-Before we start with more immediate concerns, let's start with Martin Straka. We'll have more on this in tomorrow's EN Assists but Straka announced his retirement from professional hockey today. He has been playing in the Czech Republic the past few seasons.
-Straka is easily one of the 20 most significant players in Penguins history. In 560 career regular season games, he scored 442 points, 10th most in franchise history. His greatest moment with the Penguins was arguably the 1999 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series when carried the eighth-seeded Penguins to a 4-3 upset of the top seeded Devils. While everyone remember Jaromir Jagr struggling with a groin injury and the uncertainty surrounding the franchise's future as it had just declared bankruptcy, Straka carried the team in that series by scoring 11 points (six goals, five assists) in seven games. He scored the best empty net goal we've ever seen in Game 3 of that series when he hopped over a diving Devils players stick in the neutral zone then RAN down the ice to cap off a hat trick.
-Penguins broadcaster Bob Grove put together a video Straka's series. His empty net goal occurs around the 45 second mark:
-Straka was a smaller player who had a bad run of luck when it came to injuries later in his career with the Penguins. When healthy, he was a hustler who squeezed out quite a bit of talent out of his considerable skillset.
-Speaking of the contemporary Penguins, it's one step forward and one and a half steps back. First, the good news, Beau Bennett is back. He will return to the lineup for the first time since suffering a wrist injury Nov. 22. He is expected to play left wing on a line with Jussi Jokinen at center and James Neal at right wing. From a conditioning standpoint, Bennett should be fine. The positive aspect of his injury is that it allowed him to skate pretty much the entire time, albeit in practice conditions. His legs should be fine. We just wonder long it will take for to get the timing of the flow of play. Additionally, one had to wonder if there will be any natural hesitation with regards to playing physical
-Marcel Goc will be sidelined three weeks due to a "lower-body" injury. Just about everyone saw his ankle bend in a bad way last night. If that three week time frame holds up, that will be a lucky break for the Penguins. That looked pretty bad.
-Olli Maatta will be a healthy scratch. He has struggled quite a bit as of late. Turnovers have marred his game in the past week or so. He has played 78 games this season (including the Olympics). This was always going to be the concern with him as a 19 year old. The physical and mental strain of a professional season is new to him. We're starting to see some signs of that strain in his game. This game off will do him a world of good.
-Keep an eye on Ryan Johansen. We've talked about him before. He has really taken a step forward this season with the Blue Jackets. He is easily their most dangerous player.
-According to the team's Web site, these are the Penguins' lines and defensive pairings in warmups:
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Lee Stempniak
Beau Bennett - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal
Taylor Pyatt - Brandon Sutter - Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass - Craig Adams - Jayson Megna
Robert Bortuzzo - Brooks Orpik
Matt Niskanen - Rob Scuderi
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
The Penguins' starters are Tanner Glass, Taylor Pyatt, Brandon Sutter, Robert Bortuzzo, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury.
-Their scratches are Marcel Goc, Olli Maatta, Evgeni Malkin and the great Joe Vitale.
-The Blue Jackets' starters are Blake Comeau, Mark Letestu, Derek MacKenzie, and Curtis McElhinney.
-Their scratches are Sergei Bobrovsky, Jared Boll, Tim Erixon, Matt Frattin, Ryan Murray, Nikita Nikitin and Corey Tropp.
19:30: Tyutin plays a puck out of his own left wing corner and is thumped to the ice by a forechecking Glass.
18:46: After Brandon Dubinsky digs a puck loose out of the left wing corner of the Penguins' zone, Cam Atkinson swipes a wrister from the right circle. Fleury snags it.
18:40: Nick Schultz chucks a wrister on net from the right point. Fleury snags it. A few Penguins and Blue Jackets players mix it up.
18:04: Bennett gets tripped up by Atkinson near the Columbus cage. No call.
16:37: Comeau whips a wrister from the right half wall wide of the cage.
16:14: Comeau settles a puck on the right half wall again and lifts a wrister. Fleury snags it.
14:15: After Bennett digs a puck loose at Penguins' blue line, Jokinen and Neal rush up to the attacking zone. Neal flips a backhander from the right circle. McElhinney fights it off.
14:04: Niskanen cranks a one-timer from the right point which is blocked.
13:32: Columbus goes on the power play. Adams is nabbed for hooking Boone Jenner. Bortuzzo, Sutter, Glass and Scuderi take the ice.
13:28: Jack Johnson whack a slapper from the left circle over the cage.
13:14: Artem Anisimov tries to jam in a forehand shot from in tight but is denied by Fleury.
12:57: James Wisniewski tees up a big slapper from the right point. It hits Anisimov's stick and deflects out of play.
12:30: Wisniewski chops a slapper from center point. It deflects off something and Fleury eats it up.
12:21: Tyutin chops a slappe rfrom the right point. Fleury kicks it out.
12:04: Tyutin chucks a wrister from the right point wide of he cage.
11:32: The Adams minor is killed. The Blue Jackets had a few decent chances.
11:17: Bortuzzo and Nick Foligno drop the gloves at the Penguins blue line. They circle around before locking up. They mostly try to hold each other off while landing some long-distance rights. A few connect. Eventually, They wrestle one another to the ice with Foligno on top.
11:04: Despres bumps Atkinson into the Penguins' right half wall with a solid hip check.
10:55: Despres is called for holding against Atkinson as they battled for a puck behind the Penguins' net. That seemed to be a ticky tack penalty. Sutter Glass, Orpik and Niskanen take the ice.
10:42: Johansen lifts a wrister from the right circle over the net.
9:55: Anisimov tries to jam in another forehand shot from the right side of the cage. Fleury holds it out.
8:53: Off a drop pass by Letestu, Comeau snaps off a wrister from the right circle. Fleury gets a piece of it with his blocker. The Despres minor expires.
8:43: Off a feed from the right half wall by Kunitz, Stempniak booms a one-timer from the right point. McElhinney kicks it out.
8:38: Battling for the rebound in the Columbus slot, MacKenzie's stick ties up Stempniak who tumbles easily to the ice. MacKenzie gets a tripping minor. Neal, Jokinen, Kunitz, Nikanen and Crosby take the ice. Crosby will man the right point.
8:18: Niskanen fires a one-timer from the left point. It hits a stick then hops up on top of the net. As officials blow play dead, Kunitz jabs the netting and knocks the puck into the cage. Penguisn fans in Columbus cheer but officials immediately signal no gla.
7:40: Niskanen chops a slapper from the high stlo. McElhninney fights it off.
7:21: Jokinen chucks a wrister from the above the right circle. Neal is in the slot and redirects it on net. McElhinney snags it and all heck breaks loose. A big scrum develops in the left wing corner. Officals take a few moments to break it up. Kunitz and Johnson get roughing minors. Play will remain five on five.
6:38: The MacKenzie minor is killed. The Penguins weren't particularly potent with that chance.
5:31: David Savard races in on net from the right wing and attacks the net. After Engelland shoves Atkinson into the crease, Savard crashes into the net and Fleury. Engelland is called for interference against Atkinson. Sutter, Glass, Bortuzzo and Orpik get assists.
4:59: Wisniewski booms a slapper from the right point wide to the far side.
4:54: Wisniewski gets another chance from the right point. Fleury gets a piece of it.
4:50: Orpik tries to play the rebound but Anisimov steals it from him in the right circle and lifts a wrister. Fleury gets it with his blocker.
3:31: The Engelland minor is killed. The Blue Jackets had some good pressure with that chance.
2:01: A spinning backhander by Crosby from the right circle is fought off by McElhinney.
1:55: Scuderi booms a slapper from the right point. McElhinney snags it.
1:17: Pyatt snaps off a wrister from the left circle. McElhinney kicks it out.
0:43: A wrister by Bortuzzo from the right point sails over the net.
0:00: End of period. Blue Jackets 0, Penguins 0.
-The Penguins are probably a bit lucky they got out of that period with a tie. The Blue Jackets, thanks in part to all the penalties, had a significant advantage with regards to puck possession in the offensive zone. It almost like the Penguins were hanging on for dear life.
-The officials have called things tight thus far.
-Bennett looked okay but wasn't particularly noticeable. He didn't seem hesitant to go to high traffic areas. He had 3:30 of ice time on four shifts. We don't really pay much attention to this statistic because it seems to be kept in an inconsistent fashion but Bennett was credited with two hits.
-Anisimov was pain for the Penguins near the net.
-The Blue Jackets have a 13-9 lead in shots on net.
-The Blue Jackets have a 21-14 lead in attempted shots.
-Anisimov leads the game with three shots.
-Neal and Stempniak each lead the Penguins with two shots.
-The Blue Jackets control faceoffs, 13-5 (72 percent).
-Johansen is 5 for 6 (83 percent).
-Jokinen is 3 for 5 (60 percent).
-R.J. Umberger leads the game with two blocked shots.
-A few EN readers are on hand and spotted a few friendlies:
19:48: Tyutin tries to jam in a forehand shot from in deep on the right wing. Fleury holds it out.
19:21: A slapper by Niskanen from the right point is kicked out by McElhinney.
18:52: Prout chops a slapper from the right point. It hits something and deflects out of play.
18:31: Dubinsky had a prime chance in front on on a backhander but Fleury's left leg kicks it out.
18:11: Kunitz snaps off a wrister from the right wing. Gibbons is in front and taps the puck wide.
17:36: Crosby snaps off a feed from the left wing to the slot. Bennett is above the blue paint and taps the puck wide just like Stempniak.
17:07: Jokinen chucks a wrister from the right circle wide of the cage on the near side. Bortuzzo is in deep on the right wing and whips the rebound off the end boards over the cage and out of play.
15:11: Scuderi whips a wrister from the right point. It glances off Neal's stick and deflects wide.
15:03: Bennett chops a shot from the left circle. McElhinney fights it off.
14:08: Wisniewski fires a slapper from the right point. Fleury kicks it out. Dubinsky has a chance with the rebound to the left of the cage but whips it over the cage.
13:56: Kunitz hustles the puck up the right wing and is hooked up by a flat-footed Wisniewski in the neutral zone. As an official raises his hand, Kunitz creates a two-on-onewtih Stempniak against Tyutin. Kunitz drives to the cage and loses the puck to a poke check from a sliding Tyutin. Stempniak has a chance with the rebound but can't bury it. It pinballs around as Crosby tries to settle the puck in the blue paint. Play is halted. Wisniewski is nabbed for hooking. Niskanen, Kunitz, Crosby, Neal and Jokinen take the ice.
13:54: A wrister by Kunitz hits off the goal post.
12:35: A backhander by Bennett is denied by McElhinney.
12:08: A slapper by Despres from the center point hits a body.
11:56: The Wisniewski minor expires with little threat from the Penguins.
11:36: Engelland lobs a wrister from above the right circle. McElhinney eats it up.
10:48: As Crosby skates with Neal and Megna, Horton rips a wrister from the left circle over the cage.
10:08: According to Root Sports broadcaster Bob Errey, Niskanen and Scuderi are absent from the bench.
8:36: Nick Schultz chops a slapper from the left point wide on the near side.
7:53: MacKenzie runs over Niskanen in the Penguins' left wing corner. Niskanen responds by tripping him with his stick. No call.
7:46: Crosby rips a wrister from the center point. McElhinney kicks it out.
7:02: A wrister by Kunitz from the right half wall is kicked out by McElhinney. Wisniewski is called for high sticking Neal. Crosby, Neal, Niskanen, Jokinen and Kunitz take the ice.
6:34: From deep on the right wing, Crosby centers feed to Kunitz in the left circle. Kunitz jabs the puck wide on the near side.
5:05: Bennett hustles in off the left wing and dekes through a few defenders. He's hooked up by MacKenzie and draws a penalty. The Penguins will get a brief five-on-three power play for four seconds. Crosby, Kunitz, Jokinen, Neal and Niskanen take the ice.
5:02: A slapper by Niskanen from the slot is blocked out of play.
3:40: Bennett pushes the puck up the right wing and loses it to Tyutin. Wisniewski is able to clear it down ice.
3:05: The MacKenzie minor is killed. The Penguins' woes on the power play continue.
2:43: A backhander by Calvert is wide of the cage.
0:52: Off a faceoff win in the Penguins' left circle Johnson fires a slapper from the left point. Fleury snags it.
0:22: A one-timer by Horton from the left circle is kicked out by Fleury.
0:01: Off a faceoff win in the Blue Jackets' left circle, a wrister by Niskanen is kicked out by McElhinney.
0:00 End of period. Blue Jackets 0, Penguins 0.
-Things swung back into the Penguins favor that period thanks in part to the special teams. They had two power plays, including a brief two-man advantage, and controlled the puck in Columbus' zone.
-Officials have really called this game tight. Not much has been permitted.
-Bennett made a bigger impact that period. He was aggressive in terms of going in deep with the puck. He has 10:02 of ice time on 11 shifts and two shots.
-The Blue Jackets have a 21-18 lead in shots on net.
-The Blue Jackets have a 37-36 edge in attempted shots.
-Stempniak, Johansen, Anisimov and Tyutin each lead the game with three shots.
-Johnson leads the game with 16:57.
-Orpik is right behind him with 16:53.
-The Blue Jackets have a 22-14 lead in faceoffs (61 percent).
-Johansen and Jokinen are each 7 for 10 (70 percent).
-Orpik, Dubinsky, Umberger and Tyutin each lead the game with two blocked shots.
19:11: From a bad angle, Gibbons chucks a wrister from the right wing. McElhinney fights it off.
18:42: Kunitz tracks down a loose puck on the left wing and whips it on net. McElhinney holds it out.
18:39: A wrister by Johnson from the left point is snagged by Fleury.
18:11: Off a turnover by Johansen in his own zone, Niskanen steps up on a loose puck on the right half wall. It hits a stick and deflects in on net. McElhinney snags it.
17:06: A wrister by Dubinsky from the left circle is kicked out by Fleury.
16:59: Schultz steps up on the left wing and swipes a slapper. Fleury fights it off.
16:12: A wrister by Crosby from above the left circle hits a stick and deflects out of play.
15:41: A slapper by MacKenzie from the right hops up on Fleury who fights it off.
15:18: A wrister by Comeau from the right half wall is eaten up by Fleury.
14:24: Calvert pushes a puck deep on the right wing, spins in the right circle and distributes to Prout at the right point. Prout booms a slapper wide of the cage.
14:12: A loose puck slides towards the right point. Prout whacks it wide of the cage again.
14:40: Savard cranks a one-timer from the left point. Fleury punches it away.
13:22: Niskanen ropes a wrister from the right point. McElhinney smothers it.
12:55: Crosby and Kunitz each have chances in tight but can't beat McElhinney.
11:56: Neal chucks a wrister from the right wing. McElhinney kicks it out.
11:24: Gibbons steals a puck in the Penguins slot and rushes it out to the neutral zone. He airmails a wrister which McElhinney smothers.
11:01: Each goaltender is getting tested. Savard chops a slapper from the right point through traffic. Fleury locates it and fights it off.
9:45: Crosby flicks a backhander from deep on the right wing. McElhinney fights it off.
9:38: Calvert curls and drags a puck around Engelland on the left wing of the Penguins' zone. He whips a wrister on net which Fleury fights off.
9:25: Finally someone scores. Taking a feed from Crosby above the right circe, Kunitz snaps off a wrister which squeaks through McElhinney's gear and trickles into the net. That's a poor goal for McElhinney to allow but the Penguins and their healthy showing of visiting fans will take it. Crosby and Engelland get assists. Penguins 1-0.
8:38: This game is wide open all of a sudden. Johnson sneaks up the right wing and loses the puck on a sliding poke check by Bortuzzo in the Penguins' left circle. Bortuzzo gets to his skates and taps it to his roommate, Bennett. Rush the puck up the right wing with Jokine on a two-on0eon against Prout. As Prout leans down, Bennett rips a wrister from the right circle by McElhinney on the far side. That's a nice shot. Bortuzzo set that up with a great defensive play and he gets the only assists. Penguins fans on hand go nuts. Penguins 2-0.
6:56: Wisniewski lift sa wrister from deep on the right wing. Fleury holds it out.
6:36: Calvert snaps off a wrister from deep on the left wing to the crease. The puck bounces around a bit before Fleury smothers it.
5:33: Savard chucks a wrister from the right point wide to the far side.
4:59: The Blue Jackets get a chance late as Kunitz is called for tripping Jenner on the right wing of the Penguins' zone. Crosby, Glass, Bortuzzo and Opri take the ice.
4:51: Glass appears to get away with a trip on Atkinson in the Penguins' high slot.
4:45: Short-handed, Crosby pushes the puck up ice in a flurry, spins in front of Johnson and whips a backhander on net.
4:15: A wrister by Johnson from the left half wall is fought off by Fleury.
3:06: The Blue Jackets get on the board. Taking a feed on the right point Wisniewski tees up a big slapper which blows by Fleury on the near side. Fleury looked lost due to a screen by Calvert. The rest of this game will be intense. Johnson and Atkinson get assists. Penguins 2-1.
1:59: A wrister by Stempniak is blocked by Johansen.
1:25: The Blue Jackets call a timeout to get organized.
1:05: McElhinney is pulled for an extra attacker.
0:28: Wisniewski chucks a wrister from the right point. It hits a stick in front.
0:09: Johansen, Dubinsky and Calvert each have chances in the blue paint but can't get clean shots off. Fleury steers the puck away.
0:00: End of game. Penguins 2, Blue Jackets 1.
-First things first, the Penguins clinch a playoff berth for the eighth consecutive season. It feels odd to remember when that was hardly a guarantee.
-The Blue Jackets aren't an elite opponent. Additionally, they were playing their backup goaltender. And the Penguins hardly played a perfect games. But they won. It's been nearly a week since they could claim that. They snapped a three-game skid and got into the playoffs no less. It's a small victory but it's important on a few levels.
-Welcome back Beau Bennett in a big way. Bennett created a few things in the second period by being aggressive by pushing the puck up ice. His skating was strong. He showed some nice touch with the puck and seemed to get the timing down pretty quickly. He came through with a nice goal which proved to be the game-winning score.
-The latest incarnation of the second line looked better than the trio that was used the two previous games. Bennett seemed to mesh with Jussi Jokinen and James Neal better than Brandon Sutter did.
-Marc-Andre Fleury, as has been the case most of the season, came through with a strong performance. This game turned into a staring contest of sorts between Fleury and Curtis McElhinney. Fleury had to be perfect until fairly late in the game when his teammates broke through.
-The first line continues to carry most of the load offensively. While that line only accounted for one goal, it was consistently the steadiest offensive threat for the Penguins most of the game. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz are still trying to get used to Lee Stempniak. They're maybe still a step off from being all on the same page, but they're close.
-Robert Bortuzzo had a pretty sharp game. He was strong positionally and was really good at using his stick with things like poke checks and stick-on-pucks. His play to steal the puck and set up Bennett's goal was fantastic.
-Hard work should never be lauded. It should be expected. But the Penguins offered a true and honest effort for the second consecutive night after they dogged it against the Coyotes Tuesday (pardon the pun). The Blue Jackets forced them to battle for just about every puck. The Penguins matched their intensity.
-The power play's struggles continued from last night. The Penguins did try something different tonight by using Crosby on the point at certain moments while Jokinen took faceoffs. Either way, the power play didn't look very dangerous.
-Deryk Engelland had a few rough moments where he was beaten on a few one-on-one battles or was sloppy with the puck. He did have a hand in helping set up the Penguins' first goal.
-Simon Despres had some mixed results. He was responsible in his own zone for the most part. He took one bad penalty early in the game
-Matt Niskanen and Rob Scuderi seemed pretty comfortable with one another as a defensive pairing once again.
-The Blue Jackets' approach seemed pretty basic. They tried to generate a lot of shot from the perimeter, particuarly with their defensemen on the points. They also had a lot of bodies in front of Fleury. The Penguins did a fair job of keeping those lanes clear for Fleury.
-We really liked how the Blue Jackets' fourth line played. Derek MacKenzie, Mark Letestu and Blake Comeau were really aggressive with regard to physical play and even generated a few offensive chances.
-McElhinney had a pretty good game until he allowed Kunitz's leaky goal.
-The Penguins had a 36-31 lead in shots on net.
-The Blue Jackets led in attempted shots, 57-54.
-Crosby led the game with six shots.
-Anisimov led the Blue Jackets with five shots.
-Jack Johnson led the game with 26:19 of ice time.
-Brooks Orpik led the Penguins with 25:48.
-The Blue Jacket led in faceoffs, 30-22 (58 percent).
-Ryan Johansen was 8 for 12 (67 percent).
-Jokinen was 10 for 16 (63 percent).
-Scuderi, Bortuzzo, Orpik, Brandon Dubinsky, R.J. Umberger, Johansen, Dalton Prout and Fedor Tyutin each led the game with two blocked shots.
-Bennett now has five career goals. Three of them have been game-winners.
-The Penguins swept the five-game season series from the Blue Jackets.