Game Grades: Game 14 vs Columbus
When the NHL changed the playoff format and divisional structures, the Columbus Blue Jackets moved to the Eastern Conference and joined the teams formerly of the Atlantic Division and two former Southeast Division teams. It is a fresh start for a team that was still trying to find a fan base. The Penguins are the closest geographical team to the Jackets, so proximity could ignite a new rivalry. But that is up to the teams and how they play. Let’s see how the first meeting of the Pens and Jackets went down.
EVEN-STRENGTH OFFENSE: B+
They scored two goals in the 2nd period, which was significant for a couple reasons. First, they extended the 2-0 lead their power play had given them. Second, and more importantly, they built on a lead instead of having to surge late in the game to get the lead and maintain it. Playing with a lead is always better than fighting for it in the final minutes.
EVEN-STRENGTH DEFENSE: B
The two goals that were given were after the Pens had already grabbed a 4-0 lead. And the final second goal was in the final minute on a wired shot from Ryan Johansen. However, right after that goal, they took a delay of game penalty from the stick of Kris Letang. Suddenly, the Jackets have a chance to pull their goalie and get a 6-on-4 situation. You can’t give a team those windows so late.
POWER PLAY: A
They were efficient last night, scoring on their first two chances on the first shots they took. The first goal only took six seconds on a beautiful faceoff play that saw Paul Martin wrist the puck on net and Chris Kunitz deflect it in. Kris Letang’s one-time on their second chance game a little further in, but was the result of good passing. And they were only a couple inches from a third one on a feed from Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin after some excellent puck control. This is how you want your man advantage to operate.
PENALTY KILL: A-
They Jackets made it very tough on the Pens penalty killers. They killed all four penalties, but the Jackets had quite a bit of puck possession. There wasn’t much in the way of disruption of what Columbus was trying to do, and the Jackets had several quality chances, particularly on their power plays in the 1st. Still 100 percent on the penalty kill is what you’re looking for.
Marc-Andre Fleury was outstanding again last night. He only gave up two goals last night and his Goals Against Average will actually increase, telling you just how good he has been all year. He made some stellar saves in the first that preserved the 1-0 lead the Pens had.
FINAL GRADE: A-
It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was a chance to flex their offensive muscle and get another win in the division. Columbus did some things well that they can try to carry over into the game tonight, but the Pens have the momentum and the knowledge that they can beat the Blue Jackets. All of that should make for an interesting matchup tonight.
AND FOR THE REST…
BRANDON SUTTER: A
I just gave him an A for the last game, but he is playing some excellent hockey right now. And the puck is finally finding the back of the net for him. He makes the Jordan Staal trade look more like a stroke of genius than a move of necessity as it was first interpreted. He has embraced the third-line center role and is thriving.
CHRIS KUNITZ: A
His deflection goal was a great example of what he can do and why the Pens are fortunate to have him the next four seasons. For the second straight game, he was in front of the net and made the opposition pay. Go to the net and good things happen – the rest of the team is taking notice.
JAYSON MEGNA: A
He looks like an NHL winger. He has top-end speed, got his second goal of the season and instills confidence that the Pens really do have legit prospects in the system. He’s a guy that could be a regular player on this team in the future…maybe even now depending on how the injury front develops.
RAY SHERO: A
I’m just throwing him out there because the Pens have given a couple guys some NHL time and they have jumped in like veterans. Olli Maatta and the aforementioned Megna have been excellent thus far. Having the same system of play throughout various levels is great and is a compliment to the coaching staff, but the guys still have to be able to hang at this level.
BRANDON DUBINSKY: B
No points, but he was the best Blue Jacket on the ice. He was in front of the net all night and had a few good chances.
Didn’t like him in Ottawa, don’t like him in Columbus. He had a questionable hit on Crosby in the game that was reminiscent of the one that knocked him out for almost a year. The Pens certainly will have long enough memories for that.
SERGEI BOBROVSKY: F
The “F” is more for “Finally” than anything. He’s been such a bane to the Pens in their own building that it was probably pretty uplifting for Pittsburgh to chase him from the cage. He didn’t look overly sharp in the game, and he may get another crack at the Pens tonight in Columbus.
He put a huge hit on Jack Johnson. However, this hit caused Johnson to fall on Glass’ leg, which caused him to grimace in pain. He wasn’t on the bench in the final minutes of the game, which could have been more about the fact that they had a four-goal lead then about his status. Still, that’s not a good thing to see with injuries already piled up.