Distraught Lundqvist, Rangers Fall in Pittsburgh

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

In a game which started with end-to-end action, physical play, and stellar goal tending, things went from bad to worse when after surrendering three goals in the final minutes of the second period, the Rangers found themselves without Henrik Lundqvist to close out the game due to an undisclosed injury.

As expected, Rangers – Penguins opened with edge-of-you-seat excitement. Early on, the ice was wide open and both teams had a slew of chances. However, spectacular net-minding on both ends kept it scoreless after one. McIlrath, who found himself in the lineup after Staal went down with the flu, set the physical tone early with a booming hit in front of his own bench. Stalberg followed in his footsteps and was involved in several collisions during the first, contributing to the 17 overall hits in the period.

The questionable Rangers penalty kill was tested early but stood up to the task. Kevin Hayes had some PK time, which is something I think AV should consider doing more often in a unit which has not lived up to success Rangers’ fans grew accustomed to in recent years.

The Rangers success in generating rushes early was due in part to quick, crisp breakouts. The Rangers did an excellent job of getting the puck out on the first attempt by making smart plays with the puck, rather than blindly wrapping the puck up the wall.

The second period started no different, with a number of quality scoring chances by both teams. With about six and a half minutes remaining, in interesting chain of events would determine the outcome of the game. On an odd man rush, McDonagh back-checked a rush towards his own end with serious speed, got spun around and collided with Lundqvist taking him down hard. Hank proceeded to lose his stick, and his temper, throwing the net off the pegs after the officials failed to give him the stoppage in play he was looking for. Anyone who watches Lundqvist play, even sparingly, was taken back by the outrage the mild-mannered Swede exhibited. Seemingly healthy, Hank and the team went on down a man from his delay of game penalty, which was abbreviated thanks to a Kessel slashing call.

After the special teams concluded, Hayes (who may have been the strongest Ranger tonight) created a scoring chance for Eric Staal with a nifty behind the back pass, but Staal failed to squeeze it through the short side. From here on, things would get better before getting worse.

Thanks to a Crosby penalty, the Rangers Power Play got an opportunity and seized its chance. McDonagh started the play off with a stretch pass to the opposing blue line, hitting Zucc who touched it to Kreider coming off the bench. On a sharp angle shot from outside the dot, Kreids tallied his third goal in four games.

On an ensuing rush Moore nearly made it 2-0 after Glass created a turnover behind the Fleury’s goal line which sent the puck squirting out towards Dom in the slot who could not get a clean shot attempt off. The Pens went the other way, with Crosby taking the puck wide on Girardi and hit the outside of the post on a quick shot. Girardi abandoned his man and broke for the corner anticipating the puck’s end location. However, the puck caromed off the end wall right back to Sid where he got just enough on the re-direct with one hand on his stick to send it behind Hank who was off his post.

Just 21 seconds later, Malkin found the back of the net. Kunitz deflected a slap-pass from the point up to Malkin who was streaking down from the top of the circle untouched and ripped into the back of the net.

As Anthony hinted, this may have been a good opportunity to take a timeout. But, AV dismissed the opportunity to slow Pittsburgh’s charge after two quick goals.

On a subsequent rush, Hornqvist chipped the puck past Yandle, who proceeded to angle the attacking forward off into the wall, taking him down and receiving two for interference. Capping off the scoring flurry, Hornqvist tipped a directed shot by Kessel on the Power Play past Henrik. Three goals in less than three minutes was seemingly the worst it could get.

When the third period broke, Anti Raanta took the crease. Speculation began to unfold as Henrik did not leave the locker room after intermission and the Rangers declined to comment until after the game. In a post-game interview, AV announced that the King was experiencing neck spasms, and Jim Ramsey decided it was best to sideline #30 for the remainder of the game. Based on this, many fears were subsided and the suspicion that Henrik had received a concussion was put to bed.

In the third period, the Rangers did not come out with the offensive spark needed to create a comeback. With just one shot in the first half of the period, the Penguins sit-back and defend style of play eliminated any possible momentum swing in New York’s favor. For much of the last 20 minutes, the Rangers were held to perimeter shots and forced passes which failed to find a teammate’s stick. Furthermore, the pressure generated off the rush was non-existent. In need of an offensive chance, Raanta went to the bench for an extra man just passed the 3-minute mark. With the puck in the attacking zone, Kreider made an ill-advised blind pass right to a Penguin stick, sparking an easy breakout where Kessel put it out of reach with an empty net goal.

Some additional notes, Eric Staal has not yet found a home on this team. Yes, his days on the team are young. Tonight, Staal found himself bouncing around the lineup looking for chemistry in a number of different combinations. As a result, there were extended periods of time where he failed to touch the ice, like the first five minutes of the third. I do not expect this to be resolved overnight with no practice time between now and the matchup vs. the Caps. Hopefully this learning curve will be overcome sooner rather than later, so Staal can become comfortable and produce down the stretch and carry that into the playoffs. I will say, he has made himself available in a number of scoring chances, and his defensive zone presence is a bright sport in his game. For those keeping track, Staal had 14:24 TOI, about 2 minutes longer than Moore and 2 minutes shorter than Zuccarello.

Next, McIlrath totally changes the tone of the game when he is dressed. Laying even “small” hits on the opposition makes attacking forwards hesitate when they get a pass along the wall. This can be very valuable in disrupting quick-rush teams in the playoffs. If we see Rath play regular minutes in the post season is another discussion.

Last points are concerning Fast, who started the game on the second line. First, if AV expects to plug in Nash where Fast was tonight, I have no problem with this. Keep as little pieces moving and simply swap Fast out when he returns makes sense. However, seeing Fast be in the top-6 the last few weeks makes it apparent that he is not a scorer or playmaker, and thus not a top-6 guy. He is a phenomenal role player with a top hockey IQ and great vision on the ice. Maybe he was put into this role because he can be trusted and makes little mistakes, but no one should not be looking for him to produce offensively, which we can see does not happen.

Sit on it for a few hours and forget it. Another tough task is at hand tomorrow in the form of the East’s best team. Be frustrated over this loss but show up to the rink with it out of your mind. Tonight’s game will not determine the remainder of the year. If AV’s comments were accurate and Henrik’s injury does not appear to be long-term, our worst fears of losing the key to this team faded. On to the next.


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