Unusual lineup for Pittsburgh — Bryan Rust is unavailable (wife giving birth) and Mikael Granlund is sick, so the team was down to 10 forwards. They get an 11th up from Wilkes-Barre in the form of Alex Nylander, but do not have enough cap space to recall another player. So they go 11F/7D, with one of those forwards being Nylander in his Pittsburgh NHL debut.
Kulikov and Nylander make their Penguins debut tonight!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 7, 2023
Granlund is out of the lineup tonight due to illness. Rust will not play due to personal reasons. pic.twitter.com/TKv9EkyEac
Slow start for the home team, Jan Rutta has to hold a Blue Jacket to not let him get away and it’s Columbus who gets the first power play early on. They parlay that into the game’s first goal as well. Cole Sillinger has plenty of time and space to feed Emil Bemstrom in the left circle and a quick shot later is in the net. 1-0 CBJ.
BEMSTROM POWER PLAY GOAL pic.twitter.com/7a6TQEUULz— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 8, 2023
It’s not Rutta’s night, he flat out fans on a shot and it turns into a rush the other way. Dmitry Kulikov blocks the pass attempt but the puck ricochets back perfectly for Lane Pederson to tap into the empty net, Rutta couldn’t even back-track with his player there to complete the “oof”. 2-0 CBJ only 7:54 into the contest.
Pederson's first goal as a Blue Jacket ❤️ pic.twitter.com/7tzd9ihZaT— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 8, 2023
Disaster strikes again when the Pens are stuck in a loop- another Evgeni Malkin pass in the offensive zone ends up with the Blue Jackets racing down the ice. Jack Roslovic doesn’t get a shot away, but spins and puts a puck for Patrik Laine to lean into. Easy for him. 3-0 at the 10:11 mark of the game, oh boy.
Mike Sullivan is pissed now, he calls his timeout and tries to wake his team up with some angry words. It doesn’t cause a change too much, but the team stops bleeding goals against, so that’s nice.
Sidney Crosby has a shot come close to scoring but doesn’t quite sneak in and that’s about it. Dreadful opening period for Pittsburgh, down 3-0 and out-shot 9-8.
Drama to start the period, it’s backup Michael Hutchinson in the game with starter Elvis Merzlikins not even on the bench immediately after intermission.
But nothing materially changes, the Pens skate around at half speed, have trouble breaking out and Columbus scores again. Liam Foudy gets a pass from Bemstrom and releases a shot from a bit outside. Looks fairly routine but flies in over Jarry’s shoulder. 4-0.
Liam Foudy gives us ANOTHER ONE pic.twitter.com/YYJebkva2I— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) March 8, 2023
That will mark the end of the night for Jarry, who gets the hook for backup Casey DeSmith.
Not too much else going on, but when the Pens need a spark, it’s usually Jason Zucker these days. He gets them on the board, taking a pass from Malkin and dekeing to the backhand to lift in his 20th goal of the season. 4-1 hole but the ice is broken.
The Pens get their first power play late in second and a chance to get back in the game and take some real momentum and...it goes up in smoke. Some absolutely dreadful decisions by Rickard Rakell, Jake Guentzel and Alex Nylander lead to losing the zone with passes that don’t connect. Can’t blame the last guy — who didn’t even have a practice with the NHL team — but the other two don’t have such an excuse.
Shots in the second are 16-9 PIT, but they only score one on a cold, replacement level goalie. Just bad times.
The Pens get it in gear, Crosby brings the puck up the ice. He dishes to Guentzel who comes down the right wing and dekes around the defender and quickly shoots five-hole and it sneaks in. 4-2 with 19:39 to go.
Fun fact: Since his NHL debut on November 21, 2016, no Penguin has more goals in the regular season and postseason against the Blue Jackets than Jake Guentzel. pic.twitter.com/54HuoS0RRj— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 8, 2023
Pittsburgh starts feeling it, and it’s Zucker time once again. After Hutchinson makes a mistake to poke the puck away, Malkin’s able to peak in there and bump it over for Zucker who is crashing the net. He lifts it in. 4-3 game just like that.
Raise your hand if you love Jason Zucker ✋ pic.twitter.com/Z5lL8Q6yuM— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 8, 2023
CBJ uses their timeout in an attempt to stem the growing momentum as they feel it starting to slip away. It doesn’t work. Crosby fires into the o-zone again and dishes to Rakell. Rakell feeds Danton Heinen who is able to tap it in from the door-step. Tie game, in a heartbeat.
The tide gets stemmed though, both teams switch to exchanging changes. DeSmith (remember him) has to make his first challenging save by extending the leg to get a piece of a Laine shot. Huge stop.
Drew O’Connor gets the gate for interference for only the third penalty of the game, CBJ back at it with just over seven minutes left in regulation. Pittsburgh gets their first successful kill.
Shots are 18-7 Pens in the third, huge rush but the hole they dug was too deep to get out of in regulation.
Pittsburgh has the puck for the most part, Malkin is falling all over the place but able to will himself to hold onto it. Malkin feeds Zucker going to the net and Boone Jenner has to hook him to stop him. Can’t do that, and Pittsburgh gets a 4v3 OT power play.
After a bunch of looks, they finally make CBJ pay when they can’t clear the zone. Malkin collects the puck and feeds Crosby on the right side. The captain drops the hammer and blasts home the GWG. 5-4 Pens escape with the victory.
- Tonight’s lineup is a cap mis-step, but also a sign of the priorities and the consequences that can pop up as a result of those choices. Ron Hextall used limited cap space at the deadline by carrying eight NHL defenders on the salary cap. That’s good for defense depth, but puts the forwards in a pinch with any turmoil. Well, there was some of that tonight, and only enough cap space to recall an 11th healthy forward (and even then, they were only able to get the space free to add Nylander by taking Ryan Poehling to long-term IR). Probably more annoying than anything — who was to think three forwards would turn up unavailable this quickly? — but it could be repeated down the stretch as a result of not having a lot of cap space to find replacement forwards.
- Reset the counter: Rust’s absence ends his 107 game ironman streak, which was the longest active one on the team.
- Rutta won’t like film review of that first period, his actions led to two goals against. While watching the replay of him sneak down the right side for a shot attempt brought back a line from the late, great American Dream Dusty Rhodes: “don’t do shit you don’t know how to do, baby!” Unfortunately, every NHL player should be able to catch and release a quick shot.
- In the end, the Pens’ power play found the goal. When teams don’t stack four on the blueline, they can get in and make magic. But at other times, it’s a big time struggle.
- Nylander got a way bigger look than could have been anticipated playing 14:56 (2 SOG, 5 total attempts, 3 hits, 2 takeaways). No Rust opened up some chances for Nylander with Zucker-Malkin. He picked up an assist on a routine little play of the puck, but good for him in his first NHL game in almost three full calendar years. Due to roster setup/waivers (Pittsburgh can’t drop anyone but O’Connor from up front right now), it’s almost certain Nylander’s NHL stint will have to be a very brief one once Rust returns from paternity leave and Granlund recovers from illness. But it was a nice enough showing by Nylander, at the very least.
- If every other team skated as slow and gave as much distance as Columbus does, Jeff Carter would still be a viable player. It was another strong advance stat game for Carter, who can do well under the surface when not pressured that much. He doesn’t have the skill to do much with it, which is another problem, but gotta take the good where you can get it with him these days.
- Columbus in Pittsburgh since November 2015. Mike Sullivan wasn’t even coach then! It’s been a long, long time. That streak lives on.
- Disjointed, lazy, bad, poor effort, aimless. Pick a negative word and it probably fits for the first half of the game. As a result, the Pens are running out of room for error by stacking up far too many of these outings with regularity. The win is all that matters, and the way they did it feeds some confidence, but it was the type of tale of two games where the first part was so bad.
- Gotta give it up for DeSmith who came in cold and stopped all 15 shots. He played just over 40 minutes, wasn’t busy at all — but he was called on a few times to make huge saves. He made ‘em.
The comeback win gives some relief but Thursday night game against NY Islanders will be huge contest for Pittsburgh.