryan Rust. Rust was able to somehow corral the puck and keep the play alive. Somehow isolated against rookie Cole Sillinger, Rust easily blew right by the forward and then also split between defender Vladislav Garikov and was able to finish on Korpisalo. Not a very nice play by anyone on the ice, aside from Rust — who it was a very, very nice play.
ALL GAS, NO BRAKES!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 23, 2022
...and a bit of Rust pic.twitter.com/AlnQRWzSaO
The smiles were in full effect for the first line to help Pittsburgh pull away. Crosby threw the puck in front, it bounced and fluttered around and somehow ended up knocking off the post and into the net. Eventually this goal was credited for hitting Guentzel in front for his second goal of the night.
Four unanswered goals in the 2nd period? YOU LOVE TO SEE IT. pic.twitter.com/iAKLuSZw9n— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 23, 2022
Pittsburgh kept it up, earning a 5v3 power play in the third period. After taking a timeout to rest the top players, Crosby won a faceoff and Rust laid a pass over for Malkin. Malkin fired back across Korpisalo to the far-side to stretch the score to 5-1 in favor of the Pens.
Fun fact: Evgeni Malkin has points in 13 of his last 14 games vs. Columbus (10G-9A). pic.twitter.com/CvpLuoR4N0— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 23, 2022
That would do it for the scoring as the Pens shut ‘er down a bit early and rode it out, allowing a 13-5 shot period in favor of CBJ. That left a little work for Tristan Jarry to pad his stats and end up with a performance of 26 saves on 27 shots and the win on the evening.
- It’s not worth going over Rakell’s game in extreme detail (2 SOG, a hit, a giveaway, a takeaway in 14:08 played) since he, you know, hasn’t practiced with the team he joined today. But even in little flashes I think you have to like what you saw. He’s as advertised with having some good hands and offensive instincts. You can tell this is an experienced NHL player who can move his feet a little and knows where to get to score goals.
- And also, it’s just ridiculous that he shows up after a freakin’ red eye flight last night, like he’s dropping in at Neville Island on a random Tuesday to help a friend fill out their house league team and play with people that he doesn’t really even know their names or anything, except..It’s the NHL. What a world.
- Great to see the Pens break through and in a big way. It was kind of like the Arizona game on Saturday, where the team scored three goals in the last few minutes of the third there. This one happened earlier, but had that same feel of inevitability and superior play against an over-matched opponent.
- Zohorna (now wearing 63 with Rakell taking his usual #67) is a good half a foot taller than Teddy Blueger (#53), but like Matt Vensel I was also getting confused with the 53/63 number difference at times. Probably won’t happen much longer but an in-season jersey switch is not ideal.
- Coach Mike Sullivan was again using a Guentzel-Crosby-Malkin line in the first period, and not just right after killing a penalty either. An exciting little development, he’s starting to throw them out there on the fly more and more when pushing for a goal. Probably more than ever in the Sullivan era.
- Kapanen just barely didn’t score (about the only thing Korpisalo stopped all night) but made a beautiful play in the first to deke and skate a circle around the whole CBJ team, or so it felt anyways and then make a power move to the net. It might be tough to put too much stock in it since the Jackets are not a very good team and were poor in this game, but Kapanen’s been building lately and showing some encouraging.
- Kapanen’s got time to figure it out and Rakell has time to get adjusted to the Eastern time zone and Jason Zucker has time to get healthy as long as the top players are going like this. All of Malkin, Guentzel, Rust and Crosby had multi-point evenings, with Sid leading the way on a three-assist game. The big four combined for 4G+5A. That’s going to do the trick on most nights, putting Malkin+Rust together has been a necessary and wise move, and Guentzel+Crosby are still doing their thing as well.
- CBJ is not very good and Korpisalo has been pretty rough all season. For 20 minutes he looked like he was going to frustrate Pittsburgh, but finally they started finishing goals, and even getting a little bit of good puck luck along the way with some of the bounces, like on the goal credited to Guentzel that Crosby threw to the net ever-so-slowly bouncing around into the net.
- But, it’s not just that Columbus is bad, the Penguins are playing mighty strong too. Before basically taking the third period off, Pittsburgh was out-shooting opponents in the last week by a combined 162-85 mark over the last three games plus two periods. That’s almost a 2/1 ratio. Pittsburgh is 3-1-0 in this stretch, losing only last Tuesday to Nashville (in a game where goalie Juuse Saros played his tail off and was the major reason why the Pens didn’t win that game, too).
Another strong performance and right now the Pens are in about as good of a groove as they have been in all season for how they are playing and controlling the game. Their schedule continues to throw them some curve balls, they’ll be in Buffalo tomorrow night as they look to get the momentum rolling along.