Pittsburgh Penguins: Playing the Aggressive Columbus Blue Jackets

Apr 4, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington (54) pulls Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Tom Kuhnhackl (34) to the ice in front of Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) during the third period at the PPG PAINTS Arena. The Penguins won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington (54) pulls Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Tom Kuhnhackl (34) to the ice in front of Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) during the third period at the PPG PAINTS Arena. The Penguins won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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With Kris Letang taking the next four to six months off due to neck surgery, the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins will be tested during these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Their first opponent will be the hard hitting Columbus Blue Jackets. While Letang’s play at both ends of the ice will be missed,his playoff experience and aggressive style may be the most valuable assets lost.

Combine this loss with the fact Chris Kunitz hasn’t returned from injury, you’re left with a pretty non-threatening team–physically speaking of course. The Penguins were still the highest scoring team in the NHL this past season, but can the skilled group withstand a pounding from this Columbus Blue Jackets squad for a full seven game series?

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

In a preview of the current match-up on April 4th, Columbus made it clear it was going to be a physical series. The Blue Jackets lined up 49 hits on a fragile Penguins lineup. Pittsburgh would end up prevailing, with their finesse style earning them a 4-1 victory.

Although it was one game, it serves as a preview for whats to come in round 1. The usual suspects are sure to include Scott Hartnell (who had 9 hits on April 4), and Brandon Dubinsky.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will want to play their own game: a fast paced, attack-first brand of hockey. But the Blue Jackets will come to play on their terms. Hartnell, Dubinksy, Boone Jenner, and Josh Anderson are going to punish anyone they can get their hands on, and we know this squad is fragile.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins /

Pittsburgh Penguins

Pushing Back

Playoff hockey is a different beast than the regular season. The whistles are put away and scrums will ensue regularly. Guys like Dubinsky and Hartnell have made a living in these scenarios. You can bet we will have a few stoppages where refs are pulling Dubinsky off Sid or Geno. It’s worrisome the Penguins don’t have a player to keep the Blue Jackets in check.

It presents a problem. So what do they do? Dress Tom Sestito? Doubtful. Although Sestito would be the scariest player on the ice, he’s not seeing more than five minutes off the bench every game. When it comes to the playoffs, the Penguins may not want to waste a roster spot on him.

That being said, it does present a great opportunity for one of the ‘new guys’ to create a role for himself. Guys like Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney, or Josh Archibald who have held down fourth line duties the past month. They need to be aggressive and push back when the other team starts to pour it on. Cameron Gaunce and Frank Corrado have also shown they would be willing to drop the gloves.

Not saying that the team needs a goon mentality to win. But getting face-washed, slashed, and tackled after every whistle is going to get old. The playoffs are going to be  long hard road. The less time the Penguins have to worry about those pesky Columbus forwards, the better.

At any rate, the series is bound to be entertaining, and it will be interesting to see how the Penguins handle their aggressive counterparts on Wednesday night.