Observations from the Penguins' 2-1 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets:
There aren't many constants in hockey. The ice is cold. The pucks are rubber. And the officials rarely implement the league's rule book at a consistent level.
Tonight's game was a perfect example of that last point.
At 18:40 of the second period, Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky cross checked his long-time nemesis, Penguins captain/center Sidney Crosby in the neck and dropped him to the ice. With Crosby laying on the ice face down, Dubinsky proceeded to cross check Crosby again in the back and broke his stick.
Dubinsky received only a minor penalty for the infraction while Crosby headed to the dressing room. Dubinsky returned to the game and eventually played a role in creating the winning goal in overtime.
If the officials - in this case referees Steve Kozari and Brad Meier - had not failed to properly discipline Dubinsky, perhaps this game would have turned out differently. Regardless, they failed to do their jobs, they allowed this game to get out of control at times, and a competitive game was marred by an ugly incident.
Dubinsky will have a disciplinary hearing with the NHL and will presumably be suspended. But whatever decision it renders will do little to dissolve the "Garage League" reputation the NHL has fostered throughout its existence.
To be clear, we're not blaming the lack of a stiffer in-game penalty on Dubinsky for this game's result. The Penguins were outplayed much of the night. We're simply frustrated to see this happen time and time again.
-The Penguins had a early chance to take a lead when left winger David Perron created a two-on-one with Evgeni Malkin. Perron fired a wrister from the left wing which squirted through Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and hit off the far post. Malkin crashed in but couldn't bury the rebound.
-Despite exchanging power plays, neither team could get a puck in the net during the first period. The Blue Jackets did have a 15-7 lead in shots on net after the first period but couldn't figure out goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who was on his game.
-The second period kind of followed the same pattern with Fleury making a ton of saves. With 6:59 left in the period, things started to get a little nasty. Right winger Patric Hornqvist dumped Blue Jackets left winger Matt Calvert on the Blue Jackets' right wing boards with a dangerous but clean hit along the boards. After Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray was called for roughing after trying to start something with Hornqvist in retaliation, the Penguins failed to even get a shot on net with the ensuing power play.
-After Calvert failed to get Hornqvist to fight him, Dubinsky cross checked Crosby. Prior to the ensuing faceoff, Hornqvist and Blue Jackets left winger Scott Hartnell mixed it up and received matching misconduct minors. With the Penguins missing a few of their best players on the ensuing power play, they once again failed convert.
-At one point on the power play, on a five-on-two rush, Malkin set up defenseman Kris Letang for a one-timer above the right circle and Letang missed. In the ensuing scrum for the rebound, Malkin got tangled up with Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson and they started to fight with 41 seconds left in the second period.
-Crosby returned in the third period but that did little to help the Penguins' offense.
-At the 8:12 mark, Murray was called for hooking right winger Pascal Dupuis. That allowed the Penguins to finally solve Bobrovsky. Right winger Phil Kessel controlled the puck deep on the left wing and fired a cross-ice pass to Malkin in the right circle. Malkin ripped a wrister on net which Bobrovsky punched out with his blocker. The rebound ricocheted to Crosby in the slot and his wrister was blocked by a diving Dubinsky. As Bobrovsky dove in reaction to the Crosby shot, the rebound bounced to Malkin in the right circle and he ripped it into the open cage for the game's first goal at the 9:15 mark.
-The Blue Jackets tied the game just under three minutes later under murky circumstances. Blue Jackets defenseman Kevin Connauton threw a wrister on net from the right point. Fleury punched it out with his blocker to the left wing wall. Left winger Brandon Saad won a race to it and whipped it on net. Fleury kicked out another save and spit a rebound out deep on the right wing wall. Center Ryan Johansen got to the puck and threw it on net from a bad angle. As Fleury reacted to the rebound from the Saad shot, Hartnell appeared to hook Fleury just a bit and prevent him from fully pushing off his right leg to react to the Johansen shot which sneaked into the net. The Penguins issued a coaching challenge but the NHL upheld the on-ice call of a legitimate goal.
-We're not sure we see enough to overturn anything on that replay.
-In overtime, the teams exchanged a few chances before an brilliant individual effort by Dubinsky secured the win. Taking a feed on the left wing, Dubinsky juked his way past Dupuis and cut across the crease. Instead of shooting, he curled around to the right of the crease and moved a pass to right winger Cam Atkinson who was left alone at the top of the left circle by defenseman Ben Lovejoy. Atkinson had approximately 48 minutes to shoot and ripped a wrister into a wide open cage as Fleury struggled to get into position for a save.
-Make no doubt about how badly the Penguins played most of the night. The officials did the Penguins no favors but the Penguins lost this game on their own volition. They were outhustled much of the night and they allowed the Blue Jackets to initiate contact most of the night. If it wasn't for Fleury, this game would have been over in regulation.
-The Penguins lack of toughness was evident tonight. The Blue Jackets took it to them physically most of the night. While the Penguins weren't shrinking violets by any means, they just don't have the equivalent of what Dubinsky, Hartnell or left winger Nick Foligno offer in terms of being an antagonizing physical element.
-Over the summer, Jim Rutherford said the team would insert toughness to the lineup on an ad hoc basis. We don't really see what internal options they have in that regard though. Outside of defensemen Steve Olesky, Reid McNeil and right winger Tyler Biggs they don't really have too many players on NHL contract who can provide that. And even then, those three aren't exactly leading candidates for a recall to the NHL anytime soon.
-We're not suggesting a fight tonight would have had an impact on the game. But it would be much, much more preferable to have someone other than Malkin, a two-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy, fighting and risking injury.
-In terms of five-on-five play, Malkin's line with Kessel and Perron was once again their top trio. It created the bulk of the Penguins' quality chances.
-Fleury was once again outstanding. He deserved a much better fate.
-The Penguins' power play came through with the team's only goal and it continues to produce as of late as it went 1 for 4. But on the other three chances it had, it looked completely inept at times. The Penguins either dice you up on the power play or they look totally inert.
The Blue Jackets
-As mentioned above, the Blue Jackets just took it to the Penguins physically and appeared to overwhelm them at times with their forehceck. The Blue Jackets have four lines of forwards who just forecheck, hit and go to the net and that was how they played tonight.
-They also have John Tortorella as head coach that means a lot of defensive hockey. They seemed to pressure the Penguins on every possession and block any sort of shot or pass they could.
-Bobrovsky was pretty sharp as well. The Penguins didn't get a ton of shots on net but more than a few of them were fairly high quality. Bobrovsky was up to the task most of the game.
-Given the Blue Jackets' place in the basement of the Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division, any win against the Penguins or any other divisional rival is huge.
-Crosby said he was fine after the game and didn't really say much but about the hit from Dubinsky:
“Honestly, I didn't even see it. So I don't know how it looked. I just know how it felt. Other people have eyes on it. I'm not sure if the officials saw it or not.”
-Crosby was not shocked by the fact that Dubinsky was the offending party:
"I'm probably not surprised if I was going to get one of those shots, it would probably be from him."
-Rutherford objected to the light penalty Dubinsky received:
-Dubinsky said he didn't have any foul intent directed at Crosby (Courtesy the Columbus Dispatch):
-"There’s no secret. I try to play [Crosby] as hard as I can. That being said, I don’t try and do anything dirty. I felt like my stick ride up his back a little bit. He’s kind of bent over there in front. But again, that’s not the type of player I am. I’m going to play hard, but try and play fair and play in between the whistle. It wasn’t malicious or vicious or too hard in my opinion.”
-Head coach Mike Johnston discussed the coaching challenge he issued on Johansen's goal:
"We thought there was interference on [Fleury]. With Hartnell, as [Fleury] was coming across, we thought there was interference in his movement."
-Fleury talked about Hartnell's hook:
"On the play, I didn't really notice what happened. But then on the replay, he got a piece of my leg. I slipped on my push and I thought maybe that would have been enough but I didn't talk to the [referee] afterward. I didn't get a chance to."
-Hornqvist said he enjoyed when things got heated:
"This is why you play. You want to play those intense games. I like the scrums after the whistle as long as they're fair. ... It was a fun game. Too bad we didn't get the two points. "
-The Blue Jackets dominated shots on net, 43-25.
-Johansen led the game with six shots.
-Letang led the Penguins with four shots.
-Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard led the game with 30:36 of ice time.
-Letang led the Penguins with 28:59 of ice time.
-The Blue Jackets controlled faceoffs, 35-30 (54 percent).
-Dubinsky was 11 for 17 (65 percent).
-Center Nick Bonino was 8 for 14 (57 percent).
-Savard and Murray each led the game with three blocked shots.
-None of the Penguins had more than one blocked shot.
-This was the Penguins' first regular season overtime loss to the Blue Jackets in franchise history. They lost two overtime games to the Blue Jackets in the 2014 postseason.
-After sweeping the Blue Jackets in five regular season games during the 2013-14 season, the Penguins have now lost five out of their past six regular season games against the Blue Jackets.
-Malkin's fighting major was the fourth of his career overall but only the first of his career in the regular season. His last fight came in Game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Final against Bruins center Patrice Bergeron:
-The Penguins have a power-play goal in five consecutive games and are 6 for 24 (25 percent) in that span.
-The Blue Jackets were the last team in the NHL to play a game beyond regulation this season.
-The Penguins suffered their first overtime or shootout loss of the season.
(Photo: Jay LaPrete/Associated Press)