Rangers latest loss to shorthanded Pens self inflicted


So much for all the enthusiasm over Alexis Lafreniere scoring his first NHL goal in an exciting overtime win. It was back to reality for the Rangers tonight. They suffered a cruel 5-4 overtime loss to the Penguins at Madison Square Garden.

Back home after a four game road trip where they won only one game, the Rangers couldn’t take advantage of a shorthanded Pens team. If there’s a troubling trend, it’s their penchant for blowing leads in the third period. It happened for the fourth time in eight games. That’s almost unthinkable. In what was an ugly played game full of bad turnovers, a lousy third led to the Rangers’ demise.

After playing a good second where they scored three of four goals against the Pens, who lost top defenseman Kris Letang to an injury in the first period, the Rangers forgot to play the final 20 minutes.

To hear Chris Kreider say it during the postgame, it’s the same thing over and over again. He has spoken at length about needing to play a certain way for 60 minutes. They did it against the Sabres the other night. Instead, they reverted to old habits by not getting pucks deep to protect a one goal lead Artemi Panarin provided them on the power play to end a long drought at five-on-four.

Also down a skater due to key sparkplug Colin Blackwell going down after four shifts (2:53), they had the full allotment of defensemen. Simply put, they weren’t good enough. Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Smith and Adam Fox were all victimized on goals against. The DeAngelo-Smith pairing is so bad, it makes one long for Marc Staal. They might not have thought it through. DeAngelo is an offensive defenseman who needs a stable defensive partner. Smith is serviceable, but can’t log the necessary minutes to make it work. He’s a good extra D. On this roster due to the misguided Jack Johnson signing, he is being asked to do too much. If Libor Hajek can’t crack this lineup, that’s an indictment on the organization.

As bad as the defense was, it was a lost defensive draw by the invisible Mika Zibanejad to Sidney Crosby that allowed Jake Guentzel to get three whacks at the puck behind Fox before finally putting it in past Alex Georgiev with 10:42 left in regulation. As responsible as he was for Crosby’s overtime winner, Georgiev allowed the Rangers to get a point in a lopsided period. The Pens outshot the Blueshirts 16-7. They generated enough chances to win it in regulation. But Georgiev had a strong third to earn his team a point.

If you had a question for David Quinn, why did he go back to Georgiev following a good performance from Igor Shestyorkin in his first win? His explanation didn’t make much sense. One would think that Shestyorkin should be given every chance to establish himself as the new number one goalie. Instead, he wasn’t allowed to build on Thursday. Very strange.

There were plenty of goals in this one. Jason Zucker got it started when he was able to redirect home a Pierre-Olivier Joseph pass at the doorstep. The play was made in transition with the disastrous Smith-DeAngelo caught on with the second line of Panarin, Ryan Strome and Blackwell before he got hurt. Kasperi Kapanen started the play to pick up a secondary assist.

On the next shift, Crosby hooked into Zibanejad for a lazy minor penalty off the face-off. It was very uncharacteristic for him. But that’s how the Pens have been playing so far. They are down a lot of defensemen including key blue liner Brian Dumoulin. But the lazy penalties and play they’ve gotten from even Crosby and ghost Evgeni Malkin are very odd. It’s almost like they’re trying to get coach Mike Sullivan fired.

Given a power play, the Rangers were unable to capitalize. The two units certainly got good looks, but weren’t able to beat Casey DeSmith, who had a good game. He made some strong saves including on Zibanejad, who can’t seem to find his scoring touch. He hit another goalpost and misfired on a few other setups.

Interestingly, it was some hard work by the fourth line that evened the game. Following a pass from Ryan Lindgren, Phil Di Giuseppe gained the Pens zone and fired a low shot that deflected off a driving Brendan Lemieux for his first goal. It was a hardworking goal for a gritty player, who plays the game honestly. They need more dirty goals like that. Lemieux is the guy who can do it.

Late in the period, a face-off loss came back to haunt them. Brett Howden was unable to beat Teddy Blueger. Blueger worked the puck back to Joseph for a shot that Brandon Tanev was able to deflect past Georgiev at 19:20. Tanev is a gritty forward, who works extremely hard. He beat DeAngelo to the spot and got his third from Joseph and Blueger. That gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead to the locker room.

The second was better for the home team. With Smith off for tripping, some sloppy play by the Pens allowed the Rangers to score shorthanded. Having already given up a breakaway to Pavel Buchnevich, who was stopped by DeSmith, they were even worse on the same shift. Bryan Rust made a back pass to nobody at the vacated point. Then, the defenseman fell down allowing K’Andre Miller and Kevin Rooney to come two on zero for an easy shorthanded goal. Miller patiently waited before dishing across for a Rooney finish. It was his fourth career shorthanded goal. Four of his 11 NHL goals have come down a man.

Before you could look up, Malkin sent Kapanen on a breakaway behind Smith. He didn’t make any mistake by going top shelf on Georgiev to give the Pens their third lead at 9:42. But the Rangers got it right back on the next shift. Miller passed over for a Jacob Trouba shot that Kreider was able to steer in on the rebound just 43 seconds later. It was a good hardworking goal from Kreider, who definitely played better. Kaapo Kakko was also around the net as the play developed.

The assist gave Miller his first career two assist game. He’s up to a goal and three assists. More often than not, the 2018 first round pick has been on for goals for as opposed to against. In his eighth NHL game, he had two helpers and finished plus-one in 20:49 while receiving 30 shifts including 1:40 on the penalty kill. Even though they’re 2-4-2 with only six points, Miller has been a bright spot. If he continues to improve, maybe he’ll even be in the Calder conversation with Devils rookie defenseman Ty Smith.

A very bad penalty on Pittsburgh defenseman John Marino handed the Blueshirts another opportunity to go ahead. Marino had already took a bad one for delay of game. This time, he played the puck without a helmet to earn another two minutes in the sin bin. On the fourth power play, the Rangers made it work thanks to some good patience and execution from Panarin and Buchnevich.

After DeAngelo fed Panarin, he realized he didn’t have an open shot and passed down low for Buchnevich. Buchnevich then was able to pass right back for a quick Panarin one-timer past DeSmith over the shoulder. It was his fourth goal coming at 16:01 from Buchnevich and DeAngelo, who picked up his first point on an otherwise forgettable night.

A Cody Ceci tripping minor late was canceled out by a bad Kreider cross-check at the conclusion of the second during a scrum. That created a four-on-four starting the third. The penalties were eight seconds apart.

The third period was horrible. Whatever they did right in the second, they did wrong. Way too many turnovers and lazy plays that allowed a more energized Pens to take control. Georgiev had to come up with a number of tough saves. He got no support. Finally, Zibanejad lost a face-off so badly to Crosby that Guentzel was able to tie the game after deflecting a Ceci shot and rebounding it twice with Fox beaten on the play.

Quinn fumed at the refs on the bench due to them missing a Guentzel high-stick that cut Lindgren prior to the tying goal. There’s no way the two refs or two linesmen should’ve missed it. He swung the stick and connected right underneath Lindgren’s visor to draw blood. Unbelievable. The Rangers had a legit beef. It figured Guentzel would score the big goal.

The Pens continued to buzz around Georgiev’s net, but he made some key stops to get the game to overtime. In it, the trio of Panarin, Zibanejad and DeAngelo got trapped out in the Pittsburgh zone. The Pens were able to make a couple of changes until Crosby came out. Finally, Joseph passed for Crosby, whose low wrist shot went right through a clearly frustrated Georgiev for the winner at 2:27. Crosby’s fourth came from Joseph and Rust.

It’s back to work for the Blueshirts, who have no time to hang their heads. They see these same Pens again Monday. They’re 0-1-2 versus them so far. Hardly good enough. With the Capitals coming up and then the Devils and Islanders, they have to pick themselves up.

So upset with the defeat that during his press conference, Quinn called the Rangers’ third the worst period of the year. It was that bad. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond in the rematch. The Pens are not that good. However, they’re finding ways to win games and earn points by coming back.

One thing to remember is this is for the most part a young roster. You have a number of second-year players, rookies and even some who are in Year Three. There’s a lot of frustration in Rangers Land. It isn’t only the goalies. It’s the players. It’s the gaps they leave along with crucial mistakes. It’s everything. It is a learning curve for a good part of this roster. We must be more patient.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 K’Andre Miller, Rangers (career high 2 assists, +1 in 20:49)

2nd 🌟 Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Pens (career high 3 assists, +3 in 25:58)

1st 🌟 Sidney Crosby, Pens (overtime winner, 11-and-4 on draws, +1 in 18:50)

Stat of Game:

Giveaways

NYR 19 (Miller 5, Fox/Zibanejad 3)

Pens 12 (Ceci/Zucker/Joseph 2)

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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