Earlier on Saturday, the Washington Capitals defeated the New York Rangers to jump the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Could the Jackets beat the last place Pittsburgh Penguins to get back on top?
The opening salvo came from an unexpected source: Scott Harrington. Yes, THAT Scott Harrington. Hott Scarrington himself. His goal came at the end of a typical strong shift from the Boone Jenner line. Lots of cycling the puck around the zone, and hard hits to retain possession of the puck. Harry found himself uncovered in the slot to receive a pass from Jenner and sent it past second string Pittsburgh goalie Casey DeSmith.
Less than a minute later, the Penguins (wearing alternate jerseys whose color can be most charitably described as “dehydrated urine”) evened things up with a quick goal off a faceoff. Evgeni Malkin won the faceoff and Phil Kessel shot on net. Joonas Korpisalo’s deflection found the stick of Tanner Pearson who scored off that rebound. The Blue Jackets defense didn’t set properly: Josh Anderson tried to block Kessel’s shot, and didn’t cover Pearson as he brushed by and went to the net. Markus Nutivaara was in front of the net, but was covering the backside of the play. So it was either Anderson or Jenner (who lost the faceoff) who didn’t get where he needed to be quickly enough.
Scarrington giveth, and Scarrington taketh away. Pittsburgh dumped the puck and Harry got to it first, but was unable to clear it before he was swarmed by yellow jerseys. Sidney Crosby retrieved the puck and made a gem of a pass to Jake Guentzel.
That pass. Oh baby. That pass. pic.twitter.com/83WPiodSh1— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 25, 2018
That duo struck again later in the period, following a long outlet pass from Kris Letang. Again it was Crosby passing backwards and Guentzel firing away immediately. How many times has that pair victimized the Blue Jackets over the last three seasons?
The More You Know ⭐️ → In 13 combined regular season and playoff games vs. Columbus, Jake Guentzel has 15 points (10G-5A). pic.twitter.com/eqc5vsaUoH— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 25, 2018
The second period featured back and forth play, but few good chances. Halfway through it appeared that Anthony Duclair scored, but it was waved off for goaltender interference. There was contact, but it looked as though Duclair was pushed into the goalie by Jack Johnson.
With seven minutes remaining, Crosby passed back to Johnson, who got his pocket picked at the blue line by Cam Atkinson. Cam drove the puck to the net and was thinking goal the whole way. That kept his goal streak alive at seven games, tying him with Geoff Sanderson for the franchise record. That brought the Jackets back within one.
Because we’re not allowed to have nice things, the period couldn’t end without Jake Guentzel completing a hat trick. Crosby set up by skating the puck into the zone, and passing to Letang for a long range shot. Dominik Simon and Guentzel were in front of the net and got the puck through on the third effort.
It's (hat)tricky. Tricky, tricky, tricky.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 25, 2018
As AKbax pointed out in the gamethread, that was Korpi’s requisite fourth goal allowed.
But wait, there would be more! A Kessel breakaway led to a Pearson shot, and then Kessel scored off of a very juicy Korpi rebound. But no, we had a challenge! Torts was correct that the play was offsides, and so the Jackets were able to escape into the tunnel trailing 4-2.
The blender went into action in the third, with a Panarin/Wennberg/Duclair line getting some shifts.
The Jackets killed off a late Pittsburgh penalty, then got their own power play with two minutes left, which they made a 6 on 4. Unfortunately there were too many missed passes and they could not erase the two goal deficit.
Columbus outshot Pittsburgh by 3, but Pittsburgh got many more high danger chances. The Jackets didn’t make DeSmith work very hard, despite the 39 shots on goal. Only the Jenner line was consistently crashing the net.
Korpi had 32 saves, which seems good, but some of those saves led to juicy rebounds which Pittsburgh capitalized on. That’s always been an issue with his game.
That’s 6 straight regular season losses to Pittsburgh, and 6 straight overall going back to the 2017 playoff series. As much as they’ve been struggling of late, the Pens still occupy space in the Jackets’ heads. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get over that hump.
Next Up: The Blue Jackets make another short trip on Monday when they face off against the Red Wings at Dough Louis Arena for the rubber match of their season series.