It looks like the CONSOL curse has been lifted.
Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky entered Friday’s game against Pittsburgh at CONSOL Energy Center with a 5-1 record in the building from his time with the Flyers, and Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma joked this morning, “I’m a little nervous to get him back into this building where he has played well and could ignite him to be at the level that we’ve seen him play in the past. So we’re going to try and get as many pucks at him and make him feel as uncomfortable as we can and see if we can’t break that CONSOL curse that he’s got for us."
The Penguins did just that, as they chased last year’s Vezina Trophy winner just three minutes into the second period after allowing three goals on 13 shots. They put one more past replacement Curtis McElhinney to come away with a 4-2 victory.
While Bobrovsky struggled at one end, down at the other end Marc-Andre Fleury was the Penguins’ best player in this game. He was excellent throughout, but was especially strong early – his first period might have been his best period of play all season – and during penalty kills. Fleury finished with 37 saves to improve his record to 10-2 overall and 7-1 at home.
“I thought without a doubt that Marc-Andre was the best player on the ice tonight,” Bylsma said. “(He faced) 15 shots in the first, they had a couple flurries on the power play, some great chances to score and he was very good, very strong and he was the difference in the game.”
The Penguins got goals throughout their lineup in this game, as Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Brandon Sutter and Jayson Megna all scored for Pittsburgh.
The Pens will play the Blue Jackets again on Saturday night to complete the home-and-home series between the new Metropolitan Division rivals. And even though Pittsburgh got the win tonight, Sutter said they will need to come out with a better effort tomorrow if they want to sweep the back-to-backs.
"We know we've got to be better," he said. "They're a good team over there and we know they're going to be ready to play tomorrow night. We've got to show up with a full 60-minute game and a little bit better of an effort than we had tonight. But good teams find ways to win a game like that, and we'll take it. Just get ready for the next one."
Entering this game, the Pens had been one of the NHL’s best teams at limiting their opponents’ shots and helping keep the puck away from the goaltenders. But the Blue Jackets attacked hard and fast early in Friday’s game, firing 15 pucks at Fleury in the first period alone. And if it wasn’t for Fleury’s heroics, this could have turned out to be a different game.
“I think as a team, we've got to crack down a bit on our turnovers,” Sutter said. “They did a good job in their transition game, especially early. … If ‘Flower’ didn't play the way he did, it might have been a different story. So he was great and definitely kept us in it early on there.”
The Blue Jackets didn’t just have a high volume of shots early on; they had a number of fantastic scoring chances and point-blank opportunities from close range and forced to Fleury to make – well, as Bylsma said, flurries – of saves in order to keep the puck out of the net. And it started from the moment the puck dropped, as he had to make two big pad saves within the first two minutes and a series of big stops five minutes in.
“They got a few shots right away,” Fleury said when asked if he felt sharp from the beginning. “So it was good to get into the game with it and I thought our guys still played good, they didn't give them too many chances.”
Fleury was equal to the challenge and was in position to make every save that was needed of him – especially on the penalty kill. On one Columbus power play he stretched out his glove to make a save on Ryan Johansen while seated doing the splits, and later robbed Brandon Dubinsky on a point-blank chance from the slot before sliding over to stone James Wisniewski on the rebound.
“They’re a good team,” Fleury said. “They work hard, they play hard. They threw a lot of pucks to the net, guys crashing, trying to tip rebounds, screens. A lot of action, but it's fun.”
PP SCORES TWICE
After going 1-for-15 on the power play for a four-game span, the Penguins broke through for a big goal on the man-advantage Wednesday against the Bruins. It followed that up by scoring twice on Friday against the Blue Jackets.
Chris Kunitz scored on the man-advantage against Boston while providing a net-front presence, and netted the first one against Columbus from the same area. Kunitz has been an important part of Pittsburgh’s first power-play unit with the way he creates space for his teammates and his ability to screen goaltenders. His goal on Friday was a perfect example of that. Kunitz went straight to his spot at the top of the crease after Sidney Crosby won a faceoff back to Paul Martin, and perfectly tipped his shot past Bobrovsky for his third goal in as many games.
The Pens scored their second power-play goal of the game with three members of the second unit on the ice: Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen and Matt Niskanen. And with Sutter providing the screen this time, Letang’s one-timer from the circle trickled through Bobrovsky.
“Power-play wise, both of those goals are a direct result of someone standing in front of the net,” Bylsma said. “Chris gets the tip on the first one and Brandon Sutter is right in front of the blue paint there on the second one, making it tough for (Bobrovsky) to see Kris Letang's shot.”
The Pens finished 2-for-4 on the power play in the game.
MALKIN’S LINE SCORES AGAIN
Rookie forward Jayson Megna earned a promotion to the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen with his play in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 win over Carolina on Monday, where he scored a goal and an assist.
And with the way Megna has performed in the two games he’s skated on the right wing there, it’s obvious he wants to stay there.
On Friday, Megna scored his second goal of the season with Jokinen and Malkin assisting on the play to give the trio goals in two straight games.
“I'm playing with really good players and that is helping me out a lot,” said Megna, who said his approach to playing with his new linemates is to just go to the net and let them find him. “They have created space for me and the coaches have been gracious enough to give me an opportunity to play with these guys and I've tried to step up and contribute any way I can.”
It looked like Malkin had broken through for his first goal in seven games on Friday when his shot during a third-period power play appeared to go into the net – so much so that the whistle blew, the referee behind the net signaled it was in and the goal horn went off. But the replay showed Malkin’s shot glanced off the underside of the crossbar and actually did not cross the goal line, and after a video review the call on the ice was reversed.
But while Malkin was robbed of an opportunity to get into the goal column, he finished with two assists, was named the game’s First Star and overall, was just dominant for a second straight game. It’s only a matter of time for the superstar center.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo