Some postgame thoughts from the Penguins' 2-1 home loss to the Blue Jackets Thursday.
-The common theme in this low-scoring game was ugliness. Yes, there was a fight between Sidney Crosby and his long-time nemesis Brandon Dubinsky and there were several chippy moments throughout the contest but we're talking about the offense. All three goals these teams scored tonight were within the gravitational field of the blue paint. Nothing was pretty.
-For the scrappy Blue Jackets, that's by design. They have to score goals that way in order to compete. They have a ton of net-front crease crashers and each of their goals were scored within a handful of feet of the Penguins' crease.
-For the Penguins, their lone goal, a rebound shot by Evgeni Malkin, it was almost by accident. They didn't mean to score that goal. It just happened through some bizarre cosmic force. For them, every goal must be a work of art. In the NHL in 1995 2015, there isn't room for pretty goals which will end up on YouTube.
-It's a league for house painters and the Penguins are trying to play like Van Gogh.
(If that make sense.)
-Mike Johnston was asked after the game if his team focuses enough on scoring ugly goals:
"If you look at the ones we've scored, the only ones we've scored lately have all been the exact the same. We've scored ours right around the blue paint tonight. The last goal we scored in Chicago was right in the blue paint. It's that type of thing. You've got to get in there. As I've said to you in the last few weeks, I don't think we get in there enough. Do we get enough touches in tight to the net there? Do we have enough pucks there? I thought there were some rebounds tonight that we didn't convert that we should have. We had those opportunities and those are the ones you have to bear down when it's around the crease. You're not going to score from a long range unless it's on a power play on a cross-ice play but that doesn't happen too often."
-Rob Scuderi was asked the game question as well:
"You're not going to see the highlight reel goal much any more. We're in the last 25 games of the season. Everybody's clamping down. If you're going to play a team that's even remotely in the playoff race, it's going to be a tight, tight game. The pretty play is not there. Even on the power play, it's not there. It's getting pucks and bodies to the net, crashing it and trying to get another one. "
-Like it or not, the NHL has in some fashion reverted back to the rodeo days from before the 2004-05 lockout. You don't see clear-cut Roman-Greco wrestling matches like you did with the Devils in their heyday, but this is how the NHL is played and officiated right now. The Penguins need to adjust accordingly. They can't win and score on masterpiece goals the way they did in October. If they focused on creating goals in front of the net the way the Blue Jackets did tonight, they might have won this game, 5-2.
-We can't conceive a reasonable argument against blowing up the line combinations right now. If we had a say, we'd have the top two lines look like this:
David Perron - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Blake Comeau
-We have absolutely nothing to indicate if that will bare positive results, but we do know the current line combinations aren't working.
-The Penguins did change their top power play unit back to Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Hornqvist and Kris Letang when they got a chance late in regulation. It seemed to control the puck in the offensive zone pretty well but didn't really do much in terms of posing a legit threat.
-The Blue Jackets scored first in a pretty lifeless first period. After Hornqvist lost a puck at the Penguins' left point, Alexander Wenneberg was able to play a puck to Scott Hartnell above the crease. Hartnell shook off a check from Pouliot and tucked a forehand shot by the right skate of Fleury at 17:43 of the period.
-The Penguins tied the score, 1-1, at 8:58 of the first period. Paul Martin glided up the right wing and played a puck to the crease. The puck kicked to the slot where Malkin flung a wrister by the glove hand of Curtis McElhinney. It wasn't pretty but in the context of this game, it was the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
-Things got a little nasty at 14:10 of the second. Brandon Dubinsky, a long-time rival of Crosby, pinned the Penguins' captain against the left corner boards and tried to roll him into a small package for a pin. Crosby had enough and dropped the gloves. Here's the fight:
-After the game, Crosby was asked what sparked the fight:
“Nothing really. It wasn't much of a fight really.”
-With less than ten minutes remaining in regulation, the Penguins managed to keep the game tied, 1-1, after killing a five-on-three power play by Columbus which lasted 1:38. Fleury made three saves during the power play while Blue Jackets right winger Cam Atkinson failed to tap in a seemingly easy goal from the left of the cage and instead put the puck off the back of Fleury's left skate.
-Then came that power play by the Penguins we mentioned earlier. The J.V. power play came on the ice and ... yuck. Blake Comeau, who has been fairly reliable all season, had one of the worst shifts of his career. After Comeau turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Matt Calvert raced up the left wing and attacked the net. As Fleury poke checked the puck away, Comeau, furiously backecheck in an attempt to hit Calvert, bumped into Fleury and allowed Dubinsky to clean up the rebound for an easy short-handed and game-winning goal.
-Fleury was not the problem. He robbed the Blue Jackets of several goals, including a few times on that five on three. Fleury was outstanding, especially in the first period.
-Give credit to McElhinney as well. He stole a few goals too, including on a little wrister of a rebound by Crosby in the second period.
-We can't say he generated a ton of high quality scoring chances, but Robert Bortuzzo was not afraid to shoot the puck. He threw the puck at the Columbus net a lot.
-With Christian Ehrhoff sidelined indefinitely, we wonder if it would be ideal to break up Letang and Martin in order to "spread the wealth" a little bit with the defensive pairings. With them teamed up, that seems to be the only pairing capable of really generating much from the backend.
-This Crosby-Dubinsky thing isn't anything new. It predates Dubinsky's time with the Blue Jackets going back to his Rangers' days:
-One thing which didn't help the Penguins at all was the ice. The puck was bouncing like a Superball most of the night. The Blue Jackets handled that issue by playing simple and just throwing pucks on net and hoping for a rebound or a re-direction. The Penguins kept trying to play fancy despite the ice conditions. Square peg/Round hole.
-The Penguins' penalty kill wasn't an issue. Prior to this game, they had allowed the opposition to score a power-play goal in 10 out of their past 15 games. Tonight, they blanked the Blue Jackets on four chances, including a lengthy five-on-three late in regulation. The Blue Jackets aren't a great power-play team by any means, but this was a step in the right direction.
-Shot on net were even, 30-30.
-The Penguins had a 54-53 edge in attempted shots.
-Malkin, Letang and Dubinsky each led the game with five shots.
-The only Penguins' skaters who failed to record a shot on net were Comeau and Beau Bennett.
-Letang led the game with 28:09 of ice time.
-Jack Johnson led the Blue Jackets with 26:34 of ice time.
-The Blue Jackets led in faceoffs, 29-27 (52 percent).
-Malkin and Sutter were each 8 for 16 (50 percent).
-Mark Letestu was 6 for 9 (67 percent).
-Fire Ray Shero.
-Kevin Connauton and Letang each led the game with four blocked shots.
-Crosby's fight was the sixth of his regular season career. Including playoffs, it was the seventh of his career.
-His last fight was against Flyers captain Claude Giroux in the 2012 postseason.
-The fight pushed him over 500 career penalty minutes (504).
-The players with the top three penalty minute totals among those selected in 2005 draft all played in this game tonight:
(Those totals don't include tonight's game.)
-Some sights. The ice:
-Speaking of ice, check out the Monongahela River:
-Fans entering the barn:
-Crosby Rimouski Oceanic:
-There were a few Blue Jackets fans on hand. James Wisniewski:
-Fleury All-Star Game:
-Jersey of the Night: All hail Miroslav Satan:
-This isn't good: