The New York Rangers’ seven-game streak abruptly ended on Monday night, as they dropped a hard-fought 3-2 decision to their Metropolitan Division rival Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
From the Pens fans sarcastically chanting Igor Shesterkin’s name to them booing Jacob Trouba, the atmosphere was reminiscent of last season’s playoff series, where the Blueshirts rallied from a 3-1 deficit while being down in each elimination game to win the series on Artemi Panarin’s game seven overtime tally at MSG.
But in the team’s first encounter since that fateful night, the Penguins had the last laugh for their eighth win in nine games and will hold bragging rights until the teams meet three times in six days in the middle of March. Here are some takeaways from the game:
A FAST START:
You literally couldn’t have drawn it up any better. The Rangers needed the fast start as the road team in a hostile environment and netted one 22 seconds in when Vincent Trocheck fed Chris Kreider, who slid it past Tristan Jarry for a quick 1-0 lead.
But following that goal, New York’s offense sputtered and was kept at bay until the latter half of the third period as Jarry was exceptional with an abundance of fine saves, finishing with 26 of them to be exact, while also reaping the benefits. of some puck luck along the. way.
POOR SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Rangers’ potent power play and top-ranked penalty kill let them down in this one, as they went a combined 1/6 and saw Pittsburgh score twice to seize control of the contest for good. The first one came following the Blueshirts going 0/3 on their man advantage when K’Andre Miller was boxed for interference.
On the ensuing power play, the Rangers failed to get the puck out of the zone, and Evgeni Malkin made them pay, rifling the disc past a screened Shesterkin courtesy of Rikard Rakell to tie it. Minutes later, an undisciplined penalty by Sammy Blais, where he retaliated against Brock McGinn, gave Pittsburg another power play.
The fact that Blais never saw the ice again for the rest of the evening tells me Julien Gauthier should be in the lineup on Thursday at MSG against the New York Islanders.
I’ve avoided criticizing Blais because he’s returning from an ACL injury he sustained early last season. He has been a physical presence and is good at driving play toward the net despite not having a goal for his efforts as a Blueshirt. The 26-year-old forward is on a one-year contract worth $1.525 million and is set to become a free agent in July.
The man the Rangers acquired from the ST Louis Blues alongside a second-round pick(Which they used to pry Andrew Copp from the Winnipeg Jets before he signed with the Red Wings this past Summer) for Pavel Buchnevich in a salary-dump move has made that trade worse by the day. It doesn’t help matters that Buchnevich is having a terrific season in the first of his four-year,$5.8AAV extension with 23 points in 10 games.
As Anthony Scultore at foreverblueshirts.com noted, this should be an easy decision for GM Chris Drury because he has young prospect Will Cuylle waiting in the wings at Hartford.
"“With the Rangers in dire need of cap space for 2023-24, there was very little chance that Blais was going to get a contract from Drury. Not with Will Cuylle developing quickly in Hartford.Cuylle, 20, has 7 goals and 12 points in 25 matches with the Wolf Pack this season. He’s only in the first year of his three-year entry-level contract that comes with a team-friendly AAV of $828K. So whether it happens later this season or at the start of next, Cuylle will be replacing Blais in the lineup.”"
Blais’s time in the bin on Tuesday didn’t last long, as the Pens took a 2-1 lead when Bryan Rust defected one home with 12.7 seconds remaining to take the lead heading into the second intermission. If New York thought they would be given a lifeline in the third period with a power play, they didn’t get one as Pittsburg put the clamps down defensively, making their opponents earn every inch of ice, and the Rangers almost overcame that anyway.
The third period saw the Penguins maintain momentum with early offensive zone pressure, as they socked an insurance tally when Sidney Crosby hopped off the bench, got behind the Rangers’ defense, and scored to make it a 3-1 game. New York got back in it moments later when Kreider recorded his second goal of the night on another feed from Trocheck.
Looking for the equalizer, Gerard Gallant juggled up his lines in hopes of a spark, as Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Barclay Goodrow became the new first line and did everything but score. They had extended zone and kept the Penguins’ defense honest, but Adam Fox sent two wrist shots over the net, and that was all.
Suddenly with 43 seconds left, Zibanejad had an open lane and walked in but was tripped by Brian Dumoulin, which should’ve led to a penalty shot, but referee Wes McCauley didn’t call it. When Jarry stonewalled Panarin in the waning seconds, the win streak was officially over.
“Pretty tight game. I feel like it could’ve gone the other way, especially if I capitalized on some of those chances I had”, Chris Kreider said, which couldn’t have been more accurate. One of the “chances” that comes to mind is the two-on-one short-handed chance that Jarry denied Kreider on moments before Rust’s power-play goal.
There were numerous hesitations from Zibanejad, who passed up on at least three wide-open shots where he could’ve used his trademark one-timer. Another example of missed opportunities came as New York’s second of three power plays wound down when Kaapo Kakko tried to find Alexis Lafreniere behind the net instead of shooting it himself while in the slot area.
However, nothing says missed opportunities like hitting posts, and Rangers painstakingly rang iron three more times in the contest, increasing their league-leading total to 41 on the season. The guy who has the most is Trocheck(10), who hit his usual post in the first period, and so did Kappo Kakko in the second, before Filip Chytil’s wrist shot later in that frame joined the collection.