Film Session: Sloppy Puck Management Dooms Columbus Blue Jackets In Loss To Pittsburgh Penguins

By Dan Dukart on March 7, 2024 at 1:45 pm
The Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate after defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets made a number of unforced errors in Tuesday night's 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. As they learned the hard way, the difference between winning and losing can be these sloppy mistakes.

On the first goal of the game, Boone Jenner has full possession of the puck on a controlled breakout. His saucer pass attempt to Damon Severson skipped over his stick, and Johnny Gaudreau had already left the zone as a passing option. Making matters worse was Ivan Provorov, who made the correct read to join the rush as a fourth player. When Penguins defenseman Ryan Graves stepped up at the blue line and pushed the puck back in the zone, the Blue Jackets had nobody home. It's hard to blame this fully on one player. Jenner's pass skipped. Severson failed to handle it. Provorov and Gaudreau were flying the zone. An honest mistake, but a mistake, nonetheless. 

Then, on a penalty kill, Erik Gudbranson collected the puck right behind the goal and tried to fire a clearing attempt up the middle. I understand his thought process. He had pressure on all angles and had little time, so he thought just whacking it up the middle would be the best solution. And in most instances, he'd be right. Hindsight being what it is, the better play would have been rimming the puck around the wall, instead of up the middle. The puck ricocheted right off Rickard Rakell's skate and into the net. 

Later, Gudbranson's mistake on the penalty cost them another goal. The Penguins rimmed the puck into the zone and pressured the defenseman, who failed to stop the puck. The Penguins won the loose puck, and took it right to the net. With Gudbranson eliminated from the play, Andrew Peeke went into prevent defense mode, attempting to take away the back-door pass by laying his stick flat on the ice and going onto one knee. Jeff Carter's centering feed bounced off Peeke's stick and into the net. A clean touch from Gudbranson - either a clear or a stop - would have prevented this from happening. Instead, it created an odd-man break and the Penguins capitalized.  

Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, was the 5-3 goal. Zach Werenski felt pressure on his weakside and Reilly Smith took away the passing option to Adam Boqvist on the wall. This left Cole Sillinger open in front of the net, and Werenski went to him immediately. Sillinger's first touch led him on his backhand side and away from Smith. This is where the club starts to run into problems. Sillinger goes back to Werenski, who is standing still, then stops, himself. Alex Nylander was, similarly, standing still at the blue line. So you have three players in a line, all stationary. Evgeni Malkin forces Werenski into a puck battle, which he wins easily, then passes to the slot for an easy goal.  

The Blue Jackets don't have the talent to give up four goals on four easy/mostly unforced puck mistakes and win games. Much of this can be cleaned up, but these mistakes are - ironically - not coming from young players. The players who made mistakes - or who could have conceivably done something different - in this article are: Jenner, Severson, Gaudreau, Provorov, Gudbranson (x2), Werenski, Sillinger (okay, he is young), and Nylander. Perhaps Pascal Vincent should stay consistent and sit one of them down to send a message.