A Covid Shot to the playoffs, Vaccinated Rangers turn into the gang that can’t shoot straight in a brutal loss to grittier Penguins


Filip Chytil somehow missed this golden opportunity to score in a frustrating second period that swung the momentum towards the Penguins, who wanted it more in a 5-2 win that crushed the Rangers’ playoff hopes. AP Photo by Spittin’ Chiclets via Instagram

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Try the one above on for size. Look at how wide open Filip Chytil is with a gaping net to shoot at during the second period. Tristan Jarry is not in the picture. It’s just Chytil and the net that he misfired on.

That photograph courtesy Spittin’ Chiclets on Instagram was an accurate indicator of a exasperating night of hockey played at 33rd and 8th. The Rangers couldn’t duplicate their performance from Tuesday. Instead, they saw their shadow in an all too predictable 5-2 loss to the Penguins at The World’s Most Masked Arena. Well, maybe I should change that to World’s Most Vaccinated Arena.

The big news item coming into tonight’s rematch was that the Rangers’ players received their Covid vaccinations. Never mind that they only got the first shot, which wasn’t advertised. Why would they when they’re pushing this month long process? Apparently, they got the least effective one shot deal by Johnson and Johnson. Yikes.

The truth is you need two shots to be fully vaccinated. Something I don’t understand or pretend to know anything about. It’s a better question for physicians and anyone in the Healthcare medical field. If I do decide to do it, that’s a personal choice. I won’t be revealing it on a public blog. For professional athletes or people who are around others daily, it makes sense to get it. Being safe is the wisest decision. I always am cautious and take precautions when I go out.

Here’s the kicker. If the Covid shot is anything like what happened to the Rangers, uh oh. 😐 They were shot alright. As in their playoff hopes. Combined with the Bruins defeating the Capitals 4-2 and the Jekyll and Hyde Flyers getting a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders, they look like burnt toast. As in you can forget about the playoffs, which was never realistic if you recall what John Davidson said before the season.

The real frustrating part is how mediocre the division is. The Bruins are skating by. The Pens are winning the hard way. Even the Caps and Isles aren’t perfect. And the Flyers are the most absurd team in hockey. Blown out several times including twice by the Rangers, who put up touchdowns or hit a couple of three-run home runs. Yet that team is still considered better record wise than our Blueshirts, who are their own worst enemy.

They can either show up and put on a clinic or mystify like a classic INXS song. There’s no in between with these schizo, bipolar Rangers. I wish someone told expert scribe Larry Brooks that before whatever column he wrote in Thursday’s NY Post. It’s hard to sustain the level of offense we’ve seen in some of the wins. Not even the best teams score six to seven goals daily. Even the defending champion Lightning have had lulls.

When you beat up a close rival the way they did the Pens by an 8-4 count, you better believe they’re going to come with a stronger effort. Contrary to popular belief, the ’21 Penguins aren’t as fast or skilled as the Blueshirts. If it’s a track meet, it favors the guys who wore the Statue of Liberty jerseys. The adjustment from Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan was simple. Close down the neutral zone and muck it up in the corners. That’s exactly the style the Rangers aren’t good at.

Making matters worse, David Quinn didn’t play his fourth line enough. They are the grinders. In a meat and potatoes game where Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad couldn’t even be found on a milk carton, this was the type of game you need your supporting cast for. Is it any wonder Kevin Rooney scored the second goal to at least make it respectable? I know what good buddy Sean M would say of Bluecollarblueshirts.com. He scored in garbage time. Technically, that’s true. But there was still enough time left at 4-2 down with 6:12 remaining.

They weren’t good enough. After a listless start that saw the shots at one point 13-1 in favor of the hungrier Penguins, here’s how I’d summarize the crap we got. Lost battles. Missed shots. Vanishing acts. And Covid shots that made the Rangers look like they were suffering some aftereffects. I’m kidding on that last point. You catch my drift. They stunk it up.

Where shall we point to for why they were outclassed by a better Pittsburgh team that has proven they don’t need to win fancy without Evgeni Malkin or Kasperi Kapanen? How about the Zibanejad blank he fired off the side of the net on a two-on-one shorthanded rush with Pavel “Deferment” Buchnevich? I think you know what I mean with Buch, who easily could’ve took the shot and scored that goal. But it is so Rangers to make the extra pass and then watch Zibanejad miss a gimme in an otherwise awful period.

Or was it the Chytil flub? On a great hustle play from Kaapo Kakko, who did everything right to set up Chytil for a wide open net. Instead, Chytil missed. The photo above doesn’t lie. Take a good look. This is something that has been a daily occurrence with this team. They are the masters of failing to score on empty nets. Mike AKA Esquire could cite a billion examples. If you don’t take advantage of your chances, you lose. It doesn’t matter who it is. In this case, two of the three Rangers’ top three centers.

Panarin decided to opt out completely. I guess his Covid shot had an adverse effect. He was abysmal. Ryan Strome wasn’t heard from. Oh. He was out there for shifts with different line mates by the time the third period was around. The portion where Coach Quinn put his lines in the blender. I swear this part of the blog isn’t sponsored by Vitamix which I put to good use to make smoothies.

Photo taken by Derek Felix

At least my smoothies never disappoint like our hockey team. Even the normally unflappable Adam Fox looked like pond scum defensively. It happens. He’s a terrific player and has already established himself as one of the best defensemen. But the notion he’s winning the Norris is absurd. He deserves to get votes. The 12-game point streak continued with an assist on the Rooney goal. He’s right there with top Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who’s only won one Norris. Anyone other than Hedman would be an insult to hockey. I have Fox in the top three with Hedman and Shea Theodore. Charlie McAvoy and Sam Girard in the top five. Watch them give it to Darnell Nurse. He’s got the gaudy statistics.

Here’s the thing. It can’t always be the top guns in these crucial games. Sometimes, you gotta get it from your secondary players. I wish Quinn understood that. By the third period, he had moved up Colin Blackwell and Vitaly Kravtsov with Zibanejad. Those two earned the promotion. It seems that the 21-year old Kravtsov is quite ready for the NHL. He once again nearly got on the score sheet by making a good play behind the net that lead to a good scoring chance. It drew a penalty. Kravtsov puts himself in the right areas driving the net while also being defensively responsible. No wonder he was flipped with Blackwell onto the second line at one point.

Speaking of Blackwell, he continues to silence the doubters. A guy who isn’t more than five-foot eight knows exactly where to go on the ice and make himself available like he did for the Rangers’ one power play goal. It was again scored by the second unit which the coaching staff finally rewarded after PP1 continued its mystifying pass, pass, pass nonsense. It’s amazing how simplicity can result in goals. Like the patience and spacing the second unit used with Kakko and Buchnevich setting up Blackwell for his 11th (3rd PPG) from the slot that got the Rangers even in the second. The idea that Blackwell shouldn’t stay is absurd. He is the new Jesper Fast. A gritty overachiever who outworks opponents.

I’ve pretty much outlined what went wrong and the little that went right. When the game got to 4-1 on just more laziness by the team, I flipped to the Flyers and Islanders. That’s how incensed I was. Of course, that bore and snore fest made me switch back to Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti, who was irate at Zibanejad for a very lazy clear attempt that resulted in a fluke Pens goal from Kris Letang. His shot ricocheted off Chris Kreider and in past a shell shocked Igor Shestyorkin. That critical goal answered the Blackwell tally.

The game really changed afterwards. On a night where our stars no-showed, Radim Zohorna haunted the Rangers. I’ve never heard of him before. But for a big forward, he sure skated well and made things happen. Zohorna scored his second goal and set up a pivotal Evan Rodriguez power play goal that put the Penguins up 3-1 during a wasted second period.

At the moment, Brendan Smith got an extra two for roughing with Sam Lafferty. I don’t even know why they call extra minors. Half the time, they aren’t justified. Smith wasn’t finished with Lafferty, engaging in an entertaining scrap a few minutes after he returned. I guess his Covid shot riled him up. At least he looked like he cared. His partner Libor Hajek got undressed by Zohorna in the first for his goal. At that time, Micheletti said Hajek was a step behind. He was being generous. It was a horrible read.

If not for Shestyorkin, the Pens would’ve been up by more. That’s how lackluster the Rangers looked. They were shot to use an appropriate term. I’m sure Dr. Anthony Fauci was as proud as MSG Network was. They celebrated this as if it were some huge achievement. It’s great to take positive steps to be healthy from this dangerous virus that’s continuing to spread like wildfire in Vancouver. So much for flattening the curve. You still don’t know what to expect. Hopefully, this will all end soon.

In a game that saw Shestyorkin stopped 27 of 31 shots including a dozen in a lopsided opening period, he really got no help. Too often, the more attacking Penguins were allowed to do what they wanted. Their approach was simple. Move the puck quickly. Cycle effectively. Get shots through with bodies to the net. The polar opposite of how the Rangers play.

That included lovable Pens captain Sidney Crosby, whose best opportunity came when he sent a short side wrist shot by Shestyorkin that rang off the near goalpost and stayed out. Even on a night he didn’t score, Crosby was visible. He would later draw the ire from the fans who attended for taking a lousy goalie interference penalty when he deliberately knocked into Shestyorkin. You would think they’d be happier because it gave the Blueshirts a power play. Instead, these yo-yo’s were chanting, “Crosby Sucks!”

And what if our team had capitalized on that power play gift from an all-time great who would be well on his way to 2,000 points if he didn’t miss 200 games? I don’t think these same misguided fans would’ve chanted such nonsense. Crosby’s selfish penalty negated a Pittsburgh power play. One drawn by this Zohorna fellow, who completely turned around a shot Fox who like I said, didn’t have it defensively. Had the Rangers scored on the abbreviated power play, it could’ve turned around the game. But they didn’t. It just wasn’t their night. I know how that sounds. But if you are on the MSG Rangers Playoffs Or Bust waving the pom poms, you had to realize what kind of game it was.

It’s also worth noting that during a four-on-four, the Rangers managed to let Mike Matheson get behind them for a breakaway. But Shestyorkin turned him aside. Matheson is a good skating offensive defenseman, who isn’t exactly known for his defense. He seems to be utilized better by Pittsburgh than in Florida, who expected too much.

The backbreaking goal came from Jason Zucker. On this one, it was another awful defensive sequence by the Rangers. With Strome on with Panarin and Chris Kreider, Rodriguez got the puck to Zucker who abused Jacob Trouba before finishing his sixth in front for a 4-1 Pittsburgh lead with 9:31 left. Game. Set. Match.

If I were to go back to a key part of the loss, it’s not only the Zibanejad and Chytil fired blanks. Late in the second, Kreider got a step on Cody Ceci to break in on Tristan Jarry. Ceci tripped him up from behind to negate a scoring chance. The refs made the right call by awarding Kreider a penalty shot with 2:01 remaining. Let’s just say it wasn’t the greatest attempt. Had he converted his third career penalty shot, it’s a one-goal game and the team has momentum entering the third. No surprise that Kreider is 0-for-3 on those penalty shots. At the end of the second, there was this discovery by Gillian Kemmerer.

So, our team got the vaccination and the equipment manager had this epic fail on the spelling of Kravtsov? Covid shots don’t work for the Rangers. Maybe they should’ve spelled it in Russian. I would rather see that like the back of my Russia 🇷🇺 Ovechkin jersey.

КРАВЦОВ = KRAVTSOV!

In some more encouraging news, I had my routine allergy shots the day before. Two in each arm. And no reaction. My arms never have any. I am told that if I choose to get the vaccine, it must be a week’s time between shots. That would mean no allergy shot for seven days. My allergies are bad too. I restarted them after a two decade hiatus last Fall due to my eyes getting really bad. I think it’s the humidity and pollen here. Living in NYC isn’t good for people who are allergic to trees, ragweed, pollen, dust and now cats. Yes. I am allergic to cats yet my last name is Felix. It might explain why I’m afraid of them. So much for being Felix The Cat 🐈.

It would be easy to have done a more conventional game review. But I was so upset with it that I opted not to. At one point, Rosen politely said, “Panarin has been very quiet.” That was Sam’s way of calling out Panarin for not having a good game. Outside of one one-timer that didn’t hit the mark on the power play and a good recovery following a giveaway where he got the puck back, you didn’t notice him.

Give credit to the Pens. They didn’t allow much open space. Brian Dumoulin also is a very underrated defensive defenseman who gets no credit. He had a real good hit early, but there was no response because it was clean. I wish that’s how hockey was played. If it’s a good hit, then play on. Hit back on the next shift. That’s the kind of honesty the game is lacking. We’ve seen Rosen call this out plenty. You can feel the frustration from him and Micheletti when a team responds to a clean hit by overreacting.

As far as the game’s Three Stars, I think I’ll let the Pens Twitter speak instead.

It’s a quick turnaround for the Rangers, who play their third game in four nights when they visit the Islanders off the Southern State in Nassau County. The same Islanders who won in the shootout thanks to Brock Nelson in Round Four and the goaltending of Ilya Sorokin. He’s the goalie Shestyorkin will be compared with. They’re both 25 and from Russia. Both KHL stars. Each with bright futures having good rookie years even if Igor’s numbers suffered thanks to the inconsistency from his team.

After getting five straight games, Shestyorkin gets Friday night off. It’ll be Alex Georgiev (remember him) in net for the Rangers. I would guess the Islanders would start Semyon Varlamov given how well he does versus them. It is a back-to-back. But Sorokin has played so well that he should get one of the two games this weekend. We know Shestyorkin will be back in on Sunday.

Georgiev last played on March 19. A hard luck one-goal loss to the Caps. He has good career numbers versus the Islanders. He’s only lost twice and posted two shutouts including a 23 save one back on Jan. 16. We’ll see if he can miraculously stay sharp as he has before during layoffs.

What I do know is this two-game series preempts Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline. What the Rangers do in these two games could determine how they approach the rest of the schedule. Sweep the series and get help. Then at least they can dream. But it’s the biggest Rivalry. Expect it to be tough with the Isles stealing Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from Tom Fitzgerald, who may as well still be a New York Islander after his quote about wanting the number 32 pick in the upcoming Draft. Imagine how Devils fans feel seeing that.

I think I’ve said plenty for one night. Until the next time.

Congrats go out to Zac Jones of UMass. They advanced to the Frozen Four Championship after dominating two-time defending champion Minnesota Duluth in overtime 3-2. Jones showed good promise by scoring a goal on a sweet wrist shot and made a good stick check to break up a chance. He definitely looks to have a bright future.

UMass will play St. Cloud State on Saturday for the title. Neither school has ever won the Frozen Four. So, history will be made. With no Rangers game on Saturday night, it might be worth the time to tune into the championship game. I think it’ll be on ESPN2.

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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