The mood surrounding Jackets fans prior to puck drop last night was not positive, and it was made even worse by the news that Brandon Dubinsky was a last-minute scratch due to an upper-body injury.
The Jackets were not fazed. They went into Pittsburgh, and fought their way to a 2-1 victory, and came within a hair of shutting the Pens out.
It was a battle between Sergei Bobrovsky and Marc-Andre Fleury all night - both goaltenders were spectacular. The first half of the game was scoreless, and though Fleury would have more highlight-reel saves, Bob was as solid as we've ever seen him. He needs to build off this game, it was Bob at his best.
With Dubinsky out, Nick Foligno moved to center between Brandon Saad and Scott Hartnell, while Dalton Prout joined Gregory Campbell and Jared Boll on the fourth line.
The Jackets came out bangin'. Though they weren't generating a ton of shots, they were doing a good job of sustaining pressure in the Pens' end. Pittsburgh would get a chance midway though the first on the man advantage, but Saad had the best scoring chance for either team. It would be the first of a handful of great looks for Saad, who's looked better and better over the past few games.
Foligno had a nice curl and drag move in the first, but Fleury was up to the task. The Jackets' captain is still pressing like crazy, but he was so close on many chances last night, you just know he's close to getting the monkey off his back.
Late in the first, the fourth line needs recognition for a hell of a shift. Boll chipped the puck in deep, which kicked off a sequence where the trio kept the Pens hemmed in their end, and there were a few CBJ scoring chances mixed in as well. In terms of pure physicality and intimidation, I actually love to see this trio (including Prout on the wing) once in a while. You just don't see teams play a pair of true bruisers on the same line anymore, and understandably so. It just takes me back, ya know?
William Karlsson. The kid bookended the opening period with excellent scoring chances. He'll be soon rewarded for his strong play. Wiz who?
It was Pittsburgh that came out strong to start the second period, but they were unable to get anything going offensively, largely thanks to Bobrovsky.
Though he would get into penalty trouble later in the game, Kevin Connauton was flying tonight. He's great with the puck, but tends to cheat when he's beaten defensively. If he can start putting up some points, it'll all balance out.
Speaking of Connauton, he would feed Karlsson on the doorstep midway through the second. In my view, these two players were the most noticeable in the first half of the game.
With about nine minutes left in the second, the Jackets broke the goose egg. The Foligno line was peppering Fleury, and broke through when after a scramble in front, the loose puck found the stick of Hartnell. With Fleury out of position, Hartnell popped the puck into the open net. Hartnell has somewhat quietly been awesome for the Jackets again this year, and doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.
Shortly after the ensuing faceoff, Evgeni Malkin tripped up Cam Atkinson, sending the Jackets to the powerplay. Ryan Murray, who was headed for a healthy scratch before the Dubinsky injury, led a breakout, feeding Foligno as they entered the Pens' zone. Foligno whacked the puck back to Murray at the point, who immediately passed the puck to Saad in the left circle. Saad threw a hard backhand shot toward the net, beating Fleury and giving the Jackets the two-goal lead.
The teams would trade penalties to end the second, with Bob slamming the door shut on the penalty kill.
The Penguins would start the third period on the powerplay, but again it was the Jackets with the best scoring chance: this time it was Jack Johnson ringing one off the post.
Fleury started to steal the show in the third, first with a huge stop on a Jackets' two-on-none. Foligno and Saad entered the zone alone, with Foligno carrying the puck. The Captain sold the shot, passed to Saad, but Fleury kicked out the pad to maintain the score. Then Fleury would later stop Atkinson on a partial breakaway, but the puck flipped over and almost crossed the goal line. Fleury was able to make an acrobatic save to get the paddle on the puck just before it entered the net.
Fleury was pulled seconds later, and after a Pens' timeout they were able to break Bob's shutout. Kris Letang tossed the puck on-net, where it was deflected by Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist was giving the Jackets fits all night, and it had to sting that much more when he was the one to score. It was a damned shame too, as Bob really deserved the clean sheet.
With 13.8 seconds left in the game, the Pens thought they had tied the game, but it was determined that Hornqvist had kicked the puck in the net. The goal was waved off right away, and a brief review confirmed the call.
Final score, 2-1 Jackets.
1 - Hornqvist is such a #&*$@$
2 - I was forced to watch the Root Sports broadcast. Man, what a terrible mess. Steigerwhatever is the worst.
3 - Ryan Murray's final ice time was 18:46, and he played on both special teams. Not bad for a guy who was a healthy scratch until the 11th hour. He also had a powerplay helper on Saad's goal.
4 - Wild Bill was 72% on faceoffs last night. Nice!
5 - For the advanced stats for this game, check out War on Ice.
6 - The Jackets are back home tonight against the Coyotes.