With a few quick strides, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary stole the puck from Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky behind the net, sent a quick pass to linemate Jake Guentzel who tapped it Sidney Crosby for an easy goal. It has been that kind of series: The Penguins have taken advantage of the Blue Jackets and made it look easy.
Second verse, same as the first. And the Penguins lead the series, 2-0.
The Penguins handled the Columbus Blue Jackets strategic changes and turned them to advantages. Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said his players would fight to get to the net and fight for space in the scoring zones.
They did. And the Penguins were waiting. As the Blue Jackets charged the net, the Penguins blocked shots from the point, puts sticks in lanes and launched their transition game. The Penguins made a habit of odd-man breaks through the first two periods. Jake Guentzel buried a pass from Sidney Crosby on a two-on-one.
Even Tom Kuhnhackl and Ron Hainsey had an odd-man break. Kuhnhackl paused in the slot and forced Bobrovsky to make a very good save.
As the Penguins accelerated their transition game, it forced Columbus to adjust. The Blue Jackets could not flood the scoring zone as they hoped, which kept players out of Fleury’s crease.
The Blue Jackets are in trouble. The only remaining play for Game 3 is to sell-out into the scoring zones and hope they score before the Penguins crack Bobrovsky.
#CBJ coach John Tortorella: “I don’t have one (complaint) about the team. Not one. We played the way we need to play.”
— Michael Arace (@MichaelArace1) April 15, 2017
Tortorella is trying to keep his team’s spirits up. But Columbus hasn’t been their best, or even as good as they were in February. It would be easy for the coach to kick his team. “Torts” is trying to cajole a better effort through praise and that should tell you a lot about this series and its direction.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been brilliant. The Blue Jackets have pushed hard in the opening period of Games 1 and 2. Fleury has pushed back harder, holding the Blue Jackets scoreless in the opening periods.
The Flower is at the top of his game. The veteran netminder’s complete game was on display in the second period. The Blue Jackets had a great chance down low. Fleury peeked to the slot to see Cam Atkinson wide-open. Fleury read the pass before it happened and was quickly in position to make an athletic skate-save.
At the time, the Penguins lead 2-1. There are not many goalies in the league who would have played that sequence as well or been quick enough to be in position for a difficult save.
Barring a collapse, this is Fleury’s series. This is Fleury’s moment. It is unfathomable that the Penguins would change horses, now. He is seizing it. He was an outsider during the Cup run, last season. He has carried that feeling since June. It isn’t hard to imagine he has extra motivation, or something to prove now.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 14, 2017
Fleury is now only one win behind Barrasso (56) on the franchise all-time list. If Fleury is indeed dealt this summer, he should be the all-time leader in playoff wins.
Sid and the Kids
In Game 1, it was Malkin, Kessel and Rust. In Game 2, the Crosby line skated circles around the Blue Jackets. Literally.
By my unofficial count, the Sid and the Kids line had eight Grade A chances. That includes plays and setups which didn’t result in a shot on goal, such as the puck deflected just over Guentzel’s stick in the crease 13 seconds into the game.
Sheary did not net a goal but he was a driver of chances. He is thriving in mid-wall physical battles and transitioning well into open space. He has changed from a player who benefited by playing with Sid to a player who benefits Sid.
The Crosby line needed to finish more chances. They did. The Blue Jackets are a stout defensive team, but their top defensive pair Seth Jones-Zach Werenski haven’t been able to get on the ice (home ice advantage) against the line as much as Tortorella would like. However, not even they could stop the kids in Game 2.
Odds & Ends
Even on the TV broadcast, the energy of the crowd was palpable. The noise level and intensity made me miss being fan. Well done, Pens fans.
Boone Jenner was a monster for the Jackets. He brought his big-boy pants. While he hit everything which moved, he also created offensive space.
After being benched in the third period of Game 1, Brandon Saad was solid. Not only did he score the Blue Jackets lone goal with a strong wrister from the circle on a 3-on-2, he had a few more good chances, too.
(I am covering Games 3 and 4 for 93-7 the Fan. Please tune in as I’ll be checking in as a reporter/analyst with the hosts. If you’re in Columbus, too, we’d love to hear from you.)