Losing is contagious. Similar to winning, it can drive both coach and players crazy. Being a Rangers fan is tough right now. For the past decade, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing our team have success thanks to Henrik Lundqvist and a strong cast.
Now, I’m not saying the season is over. I’m not jumping off the Verrazano Bridge like some. The hard truth is the ’17-18 New York Rangers have lost six of their first seven games. Even though they played well in a highly entertaining game against the Penguins, they still found a way to lose in overtime 5-4 at MSG.
This one stung because most of the players gave a better effort. They showed some heart coming back from a early two goal deficit by scoring three in a row during a tops turvy second period. While I was locked in on the Yankees’ epic rally to stun the Astros to even the ALCS at 2-2 as were quite a few baseball fans who cheered while following it on their phones or on Garden Vision (actually provided updates with highlights), I paid enough attention to the hockey game to know it was high quality.
It would’ve been easy for the Rangers to go away after a bad first period. They trailed 2-0 thanks to poor defense which led to Pittsburgh goals from Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin. A beautiful move and wrist shot high glove on former teammate and buddy Henrik Lundqvist.
Instead, they responded with a resounding second. They scored three in a row to go ahead 3-2. Poetically, the Yankees mounted their big rally from a 4-0 deficit in the seventh and eighth by scoring six runs while the Blueshirts gave us something to celebrate. Goals have been few and far in between. They scored four times against the defending champs after getting only 13 in the first six contests. So, it wasn’t all bad. The offense must build upon it when the Islanders visit Thursday.
David Desharnais played his most assertive game. Bumped up to the second line with J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider, he got the comeback started by sniping one from the left circle top shelf on Matt Murray. They then took full advantage of a undisciplined Sidney Crosby double minor for high-sticking Jimmy Vesey. Predictably, he complained before going to the box. He was whiny Crosby taking three penalties for six minutes.
Off a great feed from Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich buried a shot past Murray for a power play goal to tie the score 1:30 later. Still on the power play, they went ahead thanks to a laser from J.T. Miller that went through a double screen from Mats Zuccarello and Kreider. Ryan McDonagh and Tony DeAngelo assisted on Miller’s second. He played a second straight good game. That’s a positive sign. I wish I could echo the same for Kreider and Kevin Hayes.
A Crosby slash to Buchnevich followed by a Hagelin slash 13 seconds apart handed the Blueshirts a golden opportunity to put some distance. However, the failure to capitalize on a five-on-three was the turning point. They reverted by overpassing and getting shots blocked and cleared by the three man Pens penalty killing unit. It was frustrating.
Making matters worse, Murray shoved Kreider into Brian Dumoulin and he somehow was called for a cross checking minor in the offensive zone. It was his second minor of the game. But it was a horrible call. Anyone could see it. Even a Pens fan.
The Pens tied it up with a power play goal from net pest Patric Hornqvist with 1:59 left in the period. Kessel and Evgeni Malkin set it up.
The third was wild. It had everything. Great skating. End to end rushes. Splendid goaltending from both Murray and Lundqvist. A goalpost. Of course it was Rick Nash, who gets more scoring chances than anyone but has the worst luck I’ve ever seen. There also was rough stuff with Kevin Shattenkirk mixing it up with Malkin, who was his usual snarly self. Shattenkirk also exchanged pleasantries with Bryan Rust.
It was a wonderfully constructed play started by Miller that led to a perfect give and go between Michael Grabner and Desharnais leading to to a Grabner tap in for a 4-3 lead at the eight minute mark. But in one of the most entertaining periods that saw the teams combine for 25 shots (NYR 15 Pens 10), the Garden hosts didn’t cash in on a late power play. They killed two minutes.
You can’t leave it to chance against the Pens. Even with a strong defensive shift from Jimmy Vesey, there was still enough time for Crosby to work his magic. On a broken play which would’ve been a hand pass had Shattenkirk realized it by not touching the puck, Crosby managed to send a backhand from the side of the net towards Lundqvist, banking it in with 55 seconds left. He burned them again. It’s who Crosby is. It was one Lundqvist should’ve had.
Just like that, the game went to 3-on-3 overtime. You knew it was only a matter of time before the Pens won. Sure enough, McDonagh had a terrible giveaway right to Kessel, who fed a wide open Malkin for an easy tap in to give the Pens the victory in the first minute.
What more can be said? We got out of there fast. It is what it is. The Rangers are who they are. A bad team whose 1-5-1 record reflects it. Inconsistent and in trouble already seven games in. What happens if they lose to the Islanders Thursday and the Predators Saturday? Both are also at home.
It’s hard to pin it all on the coach. His line changes worked for the most part. It’s the lack of consistency, discipline and defense (forwards too) that’s killing them. When does it change?