Hungry and determined Rangers get an important win over Penguins


Igor Shestyorkin is congratulated by happy teammate Chris Kreider, whose power play goal stood as the game-winner in a well deserved 3-1 Rangers win over the Penguins. AP Photo by New York Rangers courtesy Getty Images

If ever a team needed a win, it was the Rangers in tonight’s Garden rematch against the Penguins. Coming off all the drama following the 5-4 overtime loss this past weekend that led to Tony DeAngelo’s dismissal, the Rangers sure showed a lot of grit and hustle to defeat the Penguins 3-1.

The win was their second over the last three and gave them five points of the last six. Their first victory versus the Pens in four tries improved them to 3-4-1 overall. While it’s not great, they’re hanging around in a competitive East Division. Something a pleased coach David Quinn was quick to point out in the postgame. He had reason to be happy. They showed a lot of hunger and determination to earn the win with a good third period.

Without Kaapo Kakko (COVID-19 Protocol) and playing with five defensemen the last two periods due to a scary collision between Brendan Smith and Brandon Tanev that likely put Smith in concussion protocol, the Blueshirts delivered an important win on home ice. Even if their opponent continued to struggle by taking the collar on six power plays, it was the pesky play of the guys in Broadway blue that earned this one. Their penalty kill was superb throughout and they got better at even strength as the game went on.

It started off slowly. A bit off track, the Rangers fell behind in the first period when Jason Zucker outmuscled K’Andre Miller to steer in a Chad Ruhwedel wide carom before Igor Shestyorkin could get back in time. On the play, Evgeni Malkin stripped the puck from Jacob Trouba and sent it up top for the wide Ruhwedel shot that an out of position Shestyorkin couldn’t recover from. With Miller unable to take Zucker, the forward stuffed home the puck before Shestyorkin got back for a 1-0 lead at 9:05.

But in a period where the Penguins drew two penalties for consecutive power plays, they failed to take advantage of either. After killing off a Jonny Brodzinski hooking minor with ease due to the lack of confidence from their opponent, the Rangers went back on the kill when Trouba lost a battle and slashed a driving Sidney Crosby with 1:11 left in the period. Once again, it was the aggressive penalty kill that got the job done by also denying the Pens on the last 49 seconds to start the second period.

In fact, the Pittsburgh power play was so futile that at one point, Chris Kreider went one on four and nearly scored shorthanded in the second. He definitely has looked better lately. He has more jump and is very noticeable. He would be a factor later on.

Newcomer Anthony Bitetto was solid in his Rangers debut. While he did take a minor penalty, the defensive defenseman from Island Park played a good game. He finished checks and didn’t make any glaring mistakes. Even after losing partner Smith to an upper body injury, Bitetto was still rotated in enough from Quinn so they didn’t over rely on the top four of Miller-Trouba and Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox. In 20 shifts (14:51), he finished with four hits and two blocked shots. That included 80 seconds shorthanded.

For a while, it seemed like the Rangers couldn’t get anything going offensively. After testing Casey DeSmith with nine shots in the opening period that was more controlled by the Penguins, who got off 12 on Shestyorkin, there really wasn’t much happening. The middle stanza was tightly contested between a pair of fragile teams. The lack of confidence from the Pens on their power play came back to haunt them.

If there was a highlight during the game, it was the consistent play from the Rangers’ bottom six forwards. With Mika Zibanejad continuing to struggle at five-on-five and even on the man-advantage, it was the lunchpail work ethic of guys like Brendan Lemieux, Julien Gauthier, Kevin Rooney and Phil Di Giuseppe that were factors on the forecheck. Ditto for Brett Howden, whose fight with Kasperi Kapanen at the end of the first was a wake up call. When your top guns aren’t going, sometimes you need it from those hardworking secondary players.

In fact, it was that yeoman effort which got rewarded. On a delayed penalty with Panarin out as the extra man for a six-on-five, Ryan Lindgren worked the puck over to Panarin. He let go of a innocent looking wrist shot that took a weird hop right in front where a hustling Rooney was able to find the puck and bank it in off the goal stick of DeSmith to the the score with 2:18 remaining. He sure deserved it. It gave him goals in two straight. Not bad for a fourth line center, who’s been a solid addition to the penalty kill. Just like he was for the Devils.

Even after the tying goal, Lindgren got caught flat-footed and tripped up a driving Brandon Tanev with under a minute left. Ironically, it was the play of the Pens third line with Tanev, Teddy Blueger and Jared McCann that were their most effective. They were around the puck a lot and drew penalties. At five-on-five, Malkin still struggled despite picking up an assist on the Zucker goal. He hasn’t looked right.

If there was a key moment for the Blueshirts prior to the tying marker, it was when Sidney Crosby skated around Fox and sent one of those sizzling backhands off the crossbar. Afterwards, he smiled and shared a laugh with Fox. That’s how dangerous Crosby is. He has one of the best backhands I’ve ever seen. The accuracy along with the velocity he can get on it is something else. Shestyorkin should thank his goalpost for that because it proved to be important. So did this save on a sneaky Crosby.

With the Pittsburgh power play still firing blanks spanning the second and start of the third period, the Rangers started to take control. They began forechecking the Pens defense more. After not connecting on the first Ruhwedel penalty drawn by Lemieux, they pressed the action. Eventually, Ruhwedel made a mistake by sending the puck out of play for one of those mindless delay of game minors with 9:03 left.

After the stoppage, the Rangers finally made it work thanks to some execution between Fox and Kreider. Panarin got the puck over to Fox up top. With Kreider in position, he let go of a simple wrist shot that Kreider was able to tip in for a power play goal with 8:50 remaining in regulation. It gave him three goals over his last four. He’s heating up. I definitely think he deserves to be captain. But that’s not my call.

Even though they had the better of the play, Shestyorkin still had to come up with nine saves in the period. That included a tough one through traffic that he fought through to find. He still looks like he’s not all there. But that could be due to lack of repetition.

Overall, Shestyorkin had a good game finishing with 25 saves. That included 17 even strength, seven power play and one shorthanded. He had one nice clear while on the penalty kill. An area he excels at. It’s high time he got consecutive starts with an aggravated Capitals visiting MSG on Thursday following blowing a three-goal lead in a 5-3 loss to Boston.

A Gauthier hold on Jake Guentzel behind the net handed Pittsburgh a sixth opportunity on the power play. Even though it looked better, they could only muster two shots including a Malkin drive that Shestyorkin kept out. Even with John Marino and rookie Pierre-Olivier Joseph getting power play duty, it didn’t matter. The Pens have no confidence on it. That was a big reason the Rangers won. They wanted it more.

The play of the game was made by Miller. On a dangerous Pens chance where Trouba collided into Shestyorkin leaving him down, Miller hustled to make a diving block of a shot ticketed for the top of the net. If he doesn’t make that play, who knows what happens. It was outstanding. Even on a night he fought it, the rookie defenseman stayed focused enough to stick with it. He really bailed out Trouba and Shestyorkin.

Mike Sullivan lifted DeSmith with over two minutes left. But the Rangers did a good job protecting the lead. Something that’s been a bugaboo. Trouba threw a good check on a frustrated Malkin and Miller made a good defensive play. It led to Panarin coming out two-on-one with sidekick Ryan Strome. He wanted to get the puck over to Strome for the empty net, but the pass was deflected.

However, a hustling Panarin picked up the loose puck behind the net and came around and fired it into the open net as the buzzer sounded. It indeed counted with 0.6 seconds left to give the Bread Man a three-point (1-2-3) night. He danced his way off with happier teammates.

What a difference 48 hours make. Even the past several due to what happened. That’s all in the past now. The Rangers have a chance to build on the win. It won’t be easy against Washington, who lost for the first time in regulation. However, if there’s ever a time where the team needs to come together, this is it. There won’t be a game this Saturday due to a COVID-19 breakout with the Devils. Their next three games are postponed.

This was a character builder for the Blueshirts. It came at the right time.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Kevin Rooney, Rangers (game-tying goal at 17:42 of 2nd, 2 blocks, +1 in 13:36 including 3:46 shorthanded)

2nd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, Rangers (goal, two 🍎, +1 in 19:37)

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, Rangers (4th of season on power play for GWG, 3 SOG on 5 attempts in 17:56)

Key Stats of Game

Blocked Shots

NYR 20 (Fox 5, Miller 3)

Pens 13 (Marino 3)

Face-offs

Pens 34 (Crosby 16-and-7)

NYR 14 (Howden 4-and-6)

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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