PITTSBURGH — It wasn’t always pretty. And that’s a good thing. The Pittsburgh Penguins were stout against their traditionally physical rival Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nope, the Penguins didn’t put on a firewagon hockey or aerial display of talent. They instead played in the trenches. In fact, they owned the trenches and charged Columbus rent, especially the Penguins third line.
The Penguins third line typified the Penguins emerging identity and dominated Columbus. That’s not hyperbole or exaggeration. Nick Bjugstad, Patric Hornqvist and rotating left wingers Dominik Simon then Jared McCann squashed Columbus. After McCann joined the line later in the second period, the trio posted a scoring chance ratio of..wait for it…wait for it…90 percent.
That’s ridiculous. I wonder which media outlet has advocated and examined Bjugstad as the Penguins third line center? Bjugstad posted a 75 percent scoring chance ratio. As a line, the Simon-Bjugstad-Hornqvist trio had a 90 percent rate.
“I’d say Hornqvist tonight. That was a big-time effort,” Bjugstad said. “That shouldn’t go unnoticed. His forecheck–he was on every puck and that caused stuff in the offensive zone for us to create. He was the hidden key to tonight’s game.”
Tactically, the game was interesting. Columbus was able to generate speed out of their zone and through the neutral zone. They moved the puck forward with shortened stretch passes to avoid the Penguins pressure and moved quickly in north-south directions. However, they were confronted with Penguins defensemen who protected the scoring zone. Columbus didn’t get enough clean shots. And that altered their game.
The second period didn’t look like Penguins domination, but in effect it was. Columbus likely won the time of possession game. However, it was the Penguins who counter-attacked and generated the prime scoring chances. The Corsi story was great for the Penguins and the scoring chance ratio was an even better 74 percent.
Lick and stick a giant gold star on the Penguins defense for that one.
“That’s the urgency we have to play with and that’s the playoff mindset. It’s just digging in and getting it done,” said Mike Sullivan. “I think all of our guys are making a commitment of playing the game hard. Defending when we have to. Blocking shots when we have to.”
The Penguins also denied Columbus a shot on goal for more than the first 10 minutes of the third period. In crunch time, the Penguins crunched CBJ.
The Penguins offense was ruthlessly efficient. The third line generated chances through sheer domination of the walls and puck. The Sidney Crosby line with Jake Guentzel sniped chances by counter-attacking pinching defensemen, on the rush and by Crosby creating turnovers.
The Penguins were also physical. They didn’t push back. They pushed. And hit. Note Erik Gudbranson pancaked Boone Jenner who crashed the Penguins net. More on Gudbranson in the Report Card section.
Columbus threw 46 hits. The Penguins had more (48) And the Penguins hits were more effective and Jack Johnson rattled the boards and Columbus teeth with seven hits.