From the drop of the puck, the Blue Jackets played like their Thursday night game in Pittsburgh might just have meant a little more to them than their opponents.
The Blue Jackets initiated the fast pace in the first period, they answered the physical bell in the second, and in the third period they endured the frustrations of a strong Marc-Andre Fleury and made the big play when it mattered most to win their second straight game and their fifth in their last seven. Their 2-1 win in Pittsburgh was a page out of the book from last year’s team and last year’ playoff run, the last time they took the ice at CONSOL Energy Center.
It’s probably time to stop saying that Brandon Dubinsky is on a hot streak and instead say that he has brought his game to another level.
Dubinsky had a team-high five shots and four hits, he was engaged defensively, and when the going got tough it was Dubinsky dropping the gloves with Sidney Crosby in a second period where the Jackets were taking the physical game up a notch. The Blue Jackets were unable to score on the 5-on-3 power play in the third period, but they certainly had their opportunities running through Dubinsky. He set up James Wisniewski for several great chances and then fed Cam Atkinson on the back post with a yawning net that Atkinson somehow couldn’t fill. Rather, it was Dubinsky who would score the deciding goal.
With the Jackets on the penalty kill with just over two minutes remaining, Blake Comeau turned the puck over in the neutral zone and had to chase down Matt Calvert as he broke in on Fleury. Fleury made the initial save on Calvert before Comeau pushed Calvert into the goalie. Dubinsky read the rush from the neutral zone, trailed the play, and pounced on the rebound to give the Jackets the lead. With a career-high four game goal-scoring streak (4-2-6), Dubinsky has been the Jackets’ best player.
If anyone can challenge Dubinsky for that title it’s Curtis McElhinney, who continues to play like a No. 1 goaltender and is giving the Jackets a lot to think about heading into his free-agent summer. McElhinney won his third straight start and fourth in his last five outings, stopping 29 shots against the Penguins and standing tall in the final flurry of Pittsburgh attempts as they attempted to tie the game late, including an Evgeni Malkin wrister off the mask.
The mark of a good goaltender is the ability to make those game-changing saves, the stops that they aren’t expected to make. Again it was McElhinney filling his quota in the second period, when a loose puck bounced to the side of the net and right onto the stick of Crosby. As Crosby looked to bury the easy rebound, McElhinney lunged across and snagged it in his glove, practically taking the puck off the blade of one of the game’s best players.
Thrill of the Kill
The Blue Jackets power play struggles continued, failing on a two-man advantage in the third period and going 0-for-4 for the game. Making up for that was the penalty kill, not only scoring the second shorthanded goal in seven games but killing both Penguins opportunities at key moments and not allowing a potent offense to find a spark.
The Jackets penalty kill is now 31-for 35 over the last 12 games (88.6 percent) and perfect in nine of the last 12.