Amid all of the celebrations over the last few months, this space warned that things would not be the same once the Blueshirts faced better competition. On Thursday night the Rangers faced a higher level of opponent and were found lacking. The Crosby-less Penguins were better coached and worked harder in what would be a 4-1 victory over the Rangers. The Pens fought for pucks, won the little battles and had their star center show up as they broke the deadlock and pulled away in the third period.
As Mr. X from the Blue Seats astutely observed, Pittsburgh imposed their will right at the opening faceoff of that final frame and they did not relent. John Tortorella did not change his tactics and did not find any combination of forwards to spark his team. Pretty sure he didn't even bother to use his timeout at all either, even though Bylsma's boys scored twice in less than five minutes.
Just looked at that opening line again and it reads like a big fat 'told you so,' which was honestly not the intention. But even first place teams have flaws and - especially after those teams rise to the top - the other sides will work harder to exploit those flaws. The Rangers always had to take on the MSG factor, where visitors would want to impress on the best NHL stage in America. Now that the hype machine has gotten going and the owner shot off his big, ignorant mouth rivals will take things to an even higher notch. The Blueshirts have to respond in kind. Hopefully this loss will work as a gut check and the Rangers will reply with their best game of the season in Boston on Saturday. They certainly will need to.
*The Rangers had two recorded hits on Geno Malkin, and both were in the first period. Two. They made contact with the top player on the opposing team twice. They had 38 hits in all and, for comparison's sake, they hit Deryk Engelland five times. Malkin was given free reign to run around the Ranger end and it ultimately cost them. Crosby at least had to work to escape his coverage, his Russian companion was able to cruise his way to two goals (and he likely would have had the hat had anyone but Lundqvist been in the Ranger net). Malkin was given way too much room to work - I believe it was the second period where he literally skated around the entire Ranger zone without being touched. Unacceptable.
*Bet Hank wants that Richard Park goal back. Park has played 38 games against the Rangers in his career, the most against any team he faced in the NHL. Park also has 18 points in those games, the most against any team in the NHL. Former Islander. Ugh.
*Even with the loss Hank is the best goaltender in the NHL, or at least top three. So why does Torts insist that all five of his skaters collapse in the face of the opposition attack? Couldn't count the number of times the Rangers gave up the blue line and then had five skaters below the top of the circles and between the dots. Hank doesn't suck and he doesn't need his sight line filled with skaters standing around watching the opposition work.
*BTW - Major kudos to Lundqvist for hosting a Q & A with people who bought Crown Collection gear. While he didn't break any real news (some twit from ESPN the Magazine "interviewed" him with the same softball questions we've often heard in the past), he faced the small crowd with a thankful smile despite the loss.
*I'm not a girl and I'm not into the other fellows so I can't judge Brad Richard$ looks but surely his bank account is enough to attract Olivia Munn's replacement. Where the star center of the Penguins stepped his game up, the Rangers' version played like he would rather be somewhere else. While Richard$ absolutely dominated on draws, he was found lacking in all of the other aspects of his game and is now pointless in his last six (over which time he made $731,707.32 - more than what Mitchell, Woywitka and Bickel will make the entire season).
*Marian Gaborik at least made an incredible pass to Carl Hagelin for the lone Ranger goal and he managed to get six shots through to Fleury despite tough checking by the Pens. Not sure Step and Hagelin are the right linemates for him in the long run but it worked in this one.
*Hagelin, called out for going dry in the Nashville postgame blog, snapped his eight game goal drought. Bork, bork, bork!
*While I'm no fan of Mike F-ing Rupp, Tortorella should have let him play more, and in better spots. His size would have been useful to keep the Pens in check but instead we got to see
*In ripping on Del Zaster in the past (which I will do again momentarily), I pointed out the difference between hitting to make contact and hitting to win the puck. Through much of this game the Rangers were sadly just trying to get body on body, and not particularly violently. Brandon Prust's first period hit was one of the few that made the boards rattle and got the crowd going.
*Ah, Del Zaster. The kid just doesn't have a clue how to play in his own end. That flailing fall on Malkin's first goal would have been embarrassing had it not been so entertaining. He just has no idea. And for all of those who went on about how wonderful he was because of his big +/- number, he is -5 over his last five games - getting negative numbers in each of the Ranger losses.
*At least Stuuuuuuuuuu won his fight. Bickel beat up on Eric Tangradi in a battle of two guys bound for the AHL once their NHL teams get healthy. Guess they just were trying to do something, anything to try to sway their GMs' impending decisions.
*Paul Martin is awfully tough while wearing that Cobra Commander faceshield, eh?
*PHW Three Stars
3-Kris Letang - one assist.
2-Marc-Andre Fleury - 30 saves.
1-Evgeni Malkin - two goals.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Letang - Why does everyone have to return from injury just in time to face the Rangers?
2-Chris Kunitz - Kunitz played the gritty, effective kind of game we'd have hoped came from Cally.
1-Malkin - The slew-footing, fight-starting, hit-dodging superstar came though without Crosby yet again.