Rangers implode following Zibanejad’s first even strength goal in bad 5-1 loss to Penguins


It started out well enough. On Jacob Trouba’s first shift back from a broken thumb, he made a good defensive play to Pavel Buchnevich, who made a strong play along the boards to send Mika Zibanejad and Alexis Lafreniere on a two-on-one break. This time, Zibanejad out waited Pittsburgh starting goalie Casey DeSmith and went short side top shelf to finally get his first even strength goal of the season at 1:18.

Unfortunately, wasted opportunities following that goal proved costly for the Rangers, who had a three-game win streak snapped in a bad 5-1 loss to the Pens in Pittsburgh. It all fell apart suddenly. After getting nine of the first 10 shots on DeSmith, who was a bit lucky as Zibanejad sent a point blank backhand rebound just wide of the net, the Rangers imploded.

With Sidney Crosby in the penalty box for tripping up Chris Kreider, the Blueshirts were miserable on the power play. They got nothing set up and were sloppy on entries, resulting in easy Pittsburgh clears. Only a Kaapo Kakko unscreened shot from the left circle was on goal with DeSmith easily smothering it. The power outage and Zibanejad near miss turned the game around.

Following Evgeni Malkin falling into the Rangers net occupied by Alex Georgiev, who David Quinn gave a second consecutive start in a back-to-back, Ryan Lindgren took a lazy penalty when he took down Crosby to put the Pens on the power play.

Even though the Rangers did a solid job on the penalty kill, Pittsburgh would strike late. As the power play was expiring, defenseman John Marino took a wrist shot from a good angle with traffic that beat Georgiev far side over the blocker at 16:13. It wasn’t a great goal. Georgiev was off his angle a little bit to give Marino enough room to tie the game up with 3:47 left.

What happened next was inexplicable. Following a stoppage, a neutral zone face-off turned into a fire drill. A Malkin pass off the boards trapped two Rangers. Then Jared McCann passed for an open Kasper Kapanen, who escaped K’Andre Miller. Miller fell down to cause a breakaway for Kapanen. In alone on Georgiev, he picked high glove on a good deke to put the Penguins ahead 39 seconds later. Georgiev hasn’t been good on breakaways this year. He isn’t making enough critical stops. Though it’s hard to put it on him. It was a total breakdown.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Crosby then struck only 22 seconds later to give the Pens three consecutive goals over a 61-second span. On the scoring play, this was some very poor defense from the reliable top pair of Adam Fox and Lindgren. After Kris Letang passed the puck to D partner Brian Dumoulin, he made an outlet for an attacking Crosby, who blew past a passive Fox and split Lindgren to fire a wrist shot past Georgiev for his eighth with 2:46 left. It was again a high shot glove side that got past the backup goalie. All three Pittsburgh goals went high.

At that point, Quinn had seen enough. After allowing three goals on six shots, Georgiev was lifted in favor of former Devil Keith Kinkaid. A well traveled veteran since his miraculous run where he backstopped the Devils into the postseason a few years ago, Kinkaid was the backup with Igor Shestyorkin still out due to the mild groin strain he suffered on Thursday night. It’s interesting to note that Kinkaid had a winning record versus the Pens in his career. Much of it coming for New Jersey. Ultimately, Quinn opted to stick with Georgiev, who continues to struggle in back-to-back games.

I know this will sound like the ultimate second guess. But prior to the game, I actually thought they should’ve given Kinkaid the start. Sometimes, the element of surprise is good. He won both his starts with Hartford and is capable. Maybe it was just a hunch.

In a game I didn’t see much of following the promising start, it sounds like Kinkaid played well in relief. He had to contend with a Pittsburgh five-on-three power play thanks to another bench minor followed by a Zibanejad slash. He made nine saves in the second period to keep his team afloat. That included a couple of key stops. Overall, Kinkaid made 16 saves on 18 shots. The two that beat him late in the third weren’t his fault.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the loss was the Rangers reverting. They had too many costly defensive miscues that led directly to goals against. If you really break it down, four of the five goals the Pens scored weren’t earned. That’s goals two through five. The defense was lousy. It started with Miller tripping and watching Kapanen score. Then Fox and Lindgren stood and let Crosby go by for a goal. The fourth and fifth goals were brutal.

In a game where they didn’t establish much of a forecheck, they melted down to turn it into a blowout. On more poor defense from Lindgren and Brendan Smith, Malkin was able to easily bury a Kapanen pass across for his sixth at 13:57. Token resistance.

Then, Zach Aston-Reese got behind Smith and Libor Hajek to break in and beat Kinkaid for his fifth from Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev with 3:23 remaining for the fifth straight Pittsburgh goal. Awful.

It was a night to forget. I saw a lot of overreaction to this loss from our schizo fan base. Sometimes, teams have bad games. Had they been able to get that second goal on DeSmith (23 saves), maybe we’re talking about a different game. They did a lot of good things in the first period before that bad minute. Something Trouba referenced when discussing his return with Mollie Walker. But they weren’t able to recover.

What they must do is put this one behind them. It happened. There’s no sense dwelling on it. There’s a rematch tomorrow night. It’s imperative for them to win that game. Especially with what’s ahead. At the moment, the Rangers are two up and seven down against Pittsburgh and Boston. Sure. They got some points in three. Who cares. They need to turn that around.

In this division, you can’t just rely on beating the bottom feeders. Here’s a kicker. The Devils picked themselves up and went into Boston and shutout the Bruins behind Scott Wedgewood. They’ve won three games out of four versus them. Go figure. Anything can happen in these divisional match-ups. That’s proof.

I didn’t quite understand playing Phil Di Giuseppe (9:53) over Colin Blackwell. Sure. He’s cooled off. But he plays with grit and brings energy. Is it that important to roll out Brett Howden every night for his penalty killing? Ditto for Brendan Lemieux.

Quinn told reporters he was undecided about who would get the start on Tuesday. Shestyorkin did travel with the team. My advice is simple. Don’t rush him back. Groins can be tricky. It’s not worth the risk. If I were a betting man, I’d expect Kinkaid to get the rematch with Georgiev backing up.

This was the seventh consecutive game Artemi Panarin missed. I have no idea what’s going on there. It’s obviously a very personal matter. Family comes before anything. Let’s hope he doesn’t miss too much more. I hope it gets resolved. They need him.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 John Marino, Pens (tying goal, +3 in 20:38)

2nd 🌟 Kasperi Kapanen, Pens (breakaway goal plus 2 🍎, +2 in 14:39)

1st 🌟 Evgeni Malkin, Pens (goal plus 🍎, +1 in 16:49)

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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