You simply cannot play half a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and expect to win.
But, that's what the New York Rangers tried to get away with in Pittsburgh–it backfired–as the Blueshirts fell to the severely shorthanded Pens 5-2.
Pittsburgh–playing without Malkin and Letang, among others–was all over the Rangers from the get go, bothering the Blueshirts with their aggressive forecheck, and pressuring them into turnovers. The Penguins finally capitalized 13:09 into the opening frame on the power play, when Sidney Crosby booted a puck across the goal mouth to Chris Kunitz, who tapped it into a yawning net. It was the first of 3 that duo would combine for in the game.
The Pens would add one more late in the period–a giveaway in the neutral zone, culminating in an unchecked Jussi Jokinen standing all alone to the left of Henrik Lundqvist–and another early in the second to stretch the lead to 3-0. That, as they say, was essentially that.
Sure, the Rangers did wake up after that and generate some of their best pressure of the game. They made Fleury work a bit. One could even argue the Blueshirts controlled the second half of the game, but it was too little, too late.
The Rangers would get as close as 4-2 midway through the 3rd, mainly because of the exploits of Mats Zuccarello–yet again the Rangers lone standout. The Norwegian spark plug fired a bullet over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder to break up the shutout, and almost exactly 4 minutes later, threaded the needle with a perfect pass to a pinching Ryan McDonagh, who deflected the puck in.
Then Pittsburgh did what good teams do–respond–and in short order, put the game to rest for good when Kunitz again found himself wide open in front to make it 5-2.
The game encapsulated the Rangers season as a whole–inconsistent, and at times sloppy, made more frustrating by the flashes of play of a higher ilk interspersed. 4 of the 5 Penguins tallies could be directly attributed to a defensive miscue–whether it be a turnover, or just an utter failure to pick up a man in the defensive zone. Zuccarello offered the explanation that:
"We didn't trust each other defensively. We gave them too much. Pittsburgh is a good team and it's easy to get confused."
Marc Staal in particular had a rough go of it. Staal and his defense partner Anton Stralman were both a minus-3 and found themselves on the ice against the Crosby line–not the matchup the Rangers wanted–multiple times. Staal was stripped of the puck by Kunitz on Crosby's goal, and fell on the puck–accidently knocking it to Kunitz in the process–on the Pens final tally.
But don't let the defensive miscues overshadow another issue the Rangers have had: inconsistency. Not only from game to game, but from one period to the next. The Blueshirts have started slow far too often, oftentimes taking the better part of the first period to find their game.
Can't do that against against the best team in the East.
Shouldn't do it against anyone.
A pretty good coach once said "Gentleman, you don't have enough talent to win on talent alone." The Rangers need to take those words to heart, because until they learn to play a consistent 60 minutes, their problems will subsist.
-Derek Dorsett left the game in the first after blocking a shot, and will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken fibula. In a tremendous display of courage, Dorsett remained on the ice for the rest his shift (at least 30 seconds), which ended in Pittsburgh scoring a power play goal.
-Ryan Callahan threw his weight around in his first game back from injury–especially in first–but wasn't that involved in the offense otherwise.
-With a goal and an assist, Mats Zuccarello is now tied for the team lead in goals (10), and extended his team high in points to 30.
-Alain Vigneault said he had already made up his mind who's starting tonight in Toronto, but wouldn't say because he hadn't told his goalies yet. The fact that Henrik Lundqvist came back out for the third period with his team down 4-0 means the smart money is on Cam Talbot.
-Unless the Rangers decide to dress 7 defenseman, Dorsett's injury means JT Miller will likely return to the lineup tonight.
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