Saturday night the Columbus Blue Jackets hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins on the back-end of a home and home. As is the trend when the Penguins come to town, Nationwide Arena was packed with a sell-out crowd of 18,634. Much to the chagrin of Jackets fans many of those in attendance were wearing black and gold. As nice as it would have been to upset the mighty Penguins and bounce back after a rough night in Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets couldn’t get themselves going and even deposited a puck past their own goalie in a 3-0 loss. This is the third straight loss for the CBJ after falling to Anaheim last Sunday, and Pittsburgh last night.
The first period saw relatively little action as it ended 0-0. The Jackets’s best scoring opportunity came off the stick of Blake Comeau when he redirected a pass while in the slot, but Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, in his third start as backup to Marc-Andre Fleury, was up to the task.
Curtis McElhinney started in goal for the Jackets, continuing on from the night previous when Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled after giving up 3 goals on 13 shots. McElhinney withstood the 10 shots the Penguins put on goal. On the other end of the ice the CBJ could only muster 3 shots on goal. Defensemen James Wisniewski took a cross-checking penalty at the 18:35 mark of the opening frame. The Jackets survived a flurry of shots on the penalty kill and Sidney Crosby narrowly completed a beautiful feed to the high slot, but the period ended scoreless.
At the 6:46 mark of the second period, defenseman-turned-power-forward Deryk Engelland was able to rifle a one-timer over McElhinney’s left shoulder on a feed from Joe Vitale. Vitale came out of the corner and fed a wide-open Engelland sitting just inside the right face-off dot.
Besides the one blemish, McElhinney stood his ground and on his head to keep the Jackets in the game. One play in particular that stood out was when a loose puck bounced Crosby’s way who was camped to the left of the goal. McElhinney was all but beaten when he sprawled across the goal mouth and did the splits, robbing the superstar. McElhinney played extremely well and was given the third star of the night. Each team had 1 chance on the man-advantage but neither capitalized. There was also a play in which RJ Umberger came flying in behind the Penguins goal and grabbed hold of defenseman Kris Letang. Letang took exception to this and punched Umberger in the face. The small fray resulted in both going off for coincidental minors and the teams played four on four. After two periods the CBJ were being outshot 22-10 and playing uninspired hockey.
PIT 1 CBJ 0
This is when things got rough for the boys in Union Blue and their fans. 47 seconds into the final frame forward Chris Kunitz of the Penguins carried the puck down into the corner left of McElhinney. Kunitz fired a backhand centering feed right before being rubbed out by Jack Johnson. In a freak incident, Comeau was racing back for support and shoved his stick out to break up the pass. The puck deflected off Comeau’s outstretched stick and right past McElhinney for an own-goal. This sent the thousands of Pens fans in attendance into a frenzy and it felt as if the entire CBJ Nation collectively face-palmed themselves. From that point forward the Penguins were challenged little and the Jackets could not sustain any offensive pressure. Columbus only really tested Zatkoff once in the third when Brandon Dubinsky fed a pinching Dalton Prout in the slot while on the penalty kill. McElhinney was pulled in favor of an extra attacker with under 2 minutes, but it was to no avail. Jussi Jokinen finished off the Jackets with an empty netter at 19:22, with Evgeni Malkin and Crosby both earning the assists. Zatkoff earned his first NHL win and a shutout to boot, and the CBJ fell to 5-8-0.
Final: PIT 3 CBJ 0
All in all it was a pretty dismal performance for the Blue Jackets. I think we all expected them to come out firing after not being able to solve Fleury the night before. They came out flat and never really got anything on net. Give credit to the Penguins for filling shooting lanes and blocking 15 shots, but shot selection was poor and offensive pressure down low was non-existent. The only bright spot was the performance of backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney who played admirably. Goaltending gave the Jackets the chance to win, but offensively they could not get a single thing going. There was no spark and no jump in the Jackets’ step, and they could not test a young goalie. Up next for the CBJ is the Ottawa Senators at home on Tuesday.