The Pittsburgh Penguins defensive corps finally buckled. After the bending in Game 3, the Penguins lack of mental preparation combined with personnel deficiency created a Molotov cocktail of offensive chances for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who never trailed in a 5-4 Game 4 victory.
There were far too many odd man rushes, even man rushes which became breakaways as Blue Jacket forwards skated past Penguins defensemen (Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin were each burned multiple times) and the Penguins forwards leaned on their sticks to watch the action in front of the Penguins net.
The recipient of the Penguins giving mood were the Blue Jackets, who played with the desperation befitting one of the best teams in the NHL facing an elimination game.
Assembled media in Columbus noted the Penguins very loose locker room. Very loose.
The Penguins were also very loose before Game 4 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final. Recall the Penguins famously decorated Phil Kessel‘s locker with Scope and other break fresheners after his amusing exchange with NBC reporter Pierre McGuire following Game 3. The Penguins forgot to show up for Game 4, and trailed Tampa Bay 4-0 and lost 4-3.
Similarly, this First Round Game 4 score is in no way indicative of the effort put forth by the Penguins. They deserved a fate far worse.
Forwards Night Off: Goals Analysis
Penguins fans snidely lauded Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella for giving Scott Hartnell the night off, on his birthday. As it turns out, many Penguins forwards mentally joined Scott Hartnell at his unwanted birthday party.
Let’s review Blue Jackets Goal #5, courtesy of NHL.COM. This masterpiece has several components. First, the Penguins failed to cover Brandon Saad. Wide open and plenty of time. He’s kind of a big deal. Nick Bonino and Scott Wilson had a lovely view of the action, while Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley watched from the crease.
Four Penguins were between Boone Jenner and the puck. Jenner won.
Let’s look at Goal #4. One Blue Jacket. Two Penguins and a goalie. Pens lose again.
Oh, Sid. Oh, boy. Everyone but Karlsson assumed the Penguins were about to start the transition game. Funny thing about transition game–you need the puck.
(It was a long drive from Columbus as I fulfilled my reporting duties to 93-7 the Fan. I haven’t the energy to engage in a Marc-Andre Fleury debate today. Only the fourth goal was suspect. I get the emotion to blame Fleury, but that’s wildly misplaced today.)
Blue Jackets goal #3 is rich with layers to breakdown. First, it was another 2-on-1 break for the Jackets, who had no less than six. Second–and importantly for the anti-Fleury crowd–notice where Fleury directs the rebound: Past the Blue Jackets rushers, to the crowd of Penguins. Fleury neatly deflected it to Brian Dumoulin.
This should have been an opportunity for the Penguins to transition with numbers, or at least control the play. Should. Dumoulin treated the puck like a hot potato and neither passed nor cleared the puck. To add insult, it was Dumoulin’s man who cleans up the rebound, uncontested.
Ron Hainsey‘s pinch, which created the 2-on-1 for the Jackets was also, umm, ill-advised.
If you remain unconvinced, Goal #2. Count the Penguins Josh Anderson beats after the Penguins neutral zone turnover. On the surface, it may appear a soft goal on Fleury, but TV replays showed Hainsey accidentally deflect the shot at a right angle through Fleury.
There were a few moments last spring, in which I wondered if the Penguins bubble had burst. It never did. Losses were forgotten the next day. Mistakes corrected. And you know how that story ended.
This Penguins team will need to do the same. Short memory. Bring back their swagger. And a Round 2 date with the winner of the wonderful Capitals-Leafs series awaits.
The Penguins defense was suspect in Game 3. It was broken in Game 4. The Penguins should strongly consider altering their pairings or risk it being exposed.
Go to the NHL.com gamecenter page, (Click Here) and watch more highlights, including a few sparkling Fleury saves. If you’d like an extra-credit assignment, note which Penguins defenseman was beaten in each highlight. (Hint: It’s not just one). Here’s a starter:
Brian Dumoulin has not provided enough positives. His offensive game has evaporated, and so too have many of his puck skills. It wasn’t long ago, he was an offensive defenseman. Dumoulin is not getting the puck to the net in the offensive zone and certainly not keeping it away from his net.
Perhaps Maatta-Hainsey and Dumoulin-Daley would have better results, while leaving Schultz and Cole together.
Or perhaps the Penguins coaches have their own combo shakeups in mind.
Also, Josh Archibald would be a welcome sight in the Penguins bottom six. A spark, sooner or later.
Odd Note–The Blue Jackets now have as many all-time playoff wins (3) as they do all-time playoff series (3). All wins have come against the Penguins. The 2009 Blue Jackets, led by Vezina Trophy nominee and Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason, were swept by the Red Wings.