The Blue Jackets Real Problem With the Penguins

Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena started well for the Columbus Blue Jackets. But as has been the norm in recent times, it didn’t end well.

Pittsburgh Penguins’ newcomer Tanner Pearson scored and noted Blue Jackets’ killer Jake Guentzel added a hat trick to lift the Penguins to a 4-2 win. The win was the Penguins’ sixth consecutive over the Blue Jackets in the regular season.

Former Penguin Scott Harrington opened the scoring on a nice feed from Boone Jenner. Maybe the Blue Jackets could build off that and play the game from ahead.

That didn’t last long.

Pearson jumped on a rebound to tie the game at one just 45 seconds after Harrington’s goal. Then 1:28 later, Guentzel scored his first of three goals on the night thanks to a brilliant back feed from Sidney Crosby.

Guentzel then received another brilliant Crosby feed for his second of the night. Then to complete the hat trick, Guentzel won a battle over Ryan Murray and put a rebound home.

Blue Jackets’ goaltender Joonas Korpisalo stopped 32 of 36 shots. Outside of some rebound control, he in my sight had a decent night. Head coach John Tortorella said after the game he was just ok.

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So What’s The Blue Jackets’ Issue?

Many have wondered if the Penguins live in the Blue Jackets head. Can these Blue Jackets ever beat the Penguins? If you count the playoffs, the Penguins have won nine of the last 10 games between the two teams.

Many look for theories as to why this is happening. It’s real simple actually. It’s a painful truth that exists given the way the two teams are structured.

The Penguins are just simply a better hockey team at this time.

There’s no need to over-analyze this. The Penguins have the kind of team that the Blue Jackets struggle to stop. Why is that? It’s because the Penguins have multiple ways they can beat you on any given night.

Just look back at the recent series between these teams. Saturday night it was Crosby and Guentzel. Evgeni Malkin was quiet Saturday but has killed the Blue Jackets in the past. Phil Kessel has scored big goals especially in overtime to help gain extra points in the standings.

The Columbus Blue Jackets simply cannot match the skill the Penguins boast.

This brings us to the real issue at hand. When you have a team such as the Penguins who can put out that kind of world-class skill at any given time, they can beat you in multiple ways. It forces the Blue Jackets to have to play a near-perfect game in order to win. As we’ve seen, there have been many mistakes. The Penguins put mistakes in your net.

The Blue Jackets have had no answers for Crosby, Guentzel, Malkin and Kessel as a whole. One or more of them has been a dominate factor in the games played.

It gets magnified more when the Blue Jackets do get chances but can’t convert. If they hope to stay with and defeat the Penguins, they must capitalize on the chances they get. With the score 4-2 in the third period, Columbus had two prime chances to make the game close again, one from Alexander Wennberg and another from Josh Anderson. Both didn’t end up in the net. Had one or both turned into a goal, who knows how the game plays out?

Josh Anderson Blue Jackets
Josh Anderson missed a glorious chance late Saturday to put the Blue Jackets back in the game. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Are Penguins In The Blue Jackets’ Heads?

The general feeling among Blue Jackets’ players is that the Penguins are not in their heads. Cam Atkinson specifically said “not for me, but maybe others.” Seth Jones echoed a similar sentiment. I tend to agree with them that the issue isn’t about the Penguins being in their head. They have to have more things go right in order to win. In other words, the Penguins have more ways to beat you than the Blue Jackets.

Can the Blue Jackets beat the Penguins? Yes absolutely they can. However, in order for them to do it consistently, they have to be nearly flawless given how far behind they are in skill.

Pierre-Luc Dubois is a great young player with a nice future, but he’s no Sidney Crosby. Boone Jenner has really come on and taken hold of being the second-line center. But he’s no Evgeni Malkin. Want to evaluate the talent gap? Look no further than center ice. It’s a considerable margin and it’s not close.

The Blue Jackets do have a game breaker in Artemi Panarin, but it is still advantage Penguins, especially if Panarin is held off the score sheet. He didn’t record a point Saturday night and is in one of the longest goal droughts of his career.

The general thought is that the Penguins will recover to make the playoffs. It would be an upset if they fall short. Assuming they make it and the Blue Jackets make it, there’s a good chance the teams could meet again. It just hasn’t worked for the Blue Jackets of late. They have to find a way to limit their mistakes against this team who make you pay for them. If Harrington can clear the puck out of the zone, it’s still 1-1 at that point in the game. Instead, the Penguins have the lead and the momentum.

In Conclusion

The painful truth is the Penguins have more skill and talent. That’s all and that’s it. Now if there is good news, the Blue Jackets are still very young. They will get better over time with more playing time and development. The gap will start to close as the Penguins’ stars get older. But we’re not there yet.

In order for the Blue Jackets to beat the Penguins, they have to play near flawless hockey. It’s a tall ask but one they have to find a way to do. And more painfully honest, until the Blue Jackets prove they can beat the Penguins and Capitals, they are not a Stanley Cup contender. They are a playoff contender but not a Cup contender.

If the Blue Jackets hope to change the narrative this season, they have to find ways to win these games. Saturday proved this team still has much to learn. Good news is they have time. Can they figure this out? We’ll see.