PITTSBURGH — Coaches always say that the first team to “wake up” usually fares pretty well in these afternoon games.
The Penguins started today’s game with eyes wide open and they were rewarded in the opening period, controlling play and forcing the Blue Jackets to spend a lot of time inside their own blue line.
Less than five minutes into the game, the Blue Jackets were two men down after Will Weber (interference) and David Savard (hooking) were sent off to give the Penguins 26 seconds worth of a grade-A opportunity. Columbus had the two-man advantage sealed up well, but couldn’t get through the resulting 5-on-4; rookie Kasperi Kapanen made it 1-0 at 5:52, roofing a cross-ice pass under the crossbar that was briefly discussed by the on-ice officials before being approved as a good goal.
PENGUINS 2 | BLUE JACKETS 1
Pittsburgh kept pushing, getting the Blue Jackets’ young defense back on its heels and forcing a lot of turnovers. Christian Ehrhoff, a new face in this Penguins lineup, led a rush into the Columbus zone and tossed a centering pass through the crease, where Andrew Ebbett was able to get a stick on it at the back post.
Off Bobrovsky’s pad and in, and just like that, it was 2-0 Penguins and that’s how it remained after 20 minutes.
"We still have to get better," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "There's still some mistakes in our game and there's always going to be mistakes. We started slow, and some of that might have something to do with the travel and getting here, and the penalties early, too, led to some momentum and putting us on our heels.
"I didn't come out of the game feeling like we were way behind those guys. We did some good things...again, the speed and the intensity of these games is starting to get to that level of how the NHL is."
We’ll call it an “uneventful” second period, ok?
After a first period with two goals and a few chances for both teams, the Blue Jackets and Penguins weren’t able to get much going in the second. Columbus was able to get a pair of power play opportunities but could not capitalize, and overall, the Jackets only generated three shots on goal in the second period.
The highlight of the second was an impressively elusive rush from Matt Calvert, who dangled between a couple of Penguins defenseman inside the offensive zone and was able to get a strong shot off on Fleury, who fought it off with his blocker to keep the visitors off the board.
The shot total was 14-10 after two periods with a dearth of quality opportunities for either side.
"That's a tough team to play against, they have a good (defense)," Wennberg said. "We tried to maintain speed, get a forechecking going and play in their zone. We had a couple penalties (in the first period) but it's a long game...we kept getting better and better but we still need to work on a few things."
The Blue Jackets needed to themselves going somehow, some way early in the third period and they did just that.
A power play opportunity was the jump-start required, and it was former Penguins forward Brian Gibbons who cut the lead in half. Wennberg, operating along the goal line, slipped a nifty pass to Gibbons low in the left circle and absolutely sniped one off the crossbar and in, making it a 2-1 game just 2:10 into the period.
From there, the Blue Jackets started to get some life and their legs were moving much better than earlier in the game. The play of their goaltender helped, as well, and Bobrovsky certainly did his part to keep it a one-goal game down the stretch, including a fabulous right-skate stop on Marcel Goc inside the final five minutes of regulation.
“I feel good, I feel good with my game (right now),” Bobrovsky told BlueJackets.com post-game. "I'm trying to use this time (in the preseason) to build up my confidence and work on my game. It's good to play games like this and work on all the situations."
Columbus made its push but couldn't break through for the tying goal, and it was a 2-1 final at CONSOL Energy Center. The Blue Jackets dropped their first exhibition game and are now 4-1-0 in the preseason heading into Monday’s game in Nashville.