PITTSBURGH - Columbus is geographically closer to Pittsburgh than any other NHL city, but it wasn't until Friday night that the Penguins and Blue Jackets faced off for the first time as conference and division rivals. The Penguins got the better of this initial Metropolitan Division showdown, tallying three second period goals in less than five minutes to roll to a 4-2 victory at the Consol Energy Center.
The two teams will face-off again Saturday night in Columbus, but Pittsburgh decisively won this affair, chasing last year's Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the second after making just 10 saves on 13 shots. "All we have is about 22 hours and we'll be lining up against the same team again," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards.
The Penguins got on the board first at 7:11 of the opening period, just six seconds into their first power-play opportunity. Sidney Crosby won the faceoff back to Paul Martin, who fired a slap shot from the right point. The shot was headed right to the chest of Bobrovsky, but Chris Kunitz was able to tip the shot with the shaft of his stick from the high slot and redirect it past the Blue Jackets netminder to give the Penguins an early 1-0 lead.
The goal extended Kunitz's goal scoring streak to three. Crosby picked up the secondary assist to extend his lead in the NHL scoring race and his scoring streak against Columbus to six consecutive games.
The Blue Jackets threw everything they had at Marc-Andre Fleury during a late first period power play, but the Penguins goaltender made several spectacular saves to keep Columbus scoreless at the first intermission. "That was a big (penalty kill) and I'm just trying to make saves and keep it 1-0 and not give them a chance to come back," said Fleury.
Just as the Penguins scored early in the first, they repeated the script in the second, scoring just 1:10 in. Brandon Sutter came streaking down the right wing and took a wrist shot from the faceoff circle that snuck through the legs of Bobrovsky. It was Sutter's second tally of the season and second in as many games. "The puck was bouncing a bit and I just tried to get a shot off and I'll make it look like I wanted to shoot it there," said Sutter of the goal.
The Penguins went ahead by three less than two minutes later while working with a man-advantage. Kris Letang took a half-slapper from the left point that tipped off the glove of Bobrovsky and trickled over the goal line before he could reach back and grab it.
The Blue Jackets changed goaltenders after the third Pittsburgh goal, but the results were the same. The route was on when rookie Jayson Megna, standing uncontested to the left of the Columbus net, shoveled in the rebound of a Jussi Jokinen shot at 5:34 of the second to give Pittsburgh a 4-0 lead. "I'm playing with really good players and that's really helped me out," said Megna of playing with Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin. "They create space for me and the coach has been gracious enough to let me play with these guys and I'm just trying to step up and pitch in."
Columbus was finally able to solve Fleury at 9:56 of the second when Nick Foligno made a backhand, cross-crease pass to a breaking Derek MacKenzie. Letang attempted to tie up MacKenzie's stick, but was unable to do so as the Columbus center got just enough of the puck to knock it in for his first of the season.
The Blue Jackets tallied again with less than a minute to go when Ryan Johansen wristed one by Fleury, but the goal accomplished little more than creating something for the Blue Jackets to build off of going into Saturday's tilt. "We're doing lots of good things against good teams but we're just not finding a way to win," said Johansen.
Fleury made 37 saves to earn his league-leading 10th victory.
NOTES: Pittsburgh captain C Sidney Crosby was named the NHL's second star for October. During the month, Crosby accumulated 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) to lead the NHL. ... It was on this date in 1996 that Columbus Hockey Limited submitted an application and a $100,000 fee to the NHL office in an effort to attract an expansion team to Ohio. ... Pittsburgh C Dustin Jeffrey is two games shy of 100 for his NHL career. ... Columbus RW Jared Boll is two games shy of 400 for his NHL career. ... Scratches for the Penguins were D Rob Scuderi (broken ankle), RW Chuck Kobasew (lower body) and RW Matt D'Agostini. Scratches for the Blue Jackets were D Nikita Nikitin and C Boone Jenner (lower body). ... The official attendance was 18,620, Pittsburgh's 295th consecutive sellout.