PITTSBURGH - Part of the reason the Blue Jackets tied for the NHL lead in hits during the regular season was a habit of getting the puck deep into the offensive zone and putting pressure on the opposing team's defensemen.
That happened at times during Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Penguins at Consol Energy Center. The Blue Jackets outhit Pittsburgh, 48-27. But too many turnovers, especially those at the offensive blue line, proved costly.
“That's a good team over there,” center Brandon Dubinsky said. “They're going to make you pay the price when you commit turnovers.”
In a statistical quirk, Columbus was credited with only two giveaways. The Penguins, though, had five takeaways. Either way, it wasn't a pleasing stat for Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards.
“A lot of (the turnovers) were off the rush,” Richards said. “We weren't playing to our strengths. Our strengths are getting the puck below the goal line, investing in the physical play on their defenseman to wear them down and creating turnovers down there.”
Columbus played a smart-but-physical style this season, committing the second-fewest giveaways (449) in the NHL. They tied the Los Angeles Kings for No. 1 with 2,609 hits.
The Blue Jackets ranked 11th in penalty minutes taken with 11.1 per game.
Centers Derek MacKenzie (241), Dubinsky (234) and Boone Jenner (212), as well as injured Nick Foligno (210), made Columbus the only NHL team to have four players eclipse 200 hits.
“We're a physical team,” defenseman Jack Johnson said. “We have big, strong guys. We don't shy away from physicality. We're going to make sure that's part of our game every night.”
Only about a minute into Wednesday's game, Dubinsky was backchecking and rode Sidney Crosby into the corner boards.
Penguins winger Beau Bennett got a measure of revenge around the nine-minute mark of the first period when he drove Columbus defenseman Ryan Murray into almost the same spot.
Late in the first period, Matt Calvert was engaged with Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi and the latter picked Calvert up off his skates, an interference penalty that led to Mark Letestu's power play marker and a 2-1 lead for Columbus.
“We did some good things, things that we can look back on and get those going in the second game,” Letestu said. “But again, some discipline cost us.”
One costly turnover led to Penguins center Brandon Sutter's game-winning goal midway through the third period.
Now, heavy-hitting Columbus has to wait until Game 2 on Saturday to assert itself again.
A little smarter this time, too.
“It's a long series,” Dubinsky said. “We did a lot of good things. We had a lot of guys get their feet wet and get the first one out of the way.”
(Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.)