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Penguins KO Blue Jackets

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
No one is going to mistake Penguins defenseman Kris Letang with tough guys Eric Godard or Arron Asham. Letang’s 102 career penalty minutes are paltry in comparison to Godard (728) and Asham (818).

But in the Penguins’ 3-1 victory over Columbus at CONSOL Energy Center Saturday night, Letang put in his bid to become the team’s newest enforcer and brawler with not one, but two fights in the contest.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he joked at the prospect of replacing Godard and Asham.

Letang brought the sell out crowd of students and amateur hockey youth to a crescendo of screams when he sparred with Matt Calvert halfway through the second period. The Penguins blueliner handled his own and got the better of Calvet in the battle.

Letang wasn’t finished yet. The Montreal, Quebec native dropped the gloves again in the third period with Jakub Voracek. This time it was a no contest KO for Letang, who pummeled Voracek with blow after blow in an intense exchange.

“It’s part of the game,” said Letang about his first career two-fight night. “Both times I hit the guy and he turned around and asked me to go. … All the guys here stick up for each other. That’s the philosophy of our team.”

“It’s nice to see guys step up and go bat at the plate for the team,” Asham said. “That’s what’s going to win hockey games for us is everyone sticking up for each other and playing as a team. We showed that tonight.”

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Letang wasn’t the only Penguin taking some frustration out on opponents via fisticuffs. Eric Godard, Tim Wallace and even Evgeni Malkin also fought for Pittsburgh.

The bouts provided some excitement to a game that was relatively tight checking and low scoring. The Penguins pulled out the win on goals from Pascal Dupuis, Malkin and Asham.

Michael Ratchuk got Columbus on the board with a smooth backhand goal 12 minutes into the first period.

Ratchuk spun into the far circle and lifted a backhand shot over a sprawling Marc-Andre Fleury, the only blemish on a beautiful performance by the Pittsburgh netminder.

Dupuis evened the score with his first of the preseason with 3:12 remaining in the second period. Ratchuk pulled the puck out from behind his net, but the rubber slid off his stick and right to Dupuis to the left of the goal. Dupuis quickly snapped a shot over the glove of Steve Mason for the tally.

“The guys had a good forecheck,” Dupuis said. “Ash took the body and that forced them into a turnover. They put the puck right on a platter for me and I was able to finish it off.”

The Penguins netted the lead 2:47 into the third frame. Malkin carried the puck down the near side and dished to Andrew Hutchinson. Hutchinson carried deep into the zone and dished back between the circles to Malkin, who surprised Mason with a quick shot along the ice and into the net.

Pittsburgh’s third goal came in the final minutes of the third period to secure the victory. Dustin Jeffrey won a faceoff in the offensive zone, getting the puck to Letang at the far point. Letang’s shot squeezed through Mason and dribbled in the paint. Asham, who also had an assist in the contest, came in for the slam dunk.

“It’s always nice to chip in here in there,” Asham said. “It’s good to get the confidence going into the regular season. Hopefully, I can continue.”

Don’t expect to see Letang dropping the gloves regularly or Asham racking up points at will. However, the result was a win.

Head coach Dan Bylsma summarized it best:

“It’s not often that some of those skilled guys are in those situations. So be it.”

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