An aggressive forecheck.
That’s one of the main factors that has helped Columbus rack up nearly twice as many hits as the Penguins through two games of the teams’ first-round playoff series.
“You knew they were a physical team,” Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said Sunday, the day between Games 2 and 3.
“They put a lot of pucks in deep. They don’t turn a lot of pucks over. So when they put a puck deep, they’re trying to get in on the forecheck.”
The Blue Jackets have been credited with 99 hits in two games, including 51 in Saturday’s 4-3 double-overtime win that gave them a 1-1 split with the series shifting to Columbus for two games. The Penguins have been credited with 55 hits in the two games.
The Penguins keep their own statistics, and often they differ from the official numbers compiled by NHL off-ice officials. With hits, the Penguins only track their own.
Still, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, the league’s account of the hits in this series would seem to offer a fair portrayal of the lopsided physical nature of the series through two games.
“I do think they have more hits in both games than we’ve had,” Bylsma said. “That’s really a part of the makeup of their team, part of how they play and exactly what we expect from them.”
Columbus is led in hits by forwards Brandon Dubinsky (17), Boone Jenner (12) and Derek MacKenzie (11). Forward Joe Vitale leads the Penguins with nine.
“We’ve contributed to them having more hits just the way that we’ve managed the puck, giving them more opportunities to take runs at us,” Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said.
Bylsma did not indicate any changes he might make — “We made some adjustments in Game 2 to what we did, and it was successful in a lot of ways,” he said — but it could be noted that two of the Penguins’ more physical players have been scratched so far this series.
Defensemen Robert Bortuzzo (137 hits in 54 regular-season games) and Deryk Engelland (117 hits in 56 regular-season games) have given way to what are considered the team’s top six defensemen. It was rare in the regular season to have so many defensemen healthy.
Martin agreed that the Blue Jackets’ forecheck accounts for a lot of hits.
“They’ve done a good job at managing pucks and putting them in deep,” he said. “They have a good amount of forwards who are quick and physical that get in on our [defensemen].”
That’s not the only area in which Columbus plays with a physical edge.
“When we have puck possession, they’re definitely trying to finish their checks, not let guys get to the net to let their goalie see those pucks when our guys are shooting.” Kunitz said.
“The physical disparity, I don’t know. There are phases and times when we aren’t as physical as we need to be. We need to finish some checks because it pays dividends in a long series.”
Although Martin noted that, “At times we’ve lacked some desperation that we need,” the Penguins don’t believe it’s a matter of being outworked by the Blue Jackets.
“I wouldn’t think that,” Kunitz said. “I know there are areas where we need to get better in puck management, putting pucks deep and playing in their end. It keeps them off the forecheck. Turning pucks over, it gives them a chance to go in transition.
“I think we just need to have more emotion and a feel for the game and start playing the way we played [previously], with confidence and a little bit of swagger. When we do that, we’re a really good team. When we’re kind of indecisive, we’re not very sharp.”