It’s games like tonight’s 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center that the Rangers could really use another scoring threat in their lineup. For half of the tilt the scoring chances were not even there, and when they finally did begin to present themselves, the Blueshirts struggled to put one behind Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins didn’t put on a spectacular performance tonight; it was more of what the Rangers did and didn’t do that decided this game, and this is the second time in three games in which that’s been the case. It makes you wonder if another game-changer would actually make a dramatic difference in New York’s lineup.
The Rangers got off to an apathetic start in this game, and the Penguins took total advantage and completely dominated the pace early on. It was a hassle for New York to clear its own zone, so it was up to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to stand strong between the pipes and keep his team within reach. He actually did more than just that, though, as The King managed to stop all 11 shots that were thrown his way in the opening stanza to get his club out of the period in a scoreless tie.
I’m not sure what it is about this team, but all season long the Rangers have struggled with their starts. They eventually make up for it as the game progresses, but they are sluggish and disinterested in the opening minutes. Luckily Lundqvist comes out of the gate ready to play, because otherwise the Rangers would find themselves trailing early a lot more nights than they actually do.
Lundqvist can only do so much, however, and unfortunately he was not stopping Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway to open the second period. The Rangers’ first mistake on the play was leaving Malkin alone in the neutral zone to begin with. Secondly, both defensemen on the play – Del Zotto and Stralman – decided to pinch low in the offensive zone and leave the point unattended. Finally, Brad Richards, who was hovering at the top of the zone, also decided to skate low with DZ and Stralman, so now the entire Ranger unit on the ice was deep. Malkin cruised in, faked Lundqvist with a pair of dekes and lifted a backhander to the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
It’s just straight up stupid decisions like this by Richards that have frustrated me this season. Yes, I know that Del Zotto and Stralman both should not have pinched at the same time, but at least Richards was momentarily a reinforcement at the point. Naturally, when you see one defenseman, let alone two, join the offense, it is your job as the forward to drop back and cover. Instead, Richards decides to pull off some slide-tackle maneuver that completely took him out of the play. That’s not a mistake I expect to see from a veteran like Richie.
The Penguins would score again midway through the second period when Marc Staal was called on a very weak tripping penalty that, at least I thought, was a clean defensive play. Steve Sullivan’s slapper from the point was deflected in the slot and beat Lundqvist through a screen to put Pittsburgh up, 2-0. This was expected, though, because more often than not chintzy penalty calls end up as a goal against for the Rangers.
By the third period John Tortorella had to be ripping his hair out, because his squad was failing on scoring chance after scoring chance. Richards had several chances, as did Gaborik and Callahan. Those three are usually the go-to scorers, but they couldn’t bury a puck if their lives depended on it tonight. It was a rather easy shutout for Marc-Andre Fleury in my opinion.
And I won’t even get started on the powerplay. There’s nothing more I can say about that – it’s just a waste of energy.
Looking at this game head-to-head, I think Pittsburgh’s top players (Malkin, Staal, Neal, etc.) outperformed the Rangers’ top players (Gaborik, Richards, Callahan, etc.) and that’s basically what this one came down too. I didn’t think the Pens played anything near a solid team game tonight. They look flustered defensively, only one or two offensive lines did much of anything and Fleury was not challenged as often as he should have been.
Henrik Lundqvist gave his team a chance to win tonight, but the offense didn’t respond the way he would’ve liked. The first period was pathetic as far as the effort went, but their inability to convert on chances in the second and third periods may have been even more pathetic than when they weren’t generating them at all.
This is why fans are crying for a Rick Nash, because against talented teams like the Penguins, sometimes just three offensive threats are not enough to get the job done. Again, I’m not sold on the idea of acquiring Nash because of the asking price and the effect he’d have on the salary situation in the future, but there’s no arguing that a guy like that makes a difference in the outcome tonight.
We’ll see what the response is on Friday when the Rangers head out to Long Island to take on another rival in the Islanders, who have been cooling off as of late.
* Anton Stralman did not see the ice beyond the 12:36 mark tonight, when he took a holding penalty to the obvious dislike of head coach John Tortorella. Steve Eminger did not take a shift in the third period, either.