Rangers fall apart in loss to Penguins

This one was bad. Once again, the Rangers blew a lead after two periods. Only this time, they allowed two goals including a Jake Guentzel game-winner late in regulation to lose to the Penguins 3-2. So, in two winnable games against a mediocre opponent that didn’t play well, they found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Just call it a lost weekend. The Rangers wound up with one point in the two-game series at Pittsburgh. Through five games, they’re 1-3-1 with three points. Good for last in the old Patrick with Boston and Buffalo added to the mix. Five games doesn’t make a season. But if they keep blowing games, it’ll get late early as Yogi Berra used to say.

Making matters worse, their most effective center Filip Chytil left the game in the second period. He got injured on an accidental collision with Evan Rodriguez, who hurt his knee and also didn’t return. Chytil stayed on the bench and took one more shift before exiting. That left David Quinn scrambling the lines even more. It was a mess. Hopefully, Chytil isn’t out too long. They need him.

Right now, Mika Zibanejad isn’t going and neither is Chris Kreider. The two veteran leaders have been ineffective at five-on-five. Kreider didn’t even register a shot in a game I half watched with a hopeful eye on Brian’s Bills. Too bad they fell apart at the seams even worse in the AFC Championship Game at the Chiefs. It made for a frustrating night. I was really bummed for both Brian and our friend Rob. Oh well. Hopefully, they’ll be back next year and win the big game.

I’m even disappointed in Artemi Panarin so far. Sure. He is a point-per-game and even set up the first goal for the slumping Ryan Strome to put the Rangers up 2-1. But his play at even strength hasn’t been good. There’s nothing happening. It was his lousy turnover on a back pass to Brendan Smith that resulted in Sidney Crosby sending in Bryan Rust in for a breakaway goal that tied the score at one earlier. He needs to stop over passing and shoot the puck more. Something that’s becoming an issue for this team.

When your key top guns aren’t clicking on all cylinders at five-on-five, you aren’t going to be successful. By that, I mean Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin and Strome. All of who have been underwhelming in the early going. Even the power play which has connected a few times hasn’t been as good. Too much overloading to the off side for the right shots of Panarin and Zibanejad. It’s too predictable. Move Pavel Buchnevich up to the top unit and Strome to the second unit. That way you have a left shooter from the opposite circle.

At least the new fourth line did their part. An effective checking unit throughout, they forechecked well and got rewarded with the game’s first goal. On an Adam Fox point shot, new Ranger Colin Blackwell got in front and redirected the puck past Tristan Jarry for his first goal of the season. He was a factor all night in the nearly nine minutes he received. Blackwell played mostly with Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden, who picked up an assist on the goal. He would later be bumped up in Chytil’s place.

The trouble for the Rangers is they never built a lead. The Pens came back to tie it on the Panarin turnover where Smith couldn’t handle a tight pass. Crosby quickly retrieved it and found a wide open Rust, who walked in and beat Shestyorkin with a good low wrist shot. Rust was easily their best player in the two games, scoring twice. He never takes a shift off and works extremely hard. More than you can say for Evgeni Malkin, who was a ghost while getting caught on for both Rangers goals against. The one year I take Malkin in fantasy and he looks completely disinterested.

The Rangers reclaimed the lead in the second period when off some sustained pressure from Buchnevich, a Jacob Trouba shot caromed out to Panarin, who set up Strome for his first in front of a sprawled Jarry. It was a hardworking goal by the line. While I like how Buchnevich has played, he needs to be back with KZB Line members Kreider and Zibanejad, who seem lost without him. Buchnevich is making things happen. Quinn must put them back together and stick Alexis Lafreniere back at his natural position of left wing with Kaapo Kakko and either Chytil or Howden.

I would try complement Phil Di Giuseppe with Strome and Panarin. He seems to make it happen and is noticeable at even strength. A good skater who’s unselfish and solid defensively, maybe that would be a better fit for that line. Similar to Jesper Fast last year. Or just try Kakko with them and see if it clicks. He’s been better.

I am not a big fan of moving Lafreniere around as much as Quinn is doing. I understand he wants to get the kid going. But line chemistry and consistency matter. It’s one critique of Quinn. He needs to show more patience. Give lines a chance to get. I feel similarly about the D pairs.

Right now, Fox and rookie K’Andre Miller have been the best defensemen. Fox more so offensively while logging big minutes. Miller looking more well rounded due to his unique combination of size, speed and physicality. He really looks the part so far. I just wonder if maybe it would be better to have him work with Tony DeAngelo, who is being wasted with either Smith or Jack Johnson. Neither are the steady influence that Marc Staal was. Yes. They miss Staal. DeAngelo also is off the top power play with Fox replacing him. No issue with that. But if you signed him due to his big career year, then put him in a better position to succeed.

Nothing makes sense right now for the Rangers. Not the lineup. Not the way most top players are performing. And definitely not Igor Shestyorkin, who had a heck of a time allowing two awful goals in a forgettable third period. He somehow fanned on an excuse me forehand knuckle puck from Jared McCann to let it go in to tie the game. Granted. It nicked off DeAngelo, but there’s literally no way that should go in. He lost concentration.

Then, you had the Guentzel winner with over 90 seconds remaining in regulation. On a good forecheck from Crosby, he dropped the puck for Kris Letang who centered a pass for a Guentzel shot that went through Shestyorkin for the game decider. Yes. There was traffic. However, it was a clear shot that he saw and it went right between the pads. He hasn’t looked right since the injury that kept him out of those two Play In games before the Hurricanes smoked him.

I don’t know if it’s a timing or confidence issue. Right now, he’s not the same goalie. I imagine they’ll go back to Alex Georgiev on Tuesday against the Sabres. If they can’t beat them or put together some big points over two games, then it might be panic time already.

Three Stars of the Game

3rd 🌟 Jake Guentzel, Pens (game-winning goal, +1 in 21:05)

2nd 🌟 Bryan Rust, Pens (breakaway goal, 3 SOG, +1 in 20:07)

1st 🌟 Sidney Crosby, Pens (two assists, +2 in 19:44)

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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