Game 35: Embarrassed by the champs


The Penguins did a lot of celebrating at the expense of a broken down Rangers team burying them 7-2 and out-shooting them 47-28. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Penguins. All videos and gifs via Pittsburgh Penguins.

I’ll be honest and just say I didn’t see tonight’s game. I was busy with work and then running other errands. However, it wasn’t too much trouble for me to stay updated on Twitter via my secondary account. The same one Brandon Prust gave his epic response to. You can follow me either at New York Puck or Derek Flex Felix. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what the main hockey account is. 🙂

As it turned out, I didn’t miss much. The Penguins laid down a beat down on the Rangers 7-2 in their home arena. No. I don’t care to reference the name of the silly building. Though if you were to pick a color paint for this one, it would be Pens’ black and yellow. Or is it gold these days? I can’t seem to keep up with their fancy jerseys.

I hate the Pens. That’s without hesitation. They are still easy to despise despite Carl Hagelin playing for them. Just seeing my timeline, there were an awful lot of angry Ranger fans over some of the penalties called. The Pens scored three times in five chances on the power play. I didn’t see any of the calls. But there was animosity between the rival fans. Let’s leave it at that.

How great is Crosby? Well, if you ignore the cheap play he normally gets with- a kneeing penalty tonight- the Pens captain is the best player in the game. There’s no one who is playing at a higher level. For example, the remarkable tip in for his league-leading 22nd that set the tone below:

Crosby really is that special when it comes to getting his stick on shots. The really sad part is the Pens played this game without two of their top four defensemen. Kris Letang is on the injured reserve and Trevor Daley was out. Ian Cole and Justin Schultz had no trouble setting the game’s first tally up.

Astonishingly, the Pens so dominated play that they got 22 shots on goal in the first period. When you have frustrated captain Ryan McDonagh noting how 10 came in the first five minutes and highlighting the team’s awful defensive play, it’s cringe worthy. Yet somehow Raanta kept Pittsburgh at one. Matt Puempel actually tied it up when he was able to sneak a wrist shot past Matt Murray from Marek Hrivik. It was his first NHL point.

Penalty trouble was an issue in this game. Along with terrible coverage, it made for a long night for poor Raanta. He had no chance on Evgeni Malkin’s 14th at 4:43 of the second. It wasn’t a power play but how could anyone tell from this video of Chris Kunitz finding a wide open Malkin for a one-time blast past Raanta. Look at the confusion and all the reaching.

With Kevin Hayes off for a high stick, it was Phil Kessel’s turn to get on the scoreboard. He basically skated around the Rangers’ entire penalty kill before firing through Raanta, who caught a bad break with it just going off him and squeaking over the goal line:

Chris Kreider also was nabbed for goalie interference. One which a majority of our fans felt was more a reputation call. He doesn’t run goalies. But has been called for goalie interference before. One prior, he was pushed in but got called. Who knows what the deal was with this one on Murray.

What I did learn is that Michael Grabner got two breakaways. One was shorthanded following a Dan Girardi block. He hit the far goalpost. If it goes in, it’s a one-goal game going to the third. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know. Considering that Murray had help from the post and stopped all 14 Ranger shots in the second and they fell apart in a lopsided third, probably not.

The irony is I tweeted how this was the Grabner we were supposed to get. One who missed chances and went into scoring slumps. Funny enough, right after I said that, I get back in the car with my brisket platter from Schaefer’s and he scores his 14th on a three-on-two 1:52 into the third from Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello to make it 3-2. Whenever I roast our players, they seem to respond. 😉

But just when it seemed the third might be interesting, it all went to crap quickly. First, Schultz scored his sixth from Malkin at 4:11 with his shot deflecting in. Only 2:01 later, Crosby set up Bryan Rust’s ninth to suddenly make it a 5-1 laugher.

That’s all it took to turn it into a joke. Afterwards, a very disappointed Zuccarello called it “an embarrassment” more than once. One thing about this core. They don’t mince words. The Pens added two more goals including third on the power play from front net pest Patric Hornqvist to make it 6-2. The three PPG’s tied a Pens’ season high set in a recent rout of the Lightning.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nick Bonino added further insult to injury when he was left all alone to bury a backhand with 11 seconds to go from Rust. They didn’t even play till the final buzzer. Something every MSG analyst on the radio and TV criticized them for.

Shots in the third were 17-4 Pens. Think about that. So, even with Grabner’s shot going in to make it a one-goal contest, the Blueshirts were simply outclassed. I have no problem admitting that the Pens are that good. They are capable of doing that to anyone. Raanta actually made 40 saves but allowed seven goals. And not many could be called bad. This was a tape you burn.

Maybe they had it coming. They have really played a hectic schedule. After having played three in four days winning every single one despite not playing their best, Alain Vigneault had it right when he decided to rest Henrik Lundqvist. If only he could do the same with Girardi, who is starting to wear down. There’s no reason for him to be playing daily. Vigneault did the same thing last year running Girardi and our other veteran D into the ground.

I don’t care if he isn’t a big fan of Adam Clendening. Get him in some of these games. Rest your vets occasionally. At the very least, Clendening can skate and is more of a possession right defenseman who can play power play. So what if Kevin Klein is bumped up to the second pair. Nick Holden’s proven he can play big minutes with McDonagh.

The Rangers have already played 35 games. More than anyone else in the East. Their 23-11-1 record with 47 points is splendid. At some point, they were going to hit a wall. We’ve seen hints at it in imperfect shootout wins over the Predators and Devils. They’ve been relying on the goalies lately. The two had combined for a 0.84 goals-against-average over the last seven games.

Eventually, the defense was going to reach a breaking point. This team has played a ton of hockey. Now, at least they can get a day off before preparing on Thursday for another challenge with the Wild visiting MSG on Friday. Minnesota doesn’t lose much and boasts shutout leader Devan Dubnyk along with huge minutes logger Ryan Suter. Dubnyk pitched his fifth shutout for the Wild tonight. They’re very good and flying under the radar out West.

I am not even upset. In December a few days before Christmas and Channukah or whatever holiday you celebrate, it’s worth noting that not even half the schedule has been played. There are going to be stinkers. However, it was the Pens and they delivered a message. The same one they delivered in that awful MSG rematch when they beat the tar out of the Rangers 6-1.

They’re still the best team. They’re still the team to beat. That message has been delivered loud and clear. Without Raanta, this could’ve been downright ugly. The Pens out-attempted the Rangers 71-46. The Rangers had nearly double the amount of hits which is because they couldn’t get out of their end for long stretches.

I’m glad they finally have a couple of days off. I can use it too.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Antti Raanta, NYR (40 saves and for being a class act throughout-he didn’t blame anyone and was a total pro in the post game)

2nd Star-Evgeni Malkin, Pens (goal-14th, 2 assists, +2 in 17:47)

1st Star-Justin Schultz, Pens (goal-6th, assist, +3 in 21:39-27 shifts-remember he couldn’t fit in with Edmonton? Funny how playing on a real team cures that.)

Note: I’m only doing one cause I am tired. Matt Murray has never lost to the Rangers. He improved to 5-0 including winning all three playoff meetings in last year’s first round elimination. He’s only allowed three goals once. He’s very good. The Rangers don’t see the Pens again till March 31. Maybe by then, Lundqvist can get in and break his losing streak against them.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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