Sidney Crosby completed the hat trick with a long-range empty netter. They were his career goals No. 494, 495, and 496. Mike Matheson scored his fifth game-winning goal as the Pittsburgh Penguins (25-10-5) won their fourth straight game and 15th in their last 17, to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets (18-19-1) 5-2 at Nationwide Arena.
Casey DeSmith started in goal for the Penguins but didn’t last long. DeSmith gave up a pair of goals in the first period and his game was over. No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry relieved DeSmith. Jarry stopped all 15 shots he faced for his 21st win of the season.
And the Penguins goalie controversy deepened, though head coach Mike Sullivan was deferential DeSmith.
“I think we put Case in a tough spot tonight. He was just coming off COVID. Our intent was to get him a couple of practices to get more reps. Obviously, when Louie went down in the morning skate, it forced our hand,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Casey’s played a lot of really good hockey for us and we know that the type of goalie that he is and what he’s capable of, and we’re going to work extremely hard to help case capture his best game.”
The Penguins showed the best parts of their game in the first few minutes of the first period, including extended offensive zone time which extended beyond a line change.
Just 32 seconds into the game, Penguins top-pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin took advantage of acres of ice. Columbus winger Jakub Voracek lost Dumoulin (3) who charged inside the LW circle and ripped a top-shelf wrister over Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo and his screened glove.
However, a couple of iffy goals allowed by Penguins backup goalie Casey DeSmith changed the game.
Midway through the opening period, Columbus scored a shorthanded goal. Gustav Nyquist fanned on his initial shot from the LW circle, but as DeSmith tried to reestablish his stance, Nyquist (10) slipped a wrister under DeSmith’s blocker to tie the game.
It was Nyquist’s league-leading fourth shortie this season.
Columbus took the lead later in the first period. Voracek’s long wrister was well over the net, but caromed off the glass to the side of the net. DeSmith could not hold Boone Jenner’s (16) fluttering shot, which rolled over the goal line behind the goalie.
Just as the Penguins scored in the first minute of play, they also scored in the last minute of the first period. Sidney Crosby’s feet were below the goal line near the net. Crosby (8) still scored his third goal in three games when he poked a deflected shot behind Korpisalo.
The second period was a whirlwind of chances and shots for each team. Columbus outshot the Penguins 12-11 in the period, but the high-danger chances were end-to-end with few whistles. It was fun to watch, but perhaps not for the head coaches Mike Sullivan and Columbus bench boss Brad Larsen.
Early in the third period, Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson scored a power-play goal. Matheson (6) stepped forward at the point and his slap shot dropped behind Korpisalo and rolled across the goal line.
Columbus appeared to tied the game midway through the third period. Max Domi scored a power play goal, but the video review wizard Andy Saucier spotted Columbus offside. The Penguins won the coach’s challenge. Sullivan is four-for-four on challenges this season.
The third period was a little more conservative for each team. The Penguins had a nearly two-minute 5v3 power play with eight minutes remaining, and Crosby (9) put the game away. With a patented Crosby one-timer in which he drops to one knee, Crosby lit the lamp from along the goal-line.
Crosby (10) then scored the empty netter when he fired the puck out the defensive zone, off the wall at center ice, and into the cage like a perfect bank shot. Crosby had four points (3-1-4).
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang earned an assist on Dumoulin’s goal to extend his career-long scoring streak to 10 games. Crosby had two points (1-1-2) because he had the primary assist on Dumoulin’s goal.
Zach Aston-Reese was injured while blocking a shot in the first period.
Sullivan also changed up Evgeni Malkin’s line (again). Kasperi Kapanen was bumped off the line in the second period in favor of Evan Rodrigues.
Matheson’s GWG means he leads all NHL defensemen in that category.