-We've broached the subject of injuries this season plenty of times on this blog. As pointed out the last time the Penguins played the Blue Jackets Dec. 9, Blue Jackets forward and former Penguins Mark Letestu feels the size of the rinks in North America are a contributing factor.
-In light of some serious injuries recently to the likes of Pascal Dupuis as well as Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, we would suggest another contributor is the schedule over the past two season. Due to the lockout last season and the Olympics this season, the schedules in 2012-13 and 2013-14 has been squeezed together. You've seen a lot of weeks with four games shoehorned in. That doesn't leave a lot of time for recovery from normal bumps and bruises.
-An extension of that problem is the short offseason this past summer. There were 155 days between the last regular season game of 2012-13 and the first regular season game in 2013-14. In the 2011 offseason, the last "normal" offseason which wasn't extended by a work stoppage, there were 178 days between regular season games. That's a difference of three-plus weeks. There just hasn't been that much time for these players to get a rest.
-Speaking of injuries, if you didn't see it, the Penguins made a quiet roster move this afternoon:
-We assume their decision to place Evgeni Malkin on injured reserve is retroactive to his injury Dec. 14. This would allow them to keep an extra body on the NHL roster in the event of another absence/injury/etc.
-Jeff Zatkoff is scheduled to get the start tonight. Even with a new contract extension, he still is going through the evaluation process of proving he's an NHL goaltender. He needs to keep taking steps forward to ensure management he can be the backup goaltender even in the event of a return of Tomas Vokoun.
-Brian Gibbons skates on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Chuck Kobasew yesterday. We're interested to see what he can offer once again. He has plenty of speed. Can he use that speed to help out Brandon Sutter in the way Chris Conner did a few weeks ago?
-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, the great Joe Vitale, Olli Maatta, Matt Niskanen and Jeff Zatkoff.
-Their scratches are Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin and Harry Zolnierczyk.
-The Blue Jackets' starters are Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen, R.J. Umberger, Ryan Murray, James Wisniewski and Curtis McElhinney.
-Their scratches are Matt Calvert, Ryan Craig and Tim Erixon..
-Despres as a healthy scratch is ... interesting. To our naked eye, he's been the team's steadiest defenseman during the recent run of injuries and suspensions. He hasn't been too high or to low. Every other defenseman, even Matt Niskanen, has had a few hiccups. Despres has played a pretty clean game, especially so in his own defensive zone.
-We wouldn't discount the value of lefty/righty pairings on defense in the decision to scratch Despres. Olli Maatta, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi Simon Despres are left-handed while Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland and Robert Bortuzzo are right-handed.
16:22: After a stagnant start, Cam Atkinson hammers a turnover by the Penguins in their own zone from the high slot wide to the left of the cage.
16:01: The Blue Jackets strike first. After Bortupzzo separates Fedor Tyutin from the puck with a hip check on the left half wall of hte Penguins' zone, Dubinsky picks up the puck, walks right by a weak backcheck by Jussi Jokinen and challenge Scuderi one-on-one. Scuderi is a little flat-footed above the blue paint and fails to knock the puck off Dubinsky's stick. Dubinsky pulls the puck to his backhand and tucks a shot through the five hole of Zatkoff. What an ugly play all around for the Penguins. Tyutin and Jack Johnson get assists. Blue Jackets 1-0.
15:33: The Penguins will get the first power play as Corey Tropp tripped up Niskanen behind the Penguins' net. That's two minutes. Niskanen, Crosby, James Neal, Kunitz and Jokinen take the ice.
15:20: Taking a pass at the left point, Niskanen walks in and lifts a slapper over the cage.
15:05: Neal gets the goal back with a lethal wrister from the lot. Niskanen deals a little pass from above the left circle to Neal in the slot. Neal settles the puck and rips a beauty of a wrister to the far side by McElhinney's glove hand. What a shot. Niskanen and Kunitz get assists. Blue Jackets 1, Penguins 1.
14:19: Derek MacKenzie whacks a slapper from the right half wall. Zatkoff eats it up.
13:18: Kobasew flings a wrister from the right wing. McElhinney eats it up.
13:01: Another power play for the Penguins. Letestu is nabbed for hooking Neal. What really happened was Neal pinned Letestu's stick to his leg with the underside of his left glove. Officials bought it and sent Letestu to the box. Niskanen, Jokinen, Neal, Crosby and Kunitz take the ice.
12:42: Zatkoff denies Dubinsky on two short-handed chances in tight.
11:01: The Letestu minor is killed. The Penguins did do much with that chance.
10:25: Zatkoff kicks out chances by Johnson and Tyutin.
8:46: Wisniewski whacks a loose puck from the right point wide on the near side.
8:08: Engelland rips a wrister from the right point on net. McElhinney fights it off despite a cluster of bodies screening him.
7:49: Engelland strokes a slapper from the right point which McElhinney kicks away easily.
4:40: After a few stagnant minutes, Conner and Jokinen tries to jam in a chance from the right of the cage. McElhinney holds it out.
4:19: On with Crosby and Kunitz, Neal chucks a wrister from above the right circle on net. McElhinney fights it off as Kunitz crashes in.
3:29: Off a feed by Jokinen, Gibbons rips a wrister from the left circle. McElhinney eats it up.
2:59: Blake Comeau drops Gibbons with a hard check on the Penguins' right wing wall.
1:35: Collecting a blocked shot, Nick Foligno lifts a wrister from the left circle over the cage.
1:14: Dubinsky puts a low wrister on net from the left wing. Zatkoff kicks it out.
0:53: Coasting up the left wing, Crosby chips a bouncing pass across the slot to Engelland deep on the left wing. Tyutin ties up Engelland just enough and prevents a clean shot.
0:29: The Penguins will get a late power play as Boone Jenner tripped up Bortuzzo in the Penguins' left wing corner. Neal, Crosby, Kunitz, Niskanen and Jokinen take the ice.
0:12: Niskanen puts a pedestrian wrister on net from the left circle. McElhinney fights it off.
0:00: End of period. Blue Jackets 1, Penguins 1.
-That was an odd period to get a feel for. It had a slow start, a quick flurry and a slow end. There wasn't a lot of flow to the period.
-Scuderi didn't look great on the Dubinsky goal but he seemed to level off after that rough play. He has 5:05 of ice time on seven shifts and one blocked shot.
-As expected, the Penguins mixed up their lines. Neal saw a few shifts with Crosby and Kunitz.
-The Penguins have benefited by the Blue Jackets taking a few penalties. They have two complete power plays and are in the middle of a third as the second period started. That's a lot of time for Columbus to spend in its own zone.
-Dubinsky has been the best player for either team. He looks really aggressive tonight in regards to attacking the net.
-The Penguins have a 10-9 lead in shots on net.
-The Blue Jackets have a 20-16 lead in attempted shots.
-Dubinsky leads the game with four shots on net.
-Neal and Engelland each led the Penguins with two shots.
-Niskanen leads the game with 8:59 of ice time.
-Wisniewski leads the Blue Jackets with 7:50.
-The Penguins lead in faceoffs, 13-8 (62 percent).
-Crosby is 7 for 10 (70 percent).
-Letestu is 3 for 5 (60 percent).
-Tropp leads the game with two blocked shots.
20:00: The Penguins will have 1:29 of power-play time to start the period. Crosby, Neal, Kunitz, Jokinen and Niskanen take the ice.
19:17: Niskanen chops a slapper from the left point. it hits a body and deflects wide.
19:07: Off a cross-ice feed by Niskanen, Crosby whacks a one-timer from the right circle. McElhinney reads the pass and kicks out the shot.
18:29: The Jenner minor expires with relatively little threat from the Penguins.
17:37: Nikita Nikitin cranks a slapper from the right point. Adams blocks it.
17:17: Nikitin tees up a half slapper from the center point through traffic and wide to the right of the cage.
16:40: A wrister by Murray from the right point is blocked by Scuderi.
16:24: Murray fires a slapper from the high slot which is blocked by Kobasew.
16:10: After a dominant shift by the Blue Jackets in the offensive zone, the Penguins ice the puck then call a timeout to get a breather.
15:42: A wrister by Dubinsky in the slot is blocked.
15:06: The Blue Jackets are all over the Penguins right now. Skille sails a wrister from the right wing wide to the far side.
14:36: After the great Joe Vitale struggles to collect himself after being sandwiched on a hard hit by Comeau and Wisniewski, Comeau coasts down the slot and lifts a wrister. Zatkoff fights it off. Johansen follows up on the rebound and lifts it right into Zatkoff who comes up with another save.
14:27: Comeau lofts a wrister from above the right circle. Zatkoff steers it away with his blocker.
14:18: Kunitz races up the left wing with the puck but has it stripped on Wisniewski who caught Kunitz on a backheck.
13:54: Off a drop pass by Foligno, Johansen lifts a wrister from the right circle. It hits a body in front.
13:00: Off a give-and-go with Jokinen, Conner snaps off a wrister from a bad angle in the right wing. McElhinney fights it off.
12:47: Jenner drops Bortuzzo with a nice shoulder check in the Penguins' left wing corner.
12:40: According to Root Sports broadcaster Bob Errey, the great Joe Vitale retreated to the dressing room.
11:26: Neal is heating up. Neal steals a pass by Johnson fro the Blue Jackets' own right wing corner. Crosby settles the puck in the right circle and deals a pass to Neal who has positioned himself in the slot. As he slides into the left circle, Neal rips a wrister by McElhinney's glove hand on the far side. Another sizzling wrister. The more impressive play to us was Neal's steal against Johnson. Crosby gets the only assist. Penguins 2-1.
10:06: A slapper by Wisniewski from the right point is re-directed wide by Atkinson.
9:40: The great Joe Vitale has returned to the game and is on a line with Jokinen and Conner.
8:33: Johnson whacks a one-timer from the right point. Zatkoff kicks it out. Artem Anisimov backhands the rebound wide of the cage.
7:55: Johnson moves in off the right wing with a power move around Gibbons and puts a little wrister on net. Zatkoff fights it off.
7:23: Kobasew is skating with Crosby and Kunitz.
6:29: Maatt collects a loose puck in the slot and jabs a shot on net. McElhinney fights it off.
6:19: The Blue Jackets finally break through. Jenner backhands a pass off the left half wall to Tropp above the left circle. Tropp undresses Maatta with a snazzy move and moves in on net all alone. He goes forehand/backhand/forehand and sneaks a forehand shot under Zatkoff's left leg. What an effort by Tropp. He embarrassed Maatta. That's two one-on-one battles the Blue Jackets have won and scored goals on. Jenner and Nikitin get assists. Blue Jackets 2, Penguins 2.
5:28: Zach Sill lifts a wrister from the left half wall which McElhinney fights off.
4:11: Tyutin floats a shot from the left point which hits a body in front an deflects wide. Dubinsky collects the rebound behind the cage and tries to jam in two forehand shots from the right side of the cage. Zatkoff holds them out.
2:31: On a delayed penalty, Letestu whacks a slapper from the right wing wide to the far side.
2:12: The great Joe Vitale is called for tirpping Murray in the neutral zone. The Blue Jackets finally get a power play. This is a big two minutes late in the period. Crosby, Bortuzzo, Adams and Orpik take the ice.
2:05: Tyutin chucks a wrister from the right half wall. Zatkoff boots it out.
1:44: A wrister by Atkinson in the left circle is blocked by Orpik. Bortuzzo chips the rebound down ice to get a line change.
1:09: Behind the Penguins' cage, Scuderi is able to wrap a puck around the end boards and up the ice to clear the defensive zone.
0:37: Murray booms a one-timer from the right circle. Orpik blocks it and clears the rebound.
0:12: The Vitale minor is kill
0:00: End of period. Blue Jackets 2. Penguins 2.
-The Penguins are lucky to have a tie after that period. They were lucky to ever have a lead in that period. The bulk of the period was played in their own zone. The Blue Jackets dominated puck possession.
-Jeff Zatkoff was the best player for either team that period. He held the fort while the Chargers bombarded his cage.
-James Neal is playing at a scary level right now. The individual play he made to steal the puck which led to his goal was pretty sharp.
-Dubinsky is playing like he wants to rack up a few points tonight.
-The Blue Jackets lead in shots on net, 21-19.
-The Blue Jackets lead in attempted shots, 48-27.
-Dubinsky leads the game with six shots.
-Neal and Sill each lead the Penguins with three shots.
-Wisniewski leads the game with 15:32 of ice time.
-Niskanen leads the Penguins with 14:19.
-Faceoffs are 17-17 (50 percent).
-Johansen is 6 for 10 (60 percent).
-Crosby is 9 for 16 (56 percent).
-Orpik leads the game with three blocked shots.
-Tropp leads the Blue Jackets with two blocked shots.
19:00: A quick shot by Johnson off a faceoff win in the right circle is blocked.
17:53: Gibbons is dropped on a nice hit by Jenner on the Penguins' left boards.
17:45: Gibbons returns the favor and drops Jenner with a solid shoulder hit in the Columbus slot.
17:12: Another Blue Jackets power play. Neal hooked up Comeau in the Blue Jacket's left wing corner. Comeau sort of grabbed Neal's stick and held it against his own. Sutter, Adams, Bortuzzo and Orpik take the ice. It looked like Neal tripped on the bench in the penalty box:
15:51: Dubinsky takes a pass at the top of the left circle, holds then releases a wrister wide to the far side.
15:30: Off some nice puck movement, Murray gets a chance in the right circle and lifts a point blank wrister over the cage.
15:12: As Neal's minor expires, Murray has a slapper from the left point blocked
14:55: Engelland goes in deep on the left wing and deals a little pass to Neal in the right circle. Neal grips and rips a wrister on net. McElhinney is above the blue paint and eats it up.
14:52: Off an offensive zone faceoff win Maatta rips a shot from center point. McElhinney fights it off out of play.
14:27: Crosby coasts up the right wing and rips a wrister on net which McEhinney fights off.
13:21: Comeau is called for tripping Bortuzzo. Crosby, Neal, Niskanen, Kunitz and Jokinen take the ice.
13:08: Shorthanded, Anisimov pushes the puck up the left wing and drives to the net. Jokinen chases him down and forces him to deal a bad pass and turn the puck over.
11:56: A one-timer by Niskanen from the left point is kicked out by McElhinney's left skate.
11:21: The Comeau minor is killed with little threat by the Penguins.
9:59: Folingo races up the right wing and rips a wrister on net from the right point. Zatkoff eats it up.
9:09: Sidney Crosby just decides to score a goal. Picks it up a bank pass in the neutral zone from Neal, Crosby pushes the puck into the offensive zone on the right wing, twists Tyutin inside out and and leaves a drop pass for Kunitz in the slot. Kunitz taps it back to him and Crosby whacks it into McElhinney as Tyutin collides with McElhinney and knocks the puck into the cage. Officials rule a goal on the ice but consult a video review. The ruling on the ice is upheld and the Penguins take another lead. Kunitz and Neal get assists. Crosby moves into a tie with Kevin Stevens for the fifth-most goals in franchise history. Penguins 3-2.
8:03: Comeau whacks a one-timer from the left point which Adams blocks.
7:37: Savard sneaks up the right wing and puts a low wrister on net. Zatkoff kicks it out.
7:35: Another power play for the Penguins. Derek MacKenzie high sticked Adams in the slot. That's two minutes. The Blue Jackets have to kill this to have a chance. Jokinen, Crosby, Neal, Kunitz and Niskanen take the ice.
7:15: Crosby whacks a heavy slapper from the right circle. McElhinney kicks it out.
7:02: Game. Set. Match. Neal backhands a pass from the slot to Crosby in the left circle. Crosby deals a cross-ice pass to Kunitz at the right dot. Kunitz drops the hammer on a one-timer by the glove hand of McElhinney's glove hand on the near side. What a display of passing. The strong showing of Penguins fans on hand go nuts. Crosby and Neal get assists. Penguins 4-2.
6:36: Off a give-and-go with Sutter, the great Joe Vitale races down the slot on a mini-breakaway and lifts a backhander which glances off the right leg of a stretched-out McElhinney. The puck appears to go in the cage but bounces out. Vitale raises his hands in celebration but officials wave it off and play continues. A brief video review confirms the call on the ice. The puck went off the cross bar.
4:13: Crosby is tripped up in the Penguins' zone by Foligno. That is two minutes. With a two-goal lead late, the Penguins sends out Maatta in place of Jokinen. He is joined by Crosby, Niskanen, Neal and Kunitz.
2:36: Engelland chops a rising slapper from the left point on net. McElhinney gloves it.
2:27: Hat trick. Engelland flings a wrister from the right half wall. It hits a cluster of bodies in tight comes ot a rest above the blue paint. Neal sneaks in and Neal is able to jab it behind McElhinney. That was the ugliest of Neal's three goals tonight but it counts. The great Joe Vitale and Engelland get assists. Penguins fans little the Nationwide Arena with hats. A video review confirms the goal. Penguins 5-2.
1:29: Corralling a puck at the left point, Nikitin whacks a knuckle one-timer which drops like a sinker by the blocker of Zatkoff on the near side. What a goofy shot. MacKenzie and Comeau get assists. Penguins 5-3.
1:12: As McEhlinney is pulled for an extra attacker, Jenner rips a wrister from the right wing. Zatkoff fights it off.
0:33: Neal is called for tripping Dubinsky. The Blue Jackets call a timeout to get organized. Crosby, Adams, Orpik and Engelland take the ice.
0:00: End of game. Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 3.
-This game came down to skill. The Blue Jackets outplayed the Penguins for most of the game. They just didn't have the skill to keep up with the Penguins.
-As beat-up and shorthanded as the Penguins are, they still have a handful of all-stars on their makeshift top line of Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Chris Kunitz. That trio ripped the Blue Jackets to shreds. In contrast, the Blue Jackets are missing Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton. They simply don't have the depth to overcome those injuries. As well as he played, Brandon Dubinsky just isn't going to carry the load offensively for any NHL team.
-It hasn't always looked smooth, but the Kunitz-Crosby-Neal line established finally a ton of chemistry tonight. Their passing was crisp. They looked like they had been playing together for years. They may have made a case to stick together as a line in Sochi.
-What was completely lost in the offensive onslaught in the third period was how badly the Penguins' were outplayed in the second period. Jeff Zatkoff bailed out his team in a big way during that period. He deserves this win in every way possible.
-The Penguins' blue line didn't have a perfect game. There were a few individual errors - most notably by Rob Scuderi and Olli Maatta - but the blue line came through with some key plays, especially late in the second period a on a penalty kill.
-The decision to scratch Simon Despres caused a lot of grief to be directed at Deryk Engelland. If we had a choice, we'd play Despres over Engelland but considering the Penguins had two rusty defensemen in the lineup with Scuderi and Brooks Orpik, it was probably ideal to have three righty-lefty pairings on defense. Also, did Engelland really give his critics any ammo (i.e. bad plays) tonight? He played a safe, clean game tonight and even contributed a little on offense.
-Rob Scuder had a rough start to his first game back from injury and even took blame for missing the puck on Dubinsky's opening goal. He shook that off and rebounded with a few blocks and one nice play on the penalty kill late in the second period. He had 18:01 of ice time on 21 shifts and two blocked shots.
-If there's room for concern, it's the fact that the Penguins got next to nothing from their bottom three lines. The first line did everything. A potential return from Evgeni Malkin can't happen soon enough.
-Jussi Jokinen came back to earth after a three-point outburst against the Hurricanes Friday. He had a weak attempt at a backcheck on the Dubinsky goal. Granted, Jokinen had to work with the likes of Chris Conner and the great Joe Vitale most of the night, but he didn't offer much in this game.
-Orpik improved on an okay first game Friday. He was in the shooting lanes quite a bit and prevented more than a few shots and passes.
-Once again, special teams were a strong asset for the Penguins. The power play tore it up going 3 for 5 while the penalty kill denied all five chances it saw.
-Curtis McElhinney did what he could in this game until the roof caved in. He played well until the Penguins just opened it up late.
-The Penguins led in shots on net, 30-28.
-The Blue Jackets led in attempted shots, 71-40.
-Dubinsky led the game with six shots.
-Neal led the Penguins with five shots.
-Ryan Murray led the game with 24:40 of ice time.
-Engelland led the Penguins with 21:11.
-The Penguins led in faceoffs, 33-27 (55 percent).
-Crosby was 19 for 31 (61 percent).
-Artem Anisimov was 7 for 14 (50 percent).
-Orpik led the game with five blocked shots.
-Fedor Tyutin and Corey Tropp led the Blue Jackets with two locked shots each.
-Neal's hat trick was the fourth of his career. He also recorded his first career five-point game.
-Neal's hat trick was the 202nd in franchise history. It was also the Penguins' first hat trick against the Blue Jackets.
-The Penguins' only other hat trick against a team based in Ohio was recorded by Wayne Bianchin in a 6-3 home win against the Cleveland Barons, Dec. 31, 1977.
-Neal (153 points) moved ahead of Matt Cooke and Ryan Whitney (150 each) for 55th place on the franchise's all-time scoring list.
-Crosby moved into a tie with Kevin Stevens for the fifth-most goals in franchise history with 260.