AP NEWS

Riley Sheahan scores twice to lead Penguins over Columbus, into first in Metro Division

March 14, 2018 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After spending the first four years of his NHL career on some good-but-not-great Detroit teams, the idea obviously tickled Riley Sheahan.

So, Riley, how does it feel to be in first place?

“Obviously it’s nice,” he said with a chuckle.

Sheahan scored twice, Tristan Jarry won his first NHL start in more than a month and the Penguins took a 5-2 victory from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night.

The Penguins have won five in a row and 10 of their last 12 games. The win pushed them one point ahead of the Washington Capitals and into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

The Capitals have played three fewer games and could reclaim their perch as soon as Monday afternoon, but it represents a significant accomplishment for the Penguins all the same.

They haven’t been in sole possession of first place since they were 9-6-2 on Nov. 8. In fact, they limped out of Detroit on New Year’s Eve with a 19-18-3 record, one point out of last place in the division.

“I think (first place is) a goal of ours,” said defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who had two assists. “We’ve just gotta keep our nose on the grind and keep racking up points.”

It was Sheahan’s first multi-goal game since he scored twice in Detroit’s regular-season finale last year. Those were the only two goals he scored all season. By contrast, he has eight goals and 23 points in 51 games since joining the Penguins in an October trade.

“He’s got such a conscientious two-way game. When he can chip in offensively like he does, it certainly makes us a much better team,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We believed he had that when we acquired him. We were hoping that his offensive game would come, and it seems to be at the most important time of the year.”

Despite the final score, it wouldn’t be fair to say the Penguins blew the Blue Jackets out of the barn. Far from it. Columbus had a 37-23 edge in shots and 62-42 advantage in shot attempts in the game.

After the Penguins took a 3-1 lead in the first, it could be argued Columbus was the superior team.

“As much as we’re pushing our guys to pay attention to the details and stay on top of it, you’re fighting human nature there to a certain extent,” Sullivan said.

So how did the Penguins manage such a decisive victory then?

They finished their scoring chances with lethal precision. While Jarry had a relatively quiet, 35-save night, Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky spent a lot of the game flailing around the blue paint.

Before the game was two minutes old, Sheahan used a waist-high tip to knock in an Oleksiak point shot.

Later in the period, after Artemi Panarin scored on a two-on-one to cut the Penguins’ lead to 2-1, Sheahan finished a Phil Kessel-led rush with a shot under Bobrovsky’s right arm. Columbus coach John Tortorella thought it was the turning point in the game.

“It helps when you can put up some points,” Sheahan said. “I’m feeling good. It’s nice to make some plays and contribute some offense and take care of the little things too.”

Brian Dumoulin and Zach Aston-Reese also scored for the Penguins. By the time Jake Guentzel blasted a slap shot from the left wing past Bobrovsky to complete a three-point night in the third period, the Blue Jackets were cooked.

“I’ve never been on a team with this much skill,” Aston-Reese said. “When you’re on a team with this much skill, you kind of trade quantity for quality. The amount of Grade-A’s and highlight-reel plays that they make for chances I think outweigh throwing everything at the net.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.