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Insider Only Key Takeaways & Observations from the Penguins 4-3 shootout loss to Blue Jackets

Penguins gain point, fall to Blue Jackets in shootout
In a back and fourth game, the Columbus Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to six games with a 4-3 win (SO) over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Columbus came out and looked to punish the Penguins. Nick Foligno (14) scored 3:02 into the game and the Blue Jackets dictated the play for the first 15 minutes of the game.
The Penguins, though, as they often have over the last several years when depleted by injuries, matched the Blue Jackets physicality and eventually weathered the storm and were in a tie hockey game after forty minutes, following a late second period goal from Blake Comeau (10).
Pittsburgh would then take a 2-1 lead 7:22 into the third with a shorthanded goal from Kris Letang (6) who finished the night two goals, extending his points streak to five games.
A Boone Jenner (6) penalty shot goal tied the game with 7:55 left in regulation and with some four on four action late in the third, Jack Johnson (2) put the Blue Jackets up 3-2 with 2:11 left, blistering a shot from the left circle past Thomas Greiss.
Pittsburgh would battle back and force overtime as Evgeni Malkin won a key offensive zone faceoff, winning the puck back to Christian Ehrhoff who fed Kris Letang (7) for a one-timer goal with 11 seconds left to tie the game at 3-3.
— Key Takeaways & Observations —
Kris Letang’s Big Night | Letang had a dominant night with 2 goals, +3 rating, logging 25:44 of ice time. Letang scored shorthanded, had a 6-on-5 goal to tie the game with 11 seconds left in regulation and added a shootout goal. Suddenly you won’t find anyone complaining about his contract.
The key for Letang this season was getting back to the level he was playing at during the 2013 shortened season when he was a Norris Trophy Candidate and finished the season with 38 points in 35 games. He’s getting there.
Letang’s two-way play this season has been more about him maturing as a player than the coaching change, those close to Letang feel. For Letang he could be setting the stage to put himself in the Norris Trophy consideration two-three months from now but the hope from the Penguins end is this ends up being the season where Letang puts it altogether in the post-season. What’s been problematic for Letang in the past has been just having a dreaded playoff series where he plays erratic and loses confidence that haunts the Penguins such as his performance in the Flyers series in 2012 and Bruins series in 2013 of note.

— For the first 20-25 minutes of the game, this looked like a game where this would be the Blue Jackets night with a two-three goal win….. They came out with a playoff intensity but Pittsburgh did a good job of matching the Blue Jackets physicality as the game went on, as noted by Penguins head coach Mike Johnston. “As the game went along, physically we met the challenge and then we started to take over the game,” Johnston said. I thought puck possession wise, through the last half of the game, it was certainly in our favor.”
The Penguins outshot Columbus 36-26. Bobby Farnham and Bryan Rust each only had 9 shifts but both provided energy, notably, Farnham who is like a wrecking ball on the ice and also got into a scrap with Jordan Leopold during a scrum. Steve Downie had a whopping 29 penalty minutes.

Evgeni Malkin was 3-11 on faceoffs but won a key offensive zone faceoff against Brandon Dubinsky that led to the Letang game tying goal. It was Malkin’s only offensive zone faceoff win of the night. He picked up an assist on the goal and has moved into third in the NHL with 36 points. Malkin is producing right around last years level when he averaged 1.2 points per game. He’s currently at 1.24 per game, on pace for 101 points.

Rob Klinkhammer was bumped up to the top line with Evgeni Malkin and had a strong game in the third period. Effective down low, strong wall play and the battle level was there. Klinkhammer led the Penguins with 5 hits.

Simon Despres is making great strides this season and is playing with a needed edge, but he continues to take too many penalties and the staff needs to work with him on taking smarter hits. Despres 12 minor penalties is tied for 11th in the NHL among defensemen.

— The Blue Jackets on a six game winning streak now sit just six points out of the final wildcard spot and seven points out of third place in the Metropolitan Division. However, with the hole the Blue Jackets were in, they will need about a .670 win percentage the rest of the way to likely make the playoffs and get to the 93-94 point range.

Nick Foligno netted his 14th goal of the season and as mentioned a few weeks ago, he’s a player the Penguins are monitoring very closely and fits the profile to a “T” in regards to the type of player they seek. Foligno will be a premium trade target from many teams but Columbus top priority is working out an extension. One executive predicted Foligno will be a $5 million a year player on his next deal whether it’s in Columbus or elsewhere.

On the target block, most executives contend Foligno would net a first rounder and a good prospect.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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