Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin gives his three impressions from the Penguins’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
1. I loved the battle level. We’ve got a lot of injuries, had two kids (Bobby Farnham and Bryan Rust) come up and play their first NHL game and got right involved in the physical aspect and brought energy, brought some grit to our lineup and it was much-needed.
2. I liked the way that guys played in all sorts of different line combinations.
3. Kris Letang’s two-goal performance was big.
Michelle Crechiolo gives her three takeaways from the press box.
1. I’ll admit it – I didn’t think the Pens had a chance in this game with the way they played the first 30 minutes or so. They just weren’t sharp at all. Guys kept running into each other, they weren’t making tape-to-tape passes and kept bobbling the puck at inopportune times. The Jackets were smothering them physically. They made it difficult for the Pens to break out and get through the neutral zone and overall just bogged them down. However, the Pens stuck with it and kept plugging away. As the second period progressed, the Pens had increasingly more offensive zone time and started creating chance after chance. They finally got rewarded when Blake Comeau sniped a shot top shelf, far side past Sergei Bobrovsky. From there, they just kept pressing.
“We knew Columbus was going to come out with the type of energy that they did and the forechecking pressure they did,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “I thought we responded in a couple ways. I thought we got out of our zone quick as the period went along. Then as the game went along, physically we met the challenge and then we started to take over the game. I thought puck-possession wise, through the last half of the game it was certainly in our favor.”
2. What an incredible push by the Penguins, who were a different team in the third period, to close out this game. Despite their dominance, Jack Johnson gave the Jackets the lead with 2:11 left in regulation, which could have been devastating. But the Pens responded by pulling Thomas Greiss for the extra attacker and swarming all over the Jackets. With the way they were moving the puck in the offensive zone, working the cycle and crashing Bobrovsky – Malkin’s line with Comeau and Klinkhammer especially – it felt inevitable that the Pens were going to force overtime. And Letang did, with 10.9 seconds left.
“I think we played really well in the third period,” Letang said. “We were after them, we were dictating the play. I think we deserved that point. We’re not happy about the first period, but sometimes things go that way.”
3. Thomas Greiss was a lot better in this game than he was in his last start, a 3-0 loss to Vancouver on Dec. 4. He was the main reason the Pens were still in this game after their awful first. That’s all you can ask for from your goalie. He was especially strong on the penalty kill. Greiss’ most crucial sequence came when Patric Hornqvist got a penalty 12 seconds into the second and the Jackets ended up with a 5-on-3 for 49 seconds when Letang went to the box shortly after. Greiss was able to keep the Jackets from getting what would have felt like an insurmountable 2-0 lead, and the Pens were back in this one after that.
“I felt comfortable,” Greiss said. “The team was working hard and I thought the energy in the building made it a fun game to play.”