COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lineup that’s loaded with difference-makers.
Josh Archibald isn’t one of them.
Not most nights, anyway.
But he played a leading role in the Penguins’ 6-3 victory against Columbus Saturday night at Nationwide Arena. Arguably a bigger one than anyone except Tristan Jarry.
Archibald scored the Penguins’ first goal, throwing a shot over the glove of Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins at 3:43 to trim a Columbus lead to 2-1, then added an assist and a couple of hits.
Not a bad evening’s effort for a guy who logged just 10 minutes, 53 seconds of ice time.
And who was playing on a reconfigured line because Brock McGinn was bumped up to the No. 3 line to fill in for Danton Heinen, who replaced injured left winger Jake Guentzel with Sidney Crosby and Rickard Rakell.
“I thought he had a real solid game,” Mike Sullivan said. “He brings a ton of energy. That’s the game we know he’s capable of bringing to our team. When he does that, his energy is contagious. I thought he did a terrific job with his physical play.”
Archibald wasn’t the only fourth-liner to play well. Ryan Poehling also had a strong game, as did the guys — usually, Jason Zucker — who filled in on the left side.
“I thought they were great,” Zucker said. “They were flying all night.”
It’s a little early — OK, a lot early — to be singling out one player as the Penguins’ most valuable, but if such a list is being put together, Jarry belongs on the top of it.
Much as the Penguins are making a habit of getting terrible starts, Jarry is making one of keeping them in games when that happens, setting the stage for comebacks that let them leave the arena with a couple of points.
He was particularly good during the first period against Columbus, when the Penguins were overwhelmed for a great deal of the opening period, much as they had been two days earlier against the Kings before earning a 6-1 victory.
“We made it pretty tough on him,” Crosby said. “(Jarry) kept us in it.”
Stuck in a rut
Slow starts are becoming routine for the Penguins, and while they’ve been able to overcome them so far, they realize it’s not a formula for long-term success.
“We weren’t prepared to play in the first period,” Sullivan said. “We got totally outplayed by Columbus in the first period. … That’s an area where we need to improve.”
Precisely what that will involve remains to be seen, but Heinen offered an interesting explanation.
“Maybe it a mindset thing,” he said. “But we’ll take care of it.”
Remember when faceoffs were perhaps the most conspicuous weakness in Evgeni Malkin’s game?
You know, for like, his entire career?
Well, Malkin seems intent on rewriting that part of his resume in 2022-23.
He had a relatively poor night on draws against Columbus, winning just six of 14, but his subpar performance only dropped him into a tie with Jeff Carter as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ best faceoff man this season.
Both have controlled 63.4 percent of their faceoffs; that’s quite an upgrade for Malkin, who had won just 44.2 percent over the course of his career before this fall.
Waiting for Gaudreau
Johnny Gaudreau leads the Blue Jackets with four goals, and is the most dynamic player on their roster.
Jarry and the Pittsburgh Penguins seem to bring out the worst in him, however.
He generated three shots Saturday night — two of them in the third period, when the game was getting away from Columbus — but failed to get any of them past Jarry.
Nothing unusual about that, though. He has thrown 21 shots at him in six career games, and Jarry has stopped all but one of them.
That doesn’t mean the Penguins don’t respect the impact Gaudreau can have, however.
“He’s one of the more offensively gifted players in the league,” Sullivan said. “He’s a threat every time he’s on the ice. He has an uncanny ability to get behind defensemen, and he’s very opportunistic. His transition skills, I think, are elite.”
It’s just that his numbers against Jarry aren’t.
Road ice advantage?
There was no official count on precisely how many Penguins fans showed up for the game, but estimates ran the gamut from “many” to “a whole bunch.”
And they made their presence known, especially after the visitors extracted themselves from the muck of that opening period.
“They were loud,” Zucker said. “They had a couple of ‘Let’s Go Pens’ chants. I thought it was awesome.”