Alright. I’ll come right out and say it. I’m sick and tired of losing to the Penguins. I could care less if the Rangers have been competitive in four of the five losses to our old Patrick Division rival. It’s now bordering on absurd how they lose these games.
The final statistics said they held a 35-27 edge in shots, out-attempted their opponent 65-48 and out-hit them 58-37. They even won more face-offs going 35-for-64. The numbers lied. So, they won at everything except where it mattered most. The final score. The Pens won the sixth meeting by hanging on for a 4-2 home win in front of limited fans. Don’t let the 4-2 score fool you. It was really another one-goal game the Rangers lost until Sidney Crosby scored into an empty net in the waning seconds.
The truth is this. When push comes to shove, the Rangers aren’t on the same level as a flawed Pens team that got enough big saves late from Tristan Jarry to pull out the win. In six of eight match-ups against them, the Rangers have one total win so far. Just embarrassing. Any way you slice it, it’s bad. I could care less if they got two extra points in overtime and shootout defeats. It still counts the same. They can take their 1-3-2 record and stick it where the sun don’t shine. In reality, they’re 1-5 versus a bitter rival. There are two games left at MSG. Who cares.
By predictably losing for a second straight time to their Kryptonite, the Rangers are back to reality. They’re again under NHL .500 at 10-11-3. Even better, they next must face the Bruins in Boston for a two-game series on Thursday and Saturday. They’re 1-3 versus them. So, if you figure it out, this team has two victories in 10 combined games against Pittsburgh and Boston. That’s why they are where they are in the division.
If you can’t beat the good teams consistently, you won’t have any shot at the playoffs. Not that I was expecting it. I’m not like other people or Larry Brooks, who got fooled into thinking this team was good enough. On what planet are they better than the Islanders, Bruins, Penguins, Capitals or Flyers? It’s going as expected. The next game will be the 25th of 56. We’re almost at the halfway mark. That’s a good indicator of where the Rangers are.
By committing one too many mistakes, they spoiled an otherwise good Rangers debut from veteran goalie Keith Kinkaid. Making his first start in over a year, the former Devil acquitted himself well. None of the three goals the Pens scored were his fault. In fact, if not for some clutch stops including a big one on a clean breakaway, the Rangers would’ve trailed 3-1 a lot sooner than they did. Kinkaid made the saves he was supposed to against a familiar opponent he’s had success against. He finished with 23 saves on 26 shots to fall to 6-4-2 against Pittsburgh.
The problem was the costly errors the team made. They got off to a good start thanks to former Pen Jack Johnson having his shot deflect off Pittsburgh defenseman John Marino past Jarry for a 1-0 lead at 9:16 of the first period. Chris Kreider made a good hit to take a Pen off the puck and set up Julien Gauthier for a shot that came back to him. The right wing then skated around the net and passed for a vacated Johnson, whose shot went in for his first as a Ranger. He deserved it. Johnson has been better lately even if he’s played through an injury according to David Quinn.
It was mostly Pens in the first with them establishing a forecheck. Thinking shot first, they bombarded Kinkaid with 16. He was very sharp. In fact, had his team not imploded with over a minute left, the Blueshirts take a one-goal lead to the locker room. Instead, Ryan Lindgren was checked off the puck by Sidney Crosby. Sure. His stick broke as excuse maker Joe Micheletti pointed out. But if Crosby hadn’t pressured him along the boards, his composite stick doesn’t break. He failed to clear the zone. Crosby perfectly passed across for Jake Guentzel, who whipped a laser top shelf inside the bar past Kinkaid to tie it up with 1:06 left.
Kinkaid wasn’t the only lineup change. Johnson returned for Libor Hajek, who got the night off. Colin Blackwell also replaced the ineffective Brendan Lemieux on the fourth line. By now, the coaching staff should realize that Blackwell adds more than Lemieux, who I wouldn’t mind sitting out again on Thursday. But they’ll probably reinsert him for Phil Di Giuseppe even though he had seven hits. Brett Howden isn’t coming out because they prefer him to center the fourth line and kill penalties. He won four of seven draws.
If there was a sore spot in the loss, it was the dreadful power play. Although they did eventually get back in it on their third attempt when Ryan Strome had his shot pass bank off Marino in the third period, the first two power plays stunk. They got nothing accomplished on either. The first was your typical Strome pass for a misfired Mika Zibanejad dying quail into the glove of Jarry. Had he got good wood on it, he could’ve scored. The short side was open. But Zibanejad can’t score even when the opportunity presents itself. What a waste.
A Mike Matheson trip of Howden 55 seconds into the second in a tie game should’ve resulted in something positive. Instead, the second power play unit turned over pucks repeatedly until they handed Teddy Blueger a gift. On several fumbles where they couldn’t get out of their own way, Blueger eventually came out with the puck on a pass from Brandon Tanev. He then completely abused a flat-footed K’Andre Miller, going right around him and in to beat Kinkaid for a shorthanded goal at 2:40. The sad part is it came directly after they let defensive defenseman Brian Dumoulin get a good shot on Kinkaid. It was an embarrassment.
They weren’t done making mistakes. In an evenly played second period where the Rangers had a slight edge in shots (13-10), they were unable to establish a good cycle. It was a lot of one and done. The third line featuring Gauthier, Filip Chytil and Kevin Rooney (8-and-3 on face-offs) was their best. They got things done and were effective. Kaapo Kakko was very noticeable too. He was active during offensive shifts and did some good things. If only they could’ve forced Jarry out of his comfort zone.
The game remained one-goal until the final minute of the period. On relentless forecheck pressure from the Evgeni Malkin unit, the top pair of Adam Fox and Lindgren got pinned in their end with the third line. Struggling to clear the zone or even take an icing, eventually they got burned. With both Lindgren and Fox gassed, Malkin got the puck in front to Kasperi Kapanen, who made a nice move around Fox and scored from the slot with just over 20 seconds remaining. It was a backbreaking goal that gave Pittsburgh a two-goal lead entering the third period.
If you’re a good team, you can’t give up goals like that. Not in the final minute. And definitely not like the ridiculous shorthanded goal they handed to Blueger as if he were Mario Lemieux. They were the better team when it mattered. Even if they’re not quite what they were, their best is still good enough to win these games. It’s why it’ll probably go down to the wire for the playoffs between them and one of the other top four.
In the third, the Pens opted to sit back. It almost proved costly. A lazy Crosby holding minor at the 3:11 mark allowed the Rangers to pull within one only seven seconds later. A face-off win allowed them to get set up. Fox passed for Buchnevich, who got the puck over for Strome. He clearly intended to take a low shot for Kreider in front. However, his low shot went off Marino and in for his first power play goal of the season at 3:18. It was his ninth. After a slow start, Strome continues to perform well. So does Buchnevich, who picked up an assist to give him a team-leading 20th point.
In a period where they had their shots (15) and chances, the Rangers never could break through. For most of it, the Pens had at least three guys back to limit the damage. Jarry made the stops when he had to. It wasn’t until the final frantic minutes that things got interesting.
With the Pens not registering one shot on Kinkaid, the Rangers kept coming. They were more aggressive than prior. But when they finally generated the high danger chances they wanted, Jarry made the save of the game by stoning Buchnevich on the doorstep. Off a great pass across from Zibanejad, Buchnevich looked to have the game tied up. Instead, a sliding Jarry got over to deny his bid with over two minutes left. He would get one more that Jarry also got. Jacob Trouba would do his usual and send a shot wide.
It really felt like they would find a way to force overtime. But it wasn’t to be. Instead, Crosby scored unassisted from center ice into a vacated net with 33 seconds left to ice it. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Another frustrating loss to the Pens. Two in a row after their first winning streak. Even if it came against worse competition. Ultimately, they were outscored 9-3 in the two games. That won’t get it done. Period.
I don’t give a crap if Artemi Panarin missed his eighth straight game. Of course, they’re a better team with him. But every team is without good players in this crazy year. For the Rangers, even crazier. That’s all I’ll say. I have no clue when Panarin will be back. Hopefully, it gets straightened out soon. For now, they have to find a way without him.
It would help if Zibanejad didn’t have nine points (3-6-9) in 24 games. I know it’s a bit early. But who would you rather keep? Strome, who produces better and is more involved with an average cap hit of $4.5 million. Or Zibanejad, who is clearly not the same player we saw last year, and has an AAV of $5.35 million. Right now, that’s up for debate. You know who’ll cost more over the long-term. Zibanejad is more dynamic having recorded 41 goals last year including a five-goal game. Strome has proven he doesn’t need Panarin to produce. He fits in.
The Rangers must also make a tough decision on key restricted free agent Buchnevich, who should command around $5.25 million. Maybe more depending on the negotiating. He can sign for a year and turn unrestricted like the aforementioned Zibanejad and Strome next year.
There are going to be some interesting choices management will have to make starting this summer. Not that that matters right now. If they can’t get one of the next two games at Boston, maybe the season is over. At some point, they have to make up ground. That can’t be done by only winning games versus lowly Buffalo or dominating the Devils, who don’t forget took the first two at MSG. There are more games left with the Flyers, Caps and Islanders. Those are the ones they must do better in.
Right now, they’re mediocre. I’m not here to spin it like Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti do on MSG. That’s for losers. You are what your record says you are. 10-11-3. Really 10-14. That’s not good enough.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Teddy Blueger, Pens (shorthanded goal, 2 SOG, 2 blocks, 9-and-5 on draws in 15:37)
2nd 🌟 Brian Dumoulin, Pens (assist, 6 hits, 3 blocked shots, +3 in 22:44)
1st 🌟 Tristan Jarry, Pens (33 saves including 14 of 15 in 3rd)