A Friday night game in Pittsburgh is a big deal for any team. It’s a chance to face off against the reigning Cup champs, against the best player in the whole game. And here, in this unbelievable season, the addition of the Columbus Blue Jackets made the stakes even higher. On a February night, the Jackets and Penguins were locked in a match between two top five teams in the entire NHL (by standing points). Doubly important, it was a showdown between two top Metro teams, and the results might directly impact playoff seeding. Much to the chagrin of other teams in the East, the result was mixed: the Blue Jackets lost 4-3, but in overtime. The extra point was well earned for a furious third period comeback.
However, the first two periods didn’t go according to plan for Columbus. The game was fairly even early in the first, but then the home team found the net. A glorious Phil Kessel snipe and a Patric Hornqvist goal put the Pens up 2-0 after twenty. The second period was also rough sledding for the Jackets, despite keeping afloat on the scoreboard and trailing 3-1.
What mattered for the Jackets was a flurry of action in the regulation final frame.
The Excellent: The Third Period
With the Blue Jackets down by two goals, a 4-on-4 open to the third was just was the doctor ordered. Incredible skill turned the Penguins inside-out and led to an Alexander Wennberg tally.
Not seen in that gif: Seth Jones spinning around and then past Kris Letang to set up the initial feed to Saad. I recommend watching the whole sequence when a full replay is available.
The second goal of the period belonged to All Star Cam Atkinson, as he batted the puck out of the air and into the net.
The pass to Atkinson came from one of the biggest players on the night…
The Good and Bad: Brandon Dubinksy
It’s hard to seriously infer emotion and feeling of hockey players across a television. However, the difference I perceive between normally-engaged Brandon Dubinsky and Pittsburgh-game-engaged Brandon Dubinsky is massive. That’s an accomplishment, given the impact the center has on the Blue Jackets in any given game.
Tonight, Dubinsky played as if his hair and hands and legs and lungs were all on fire. And somehow in this metaphor, the only way the Blue Jacket saw fit to quench his flames was to hit every puck and Penguin as often as possible.
That worked out in the Blue Jackets’ favor early on, as Dubinsky delivered Columbus’ first goal of the night. Dubinsky and Boone Jenner turned a 2-on-1 rush into a flurry of attempts on net, until the puck finally sailed past Matt Murray.
In addition to the assist on Atkinson’s goal, Dubinsky finished positive in shot attempt differential (a 57.1% CF% via Natural Stat Trick).
However, there was a downside to some of the passion. Dubinsky delivered a not-very-legal hit/poke on Sidney Crosby in a series that the Jackets were lucky to escape without a penalty call. Then, in overtime, a Dubinsky flub near the blueline led to a Crosby rush on goal. That, in turn, resulted in Atkinson taking a penalty and the Penguins finishing the game on a powerplay.
I’m not sure how to judge the total result for Dubinsky (your opinion on the Crosby violence will vary). However, it’s hard to deny that #17 had a heavy impact on the tone and outcome of tonight’s game.
The Fun: The Little Things
Since I wanted the Blue Jackets to win, the loss isn’t a perfect way to end the night. Also true: this was some fun hockey.
A small sampling of the outstanding little moments that happened: Sidney Crosby dropped a perfect between-the-legs-no-look-backward pass to another Penguin to set up a shot on goal (all while moving at full speed). Seth Jones spun around Penguins and used his size to deny a Pittsburgh setup before Bob could move back across the crease. Phil Kessel’s first goal was a beautiful snipe. Alex Wennberg (!) gave a hip check along the wall to help stop an opposition rush. Kris Letang was everywhere on the ice (and an absurd 72.73% CF% on the night, via Natural Stat Trick). Brandon Saad used speed and puck control to come one deflection away from a highlight reel goal.
You’ll hear a lot about Dubinsky (and Jenner) and physicality. Heck, I’ve already highlighted it. Important to remember: this hockey game displayed tons of speed and skill. And tonight’s match happened without Malkin, Savard, and Nutivaara in the lineups.
With two more regular season meetings and the potential for a playoff matchup, I’m looking forward to more Columbus and Pittsburgh this year. This was really good hockey.
Tweets of the Game
There’s a bit of home ice bias in these picks, but Jeremy was on fire tonight. That means you get two Tweets.
The Blue Jackets return home to face the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night.