It was a disappointing weekend for the struggling Rangers. After giving up another tying goal in the final minute during a frustrating 3-2 overtime defeat at Detroit, they played a bad home game in a equally exasperating 5-3 loss to the Penguins. With a chance to put some distance between them and the idle Islanders- 3-1 losers at Boston Saturday- they blew a golden opportunity and remain three up on the Isles, who have three extra games left.
In the loss to the Red Wings, they got back Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Marc Staal. Lundqvist did his part standing on his head making 40 saves. Defensively, the Rangers were atrocious. They gave the skilled Wings too much room and were dominated at even strength. Lundqvist stopped all 15 Detroit shots in a lopsided first that saw his team get a late goal from the hot Derek Stepan in the final minute. Stepan is playing his best hockey scoring and setting up big goals. He and linemate Chris Kreider were bright spots with Kreider scoring for a second consecutive game on a Stepan set up in the first against Pittsburgh.
It was a Kreider tip of a Keith Yandle shot for a power play goal that put the Rangers in a winning position against Detroit. His goal with 4:27 left in regulation put them ahead 2-1. But with Eric Staal off for holding Red Wings’ rookie Dylan Larkin, they pulled Petr Mrazek for a 6-on-4. During a wild sequence, former Ranger Brad Richards was able to beat Lundqvist tying the score with 32 seconds remaining. In the 3-on-3 overtime, Pavel Datsyuk worked his magic stealing the puck and having his shot carom off teammate Darren Helm for the winner at 3:03.
Playing for a second straight day in another early start (12:30 PM) following Daylight Savings, the Blueshirts got off to a good start. They outshot the Pens 19-13 in a entertaining first period. However, they only came out even. A J.T. Miller minor for holding the stick led to the Pens taking the lead on a Patric Hornqvist power play tally at 11:56 from Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. Before the period concluded, Kreider finished off a pretty pass from Stepan for his 16th with 1:54 left. A nice play in transition started by Kevin Klein, who drew the secondary assist.
After recording 19 shots in the first, the Rangers had only eight the rest of the contest. Not good enough against a quality opponent desperate for points with the Flyers breathing down their neck. It wasn’t the Pens’ stars who did them in. Instead, it was Connor Sheary scoring twice during a bad second period that saw the Pens outshoot the Blueshirts 10-2.
Following Sheary’s first goal on a neat deflection of a Justin Schultz shot, the Rangers made one of their two shots count when Derick Brassard scored his team-leading 25th on the power play thru a Kreider screen. Keith Yandle continues to be a factor on the man-advantage recording his 15th power play assist on Brassard’s tally. Seventeen of Yandle’s 40 points have come via the man-advantage. Brassard leads the team with seven power play goals and 19 power play points. Stepan also netted a assist for his second of the game. He extended his point streak to five straight (2-5-7). He’s 3-6-9 over the last eight.
Sheary got his second of the game beating Lundqvist on a breakaway at 15:55 of the second to give the Pens their third lead. He went high blocker. Tom Kuhnhackl and Eric Fehr drew assists. They led 3-2 after two.
In the third, captain Ryan McDonagh tied it by beating Fleury with a pretty wrap around at 5:04. Jesper Fast continued his impressive play with the primary helper. The second-year Swede is one of the club’s hardest workers. Alain Vigneault has rewarded him by putting Fast with Brassard and J.T. Miller on the first line. He probably is better suited on a bottom line but the coach likes what he brings. Fast has quietly had a good season with 10 goals and 15 assists. His improvement is noticeable due to hustle. He never takes a shift off. J.T. Miller notched the other assist. His second point in the last three following bad stretch.
With the game tied, the Pens had some good luck. Matt Cullen had his centering feed from behind the net bank off Marc Staal past Lundqvist with 8:51 left. The Rangers’ misfortune was the Pens’ good fortune. Cullen’s 11th from rookie Dominik Simon (1st NHL point) and Brian Dumoulin proved to be the game-winner.
When it’s going bad, you don’t get the breaks. The Pens’ final two goals took funny bounces off Rangers. Crosby’s empty netter went off Dan Boyle’s stick and in at 19:21. Obviously, fans weren’t happy about it on Twitter.
It concluded a bad weekend. At least they got a point against Detroit. Not coming away with anything against the Pens, who are without Evgeni Malkin for at least six to eight weeks, is inexplicable. Sure. They were more rested. But this was another disjointed performance. A disturbing trend that’s rearing its ugly head again. Aside from the 3-2 win over the Caps, they have been badly outplayed lately. Even in the 4-2 victory over Buffalo, it was ugly. They rely too much on the goalies.
What’s done is done. Now, they must go on a challenging three-game Californian trip with stops in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. Three tough road games over four days including a back-to-back at the Ducks and Kings between March 16 and St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll see how they respond.