Penguins rout Blue Jackets but lose Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad
Evgeni Malkin didn’t complete the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 7-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday at PPG Paints Arena.
An awkward collision with Columbus defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov into the boards midway through the second period ended the franchise center’s night prematurely.
But Malkin’s influence on this contest was unmistakable.
Two nights after Malkin julienned his team’s effort after a poor home loss to the Buffalo Sabres and implored them to change, the Penguins sliced and diced a beleaguered Blue Jackets squad with a touchdown and showed they were capable of being a dynamic offensive juggernaut, even when they lose key players.
In addition to Malkin, third-line center Nick Bjugstad left midway through the third with an undisclosed ailment. Coach Mike Sullivan did not update the status on either player and suggested more would be known Sunday.
Sans Malkin and Bjugstad and Sidney Crosby momentarily (he served a major penalty for a fight with rambunctious Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois late in the second), the Penguins offense erupted in a way which would have earned anyone with a ticket a free cup of chili at participating fast food restaurants a generation or two ago.
Jared McCann scored twice, and the Penguins had five goals in the second period.
Much of the success the Penguins enjoyed Saturday was spawned in the aftermath of Thursday’s bland result, which Malkin tore into.
“We all knew in the room what happened Thursday night,” defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “We came into practice on Friday. It was a little tense during that practice, which is really good. It’s a good sign for this group to come back and bounce back with an effort like that tonight.”
The method and not so much the lopsided result is what pleased most of the Penguins.
“We just needed a good effort,” Gudbranson said. “It didn’t have to be 7-2. It could have been a 2-1 game. We just need to have a good effort and a good full 60 minutes which we accomplished today. We supported the puck very well. In every (area) of the rink, we were winning battles, putting pucks in good places and supporting each other. We put a lot of pucks on net instead of looking for that extra play and that created a lot of offense for us.”
The emotion Crosby displayed in his fight and Malkin’s rallying cry Thursday were lauded by Sullivan.
“These guys, they are such great players, but they’re great leaders as well,” Sullivan said. “Sid stands up for Jake (Guentzel) tonight. He’s a courageous guy. These guys, they’re great leaders. They know what it takes to win. That’s why they’ve had the success that they’ve had here in Pittsburgh.”
Following a scoreless opening period, the Penguins opened the scoring 1 minute, 45 seconds into the second. After a strong offensive rush by the third line, Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist tipped the puck past the blocker of goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, a rookie making his first career start.
They made it 2-0 at the 4:14 mark of the second. Crosby stole a puck off Werenski behind the net, fed it to defenseman Marcus Pettersson, who ripped a wrister past Merzlikins.
Columbus got on the scoreboard at 6:45 of the second on a Zach Werenski goal.
The Penguins went up by two at the 8:45 mark of the second. Columbus defenseman Ryan Murray fumbled a puck at the Penguins’ left point because of pressure from Brandon Tanev.
Then McCann, substituting for Malkin on the second line, picked up the puck and created a two-on-one with forward Alex Galchenyuk against Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones. Electing to shoot from the right circle, McCann tucked a wrister under Merzlikins’ left arm on the far side.
At 15:09 of the second, Crosby challenged Dubois in a bout which was more of a Roman-Greco wrestling match than heavyweight tilt. The Penguins captain objected to a high hit Dubois had delivered to Guentzel.
“I just wanted to go over there and stick up for him,” Crosby said. “It wasn’t much. It was more of a wrestling match than anything. I was lucky to get a (major) out of it than a (double minor).
“It was one of those things that wasn’t planned. I saw the hit and didn’t know what was going to happen when I went over there.”
The Penguins poured it on at 15:23 of the second when McCann fired a wrister past Merzlikins’ blocker.
Kris Letang made it 5-1 with 2 seconds left in the period 19:58.
Hornqvist and Teddy Blueger added goals in the third period.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .