Blue Jackets 4 – Penguins 1
Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
Steve Mason made 32 saves, including all 23 he faced over the first two periods, in Columbus’ 4-1 victory over the Penguins Tuesday night at the Consol Energy Center. Rick Nash, Samuel Pahlsson, Jakub Voracek and Antoine Vermette scored for the Blue Jackets, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the second intermission.
While Tyler Kennedy spoiled Mason’s shutout attempt 7:29 into the third period with a power play goal, it was too little and far too late for the short-handed Penguins. Aside from being without Sidney Crosby (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (ACL/MCL) and Mark Letestu, the Penguins suffered another blow shortly before the game started when Chris Kunitz suddenly dropped from their lineup. The first-line winger is currently listed as being day-to-day with a lower body injury.
“Literally in the last half hour before going out for warm-ups we got news that Chris was not going to play,” Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma said. “I talked to him an hour and 20 minutes before game-time and he was ready to go. So that was a little bit of a monkey wrench (in our game plan).”
While the Penguins outshot the Blue Jackets throughout the game, giving up a large lead without the cornerstones of their offense on the ice to help mount a comeback made it too difficult for them to battle back from a 3-0 deficit.
“Obviously we don’t want to trail by three goals,” Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang said. “Without (key offenseive players) it’s tougher, but we need to play the same way.”
Bylsma believes the factors leading to the Penguins’ loss were more complex and varied than a simple matter of personnel.
“I don’t think…not having other players in the lineup was the reason why we weren’t able to have success tonight,” he said. “We gave up some golden opportunities on some turnovers. (We were) not being aware defensively, and they capitalized.”
Bylsma also criticized his team for not focusing on creating scoring chances by getting pucks to the net and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone.
“We can clearly do that with the guys we have right now,” he said.
Instead, Bylsma noted, they tried to create offense with fancier plays off of the rush, and used risky moves like drop passes.
“As far as mentality for our team in generating offense, I think players that we have on the ice right now could do a better job of getting pucks into the blue paint with shots,” Bylsma said. “Tonight we took missed opportunities looking for something better, and the players that are good at something better aren’t in our lineup.”
Rick Nash put the Blue Jackets on the board first with a wicked shot from the bottom of the right circle that just barely slipped between Marc-Andre-Fleury’s glove side and the goal post. Columbus’ second goal, which turned out to be the game-winner, came 2:01 later on a delayed penalty call with Mason pulled. R.J. Umberger fired a shot at Fleury, and the bouncing rebound deflected off of Samuel Pahlsson’s skate and past the Penguins netminder. A quick goal review determined that Pahlsson had not kicked in the puck.
Voracek put the game out of reach when he got behind Pittsburgh’s defense, skated in alone on Fleury, and backhanded a shot past the Penguins’ goaltender.
Pittsburgh capitalized on their first power play of the game with Kennedy’s goal. The 25-year-old winger rounded the net and fired a shot from the left circle that beat Mason short-side. Kennedy’s goal hardly sparked a comeback effort, though, and Antoin Vermette squashed any hope of a Penguins’ rally with his tally 13:28 into the third period.
“We gave some good players some good chances and we got behind tonight,” Bylsma said. “We really never were able to generate enough time in the offensive zone to be a threat.”
Mason, the 2009 Calder Memorial Trophy winner, had several impressive saves in the game, but his highlight reel moment came when he dove across the crease to stop Eric Tandgradi’s chip shot from inside the blue paint.
The inter-conference game also featured three fights, including one spurred on after Matt Cooke’s charging major in the first period.
“(Cooke’s) on the forecheck; he’s not skating; he’s not moving his feet as to get a charge,” Bylsma said. “The player looks him right in the eye and knows he’s coming, and makes sure he keeps his numbers turned towards him. But Matt does hit him there, sends him into the boards. That’s basically…what I think happened.”
The Penguins, who have now lost two games in a row since their five-game winning streak ended, will try to get back on track Thursday at home against the Los Angeles Kings.
1. CBJ – Steve Mason; 2. CBJ – Rick Nash; 3. CBJ – Jakub Voracek
Goals: PIT- Tyler Kennedy (10); CBJ- Rick Nash (24), Samuel Pahlsson (5), Jakub Voracek (10), Antoine Vermette (13)
Assists: PIT- Mike Rupp, Paul Martin; CBJ- Derick Brassard 2, Jakub Voracek, R.J. Umberger 2, Jan Hejda, Rick Nash, Kristian Huselius
IN THE NET:
PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury (L) 25 shots, 24 saves
CBJ: Steve Mason (W) 33 shots, 32 saves
PIT: 1-2; CBJ: 0-2
Penguins 34-17-4; Blue Jackets 26-22-5