Below is an analysis of the first 20 minutes of Monday’s 4-3 Pittsburgh win over Columbus
All alone in the slot, Kris Letang passes a weak backhand to Sidney Crosby in the right circle on a 3-on-2 just 25 seconds into the game. Letang has to put the puck on the net, he’s got to shoot it. The pass demonstrates a lack of aggressiveness out of the chute.
Evgeni Malkin loses the puck along the right boards in the Columbus end 48 seconds into the game. Either the Blue Jackets’ defenseman is related to Houdini or Malkin was unnecessarily careless with the puck at the other end of the ice.
James Neal takes a neutral-zone feed from Paul Martin and carries the puck over the Columbus blue line. He falls down for no particular reason and turns the puck over.
Twenty seconds later, the Blue Jackets turn a harmless Ryan Johansson shot from the right boards into a Boone Jenner rebound goal. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury allows a five hole as big as the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
The game is less than two minutes old.
Brandon Dubinsky shows his skating ability, skating with the puck from his own end to behind the Pittsburgh net. Jack Johnson cleans up with a wrist shot, giving the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead. Dubinsky illustrates how he can change a game with his speed. Johnson gets the praise, but Dubinsky does everything but put the puck into the net.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma calls a time out three minutes and 18 seconds into the game.
Brian Gibbons, Marcel Goc and Chris Conner are all out with injuries.
Crosby with his first cloaking device puck pass. Crosby tries to deftly backhand the puck behind his own net and a Columbus forward simply body-blocks it. (3:42)
Crosby’s inability to make a smart decision with the puck leads to 29 seconds of additional Columbus zone time in the Pittsburgh end.
A Beau Bennett-Sidney Crosby 2-on-1 appears off a quick Brooks Orpik to Chris Kunitz transition. Bennett carries the puck down the left wing as Crosby charges the slot. Bennett’s pass-first instincts prevail. Rather than taking a shot, which could lead to a POP rebound for Crosby, Bennett puts on the brakes, cuts into the slot and doesn’t even take a shot. He leaves the puck for Paul Martin, who is covered.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the refs see fit to call a penalty on David Savard (hooking).
Pens on PP.
Malkin loses a draw in the right circle cleanly. CBJ clears the puck and shortly thereafter a whistle is blown.
Pittsburgh gets its No. 1 PP unit on the ice. Kunitz is on the left wing, Crosby takes the draw, Malkin is on the right wing. Paul Martin (left defense) and Matt Niskanen (right defense) are the two d-men on the points.
Sure enough, Martin steams over the blue line and tries a 30-foot pass to Malkin along the left boards. The puck is intercepted and CBJ begins its first short-handed rush. James Wisniewski turns the puck over in Pittsburgh’s end on a 3-on-2.
The odd-man short-handed break actually gives the Pens a 3-on-1 with Crosby leading the charge back up ice. Crosby attempts a wrister from inside the left dot and is stopped.
“A game of turnovers” as ROOT Sports announcer Bob Errey says.
Neal and Letang surface on the power play, replacing Kunitz and Niskanen with about 40 ticks left on the man advantage. Nothing happens, no chances generated.
Talk is that Neal isn’t happy about being taken off the top power-play unit. It’s all about the team in the playoffs though, isn’t it?
After some of the first fluid ice movement of the game, up and down at both ends, Neal picks off a pass as RJ Umberger gives the puck away at the Columbus blue line. He skates in on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, turns the puck over to his backhand and narrowly misses giving the Pens their first goal.
From 10:51 to 10:19 , the Blue Jackes keep the puck in Pittsburgh’s end but fail to generate a single shot. Niskanen carries the puck and passes it out of the zone.
The puck flows through Brooks Orpik in the offensive zone from 10:07 to 9:30 as the Pens generate their best offensive chances of the game. Unfortunately for Lee Stempniak, his stick breaks as he attempts a short-range shot.
Bennett gains access to the Columbus end and shoots a long-range wrister which is blocked easily and goes into the netting behind the CBJ goal. It’s crazy how he takes a shot with little chance but passes up a freebie low in the slot.
Four Penguins cross the Columbus blue line at the 7:58 mark. I can’t remember the last time I saw four players crossing into the offensive end at the same time. If I’m the Blue Jackets, I take not and create a turnover. After all, Pittsburgh has but one man deep on defense.
Columbus is sloppy with the puck. An outlet pass dings off the side of Martin’s skate and Malkin retrieve the loose puck in the neutral zone.
Rob Scuderi takes a pass from Letang behind his own goal. With a forward pressuring him, Scuderi misses Crosby with a pass in front of Fleury. Boone Jenner nearly had the puck in the slot all alone, but the Scuderi pass surprised even Jenner.
At the 5:58 point, Fleury corrals a puck behind his net. There isn’t a Columbus player below Pittsburgh’s faceoff circles when Fleury gains control. In a split second, Letang races to Fleury, who shoots the puck through Letang without the two communicating about what to do. The Jackets gain possession and nearly score.
This lack of communication shouldn’t happen in the regular season, let alone in the playoffs. It’s inexcusable, but a part of the “well, that’s just the Penguins” gameplan. Letang needs to do a better job of setting up to retrieve the puck rather than nearly crashing into his own goalie for no apparent reason. Sometimes I’m convinced he would be less dangerous to his own team as a forward.
Stempniak with a nice individual scoring attempt to no avail.
Dubinsky sets up a slapper shortly thereafter at the other end. It goes off Fleury’s shoulder, creating a rebound chance that Columbus can’t convert.
Bennett shows some life in the CBJ end before Neal turns the puck over with relative ease.
Umberger fans on a shot in the slot as the puck slides through his skates.
A Penguins power play includes Malkin attempting an air-born saucer pass less than five feet to the left side of the Blue Jackets’ net. Needless to say, it did not connect. Crosby than stole the puck from Mark Letestu, setting up Martin in the slot. The defenseman fails to put his wrister on goal.
Martin gets Kunitz the puck to the left of Bobrovsky at the inner edge of the circle. Kunitz doesn’t even look to shoot or carry the puck in on the goalie. Instead, he passes innocently behind the cage to Malkin. I would like to see Kunitz do something different from close range. Why not try to beat Bobrovsky when he has a chance rather than carry on Pittsburgh’s choreography the Pittsburgh Ballet would be proud of.
I haven’t un-paused my DVR yet, but I bet the Pens don’t even get a scoring chance following Kunitz’s decision not to shoot. Let’s see what happens.
After about seven more passes, Malkin misses wide and the puck harmlessly leaves the offensive zone. So in conclusion, Kunitz passes up a chance from 10 feet so that Malkin can whistle a shot 10 feet wide of Bobrovsky – not an equitable tradeoff in my opinion.
Letang comes on as part of the second power-play unit, carries the puck behind the Columbus net. At this point, I’m thinking Pittsburgh should have two more defensemen at the points in addition to Letang.
Fortunately for the Pens, Letang doesn’t turn the puck over or set up a Columbus breakout going the other way and the power play ends.
Scuderi fumbles the puck away in his own end but CBJ fails to take advantage.
Pittsburgh goes on another man advantage off a silly holding call to Ryan Johansen on Jussi Jokinen.
1:52 remains in Period 1.
Kunitz hits a goal post to Bobrovsky’s left with a wrister from the left dot. The Penguins are making quick passes, putting the puck on net. Pittsburgh’s best power play of the series. Letestu failing to clear a puck keeps CBJ penned in for another half minute as Pens dominate at tired group of penalty killers.
The first period ends, but not before Neal hits Dubinsky hard along the end boards as time runs out. He’s lucky no penalty is called.