The Blue Jackets had an interesting challenge today, thanks to the 4:00pm start time. Making the decision to skip a morning skate and just warm up in Pittsburgh, head coach Todd Richards was basically asking all of his players to make sure they were ready to play.
The team didn't disappoint.
Taking the initiative from the drop of the puck, the Jackets would open the scoring just over a minute into the game when Marian Gaborik forced a turnover behind the Penguins' net and lost control of the puck, but managed to send it sailing over to Brandon Dubinsky, who blasted it past Marc-Andre Fleury.
The game would turn scary shortly afterwards when Jack Skille and Harry Zolnierczyk collided awkwardly near the Penguins' bench, sending both off for repairs, but fortunately both players returned to the game a few minutes later.
Each team traded power play opportunities, then the Jackets put more pressure on, getting a cycle going before Dubi fed Jack Johnson up at the blue line for a hard shot that Boone Jenner would redirect into the net for the 2-0 lead.
Despite a parade of penalties for Columbus and a brief 5 on 3 advantage for the home club, the score would stand through 20 minutes. The second period, however, got off on a sour note when Fedor Tyutin was sent to the box for a high stick during his first shift of the frame. The PK and Sergei Bobrovsky were up to the challenge despite being outshot 15-5 by that point, and the surge from a successful kill would set up the third Columbus goal thanks to Ryan Murray digging the puck out of the boards and centering it for a wide open Cam Atkinson.
This could have been the opening of the floodgates, especially considering it meant that the Flower had let in three goals on six shots, but the Pens found their feet thanks to the efforts of Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen, who sliced through the Jackets' defense on a give and go to beat Sergei Bobrovsky for the first of Jokinen's three goals in the second period, tying the game after 40 thanks to his hat trick.
Either club could have taken the game in the final period, but the Jackets found what they needed thanks to the Jenner / Dubinsky / Gaborik line, who powered into the Penguins' zone just before the midway point, attacked the net hard, and then Boone would knock the rebound out of the air, corral it behind the net, then slid around to bank the puck off Fleury's shoulders and into the net for his second of the game.
Bob would be hammered for the next 12 minutes as the Penguins threw everything but the kitchen sink at his net, but just kept finding stops and saves until he was able to freeze the puck for a faceoff inside the Columbus zone with just under a minute to go, and the Pittsburgh net empty for the extra attacker.
Derek MacKenzie would win the faceoff back to Jack Johnson, who pushed the puck up the ice to the top of the zone, where Brandon Dubinsky picked Kris Letang's pocket and passed back to MacKenzie. D-Mac dropped the hammer into an open net, and the Jackets had the insurance goal that was so difficult to come by last season to put this game to bed.
Final Score - Jackets 5 - Penguins 3
- Boone Jenner - Seriously, son. Boone has been clicking with Dubi and Gaborik since this line was unveiled a few nights ago against Carolina, using his size and surprisingly soft hands to set up his linemates or just carry the mail himself. With three goals and and an assist in three games, he's not just one of the team's top scorers in the pre-season, he's in the top five for the whole NHL.
- Brandon Dubinsky - Dubi finally got his first goal, but his continued points streak and a +5 today puts him at the top of the club for total points and leading the team with six assists.
- Ryan Murray - A nice performance from another "young gun", especially his work pursuing the puck and making some solid passes on offense and to clear out of his own zone.
- Sergei Bobrovsky - OK, the hat trick was unfortunate, but that's still just three goals allowed on 41 shots - a damn sight better than what Pittsburgh got. Bob was tested a lot and really made some big saves when we needed him, particularly late in the third period.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Penalty Trouble - Some of the calls were...not great, but the fact remains that the Jackets took a lot of penalties against a team that normally punishes their opponents for their foolishness. If Sidney Crosby had been in the lineup, I suspect he'd really been a gamechanger for that 5-on-3. The club cannot let themselves get hemmed in all game because they're constantly on the PK.
- Ryan Johansen - This was a "step up" game, and I didn't really feel like the Johan got it in gear the way we hoped he would today. He was great in the faceoff circle, but got caught a couple times by Malkin and Jokinen and failed to make much impact on the offensive side of the puck.
- Clock Management - The team seemed to say "oh, 3-0 lead, we're fine now", and really took their foot off the gas in the second period. If this had been, say, with 30 seconds left in the game? Yeah, OK, fine. But there was way too much time to play. The coaches looked like they were going to crack the whip in the second intermission, and I think the team responded.
Columbus has three preseason games left. Monday at home against the Wild, Wednesday up in Buffalo, and then back home on Thursday to host the Hurricanes. By all appearances, Boone Jenner has earned himself a spot, but there's still a few jobs for grabs, and a few more cuts to be made.
I'm thrilled about the team being 3-1 at this point, but it's preseason - this was the first game where they faced a team I'd say was 85%+ of their regular NHL roster. The pace is going to quicken, and everyone is going to be getting sharper. The Jackets must keep pushing the pace, or they could easily find themselves slipping behind.