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Strong Start Continues As Penguins Defeat Blue Jackets 5-4

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
COLUMBUS, OHIO – Yes, it’s the preseason. Yes, the wins and losses don’t really matter a whole lot, particularly in the early going, as teams instead tend to focus more on finding their legs and getting reacquainted with one another.

While that’s all true for the Penguins, the players still feel good about their strong start to the exhibition slate, where they now have a 2-0 record following a 5-4 come-from-ahead victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Friday night.

Pittsburgh received goals from Arron Asham, Mike Rupp, Chris Kunitz, Nick Johnson and Mike Comrie, while Mark Letestu, Alex Goligoski and Steve Wagner each posted two helpers.

Brent Johnson made the start in goal, stopping 18 of 21 shots before John Curry came on to deny 15 of 16 shots in the third period to pick up the victory.

“Our goaltenders both made great saves at key moments,” Kunitz said. “That’s something that is always a key when you have a good team. Our D played real well in front of them as well.”

Just like they did against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, Pittsburgh jumped on Columbus early, taking a 2-0 lead midway through the first period on goals from Asham (0:34) and Rupp (9:31).

Asham’s goal, which came on a slap shot from the right point as he covered for a pinching Goligoski,  occurred on his first shift in a Penguins sweater, which he said helps when you are starting fresh with a new team.

“It’s always nice to get the first one over with,” Asham said. “(Goligoski) made a great play and all I had to do was shoot the puck on net.”

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However, Columbus proceeded to reel off the next three goals following Rupp’s power-play marker on a pair of tallies by Tomas Kubalik and one from Kyle Wilson.

The Penguins evened the contest on a power play late in the second period when Letestu’s shot from the high slot caromed first off a Blue Jackets forward in the high slot, and then Kunitz in front of the cage, before sailing over the shoulder of Columbus netminder Mathieu Garon.

Nick Johnson gave the Penguins the lead for good, 4-3, with a goal that finished off a 3-for-8 performance on the power play, when his 35-foot wrist shot from above the right circle beat Garon at 8:13 of the third period.

Comrie picked up the eventual game-winner on a tap-in from just outside the crease less than four minutes later, before Kubalik finshed off his hat trick with 44 seconds remaining.

Power Play Excels

Head coach Dan Bylsma told reporters before the team’s preseason opener against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night not to read too much into the team’s performance on the power play during the exhibition slate unless it was performing well.

And boy did it ever perform well on Saturday night.

Columbus gave the Penguins eight chances with the man-advantage, with Pittsburgh converting on three of those attempts thanks to goals by Rupp, Kunitz and Nick Johnson.

“I think we took a good step forward getting some goals from our power play,” Kunitz said. “That will give us some confidence.”

The Penguins took good steps forward because the team was not only able to dominate zone time with their power play, but also because they were able to create plenty of scoring chances for themselves. Pittsburgh threw 14 shots Garon’s way during the man-advantage, which Kunitz said was the by-product of all the good things the Penguins were doing.

“I think we did a lot of good things,” Kunitz said. “I think we are getting pucks to the net quite a bit, which is creating a lot of opportunities. We had great spurts out there when we set up in the zone.”

Johnson Sees Action

Backup netminder Brent Johnson made the start against Columbus, his first action of the preseason. During his 40 minutes between the pipes, Johnson saw 21 shots, stopping 18.

The 34-year-old goaltender said it felt good to get back into live competition after having not faced an opposing team since May 12 when he relieved Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens.

“Timing for a goaltender and getting game action is much different than just practice,” Bylsma said. “For him to get back in there and see some pucks, that’s important for him. He’ll get some more action as this preseason moves along.”

Johnson was pleased with the job he did on Friday night, although he did say he wished he could have had Wilson’s third goal back.

More importantly to Johnson than his final stat line, however, was the 16 shots he saw in the second period following a first period which saw just five shots come his way.

“It felt pretty good out there,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t as patient as I would have liked to be – the third goal was an example of that. The guy looked me off and I didn’t hesitate like I should have. He caught me cheating a little bit and buried. Getting 16 shots in the second period was definitely a great help. I felt much better after that.”


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