Kovacevic: Galchenyuk’s grace sets stage


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Alex Galchenyuk and Jake Guentzel talk before a power-play faceoff Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Hockey's beautiful.

Oh, maybe not from John Tortorella's extra-jaded perspective these days, but just in general.

Believe it or not, I'm not talking about the obvious elements of the Penguins 7-2 blowout of the Blue Jackets on this Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena. Not Jared McCann and Patric Hornqvist scoring twice each. Not the more dedicated defense, the more dynamic puck movement. Not even the game's preminent superstar dropping the gloves.

No, I'm talking about this sort of stuff:

That, of course, is Sidney Crosby seamlessly, casually collecting a Jake Guentzel pass from behind, redirecting it between his own legs and, without pausing in the slightest, sliding it across to Hornqvist for the sixth goal.

I mean ... one could watch that 86 more times and still not notice that Crosby received the pass -- meaning his own pass to himself -- by extending far enough forward to reach around the stick of Columbus defenseman Dean Kukan.


But also, eminently expected.

What I didn't see coming was the playmaking of one of the new dudes.

Alex Galchenyuk wasn't among the three stars on this night, but he absolutely was among the most consistent, creative performers. And that's saying something considering his No. 2 line -- with Brandon Tanev as the other winger -- went through three centers, with Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad lost to injury before McCann took over.

This was Galchenyuk setting up McCann's first ...

... and I do mean setting up. Because Galchenyuk gathers the puck inside the Pittsburgh blue line, storms ahead, shifts gracefully to his right to lure both Columbus defensemen, Zach Werenski and David Savard, even though Savard, in particular, had no business biting.

That's setting up lights, camera and action.

Beyond that, the backhand pass is delivered authoritatively, blade to blade, to McCann in full stride, even as Galchenyuk is cognizant of getting it through the body and stick of the lost soul Savard.

With all due respect to Sid, that's the moment, the move of the game right there. It's rare air.

I asked Galchenyuk about it, mostly the left-to-right wave.

"I don't know if it's something I'd be thinking about sitting at home or even practicing," he told me. "It's just instinct. I'm going one way, Jared started calling for it, and if I go to the right, that can create more space for him. He got the puck, and he got the goal."

I asked McCann about it, too:

"Unbelievable vision," indeed.

Here's Galchenyuk's other assist, also primary, but on Kris Letang's goal with 1.2 ticks left in the second period:

Mind you, this is with the Penguins' bench standing and screaming, 'Shoot!' because the horn's about to blow. Galchenyuk's got two targets to his right, or he could, you know, shoot. Instead, he saucers sweetly to the far dot, where Letang received it and ripped it.

I asked Mike Sullivan about Galchenyuk, in general.

"Yeah, he's a good player. I thought tonight was his best game since he's been a Penguin," the coach came back, clearly including the preseason in that assessment. "He sees the ice. He's a good playmaker. He's got a good shot. We knew he had good offensive instincts, and his game is really starting to come."

Sticks down, everyone.

• Are we still firing everyone?

• Hate to see Malkin down under any circumstance, but especially the upper body, with all the shoulder trouble he's had. We'll see.

• The crowd loved Crosby's fight with Pierre-Luc Dubois, and I get that. It's Pittsburgh. Plus, the captain clearly didn't appreciate seeing Dubois hammer Jake Guentzel up high, then cross-checking him in the upper back.

Me, I loved seeing both linesmen, Steve Barton and Dave Berg, jump in at the first chance to break it up. Showed a razor-sharp awareness of the situation, as well as respect for an all-time great.

People casually dismiss 'the human element' when it comes to officiating these days. It matters as much as ever.

• I also loved how Sullivan tactfully made clear he had no use for the whole scene: "Sid sticks up for Jake ... he's a courageous guy. ... I just don't want him to get hurt. I understand why he did, and I certainly give him high marks. That's part of his leadership. I just didn't want to see him get hurt."

• Know what else matters as much as ever?

Puck possession.

Press the play button below to watch a full, minute-long shift of dominance from the top line in the first period:

People who question Dominik Simon's presence in prominent spots in the lineup almost invariably do so on the basis of individual production. Which is immaterial compared to the collective. If a forward is helping his linemates score, and the line is scoring more than the norm, that's all that counts.

On that shift up there, Simon touches the puck five separate times, each one sustaining possession. He also positions himself smartly to pursue the puck anew once possession's been lost, twice in this minute alone. And in turn, Crosby and Guentzel and everyone else out there get more chances to do their thing.

This isn't complicated. Nor is it advanced. Taylor Haase makes it as simple as possible:

• Predicted number of blind Simon bashers who pressed the play button up there: 0

• Predicted number of comments below this column that'll blindly bash Simon without watching that shift or considering any of Taylor's data: 12,000,000

Secondary scoring is a primary thing in these parts. Nothing mattered more than that on this night.

• OK, maybe this did: 17 giveaways in the opener, two in this one.

• It'd been presumed for months that the Blue Jackets would regress from the playoff high of sweeping the Lightning upon losing Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, just as it'd been presumed the goaltending would suffer more than any other position. Well, it appears, at least in the very early going, those presumptions weren't pessimistic enough. Not to take anything from the Penguins, but they weren't exactly picking corners on poor Elvis Merzlikins.

• Yes, he left the building. Behave.

• Next up: Winnipeg. I've got that one.


[caption id="attachment_898805" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Penguins vs. Blue Jackets, PPG Paints Arena, Oct. 5, 2019 -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

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