The New York Rangers were successful deflating the Pittsburgh Penguins recently red-hot offense with an aggressive neutral zone counter-attack, finishing chances and a lucky bounce. The Rangers ended the Penguins four-game win streak, 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena.
With about five minutes remaining in the first period, Conor Sheary took advantage of three puck-watching Rangers defensemen in front of the net. Sheary (9) slammed a Patric Hornqvist centering pass behind Rangers goalie Ondrej Pavelic. Pavelic played because Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist did not dress (flu).
However, it was Sheary’s man who tied the game 90 seconds later. Rangers fourth line center Boo Nieves capitalized on the open ice in the high slot left by Sheary, who collapsed towards the Penguins goal.
Nieves (1), a former collegiate star at Michigan and second-round choice by the Rangers in 2012, scored his first NHL goal with a one-timer. Mats Zuccarello served the pass from below the goal line. 1-1.
The Penguins dominated the second period with 23 shots but allowed a pair of Rangers goals on eight shots.
Phil Kessel (13) snapped a one-timer seven minutes into the period. The Penguins proceeded to hit three more posts, but none lit the lamp.
Jarry made the initial save, but Guentzel failed to secure Jesper Fast (5) who cleaned up the garbage in front. 2-2.
Mats Zuccarello got behind Matt Hunwick for a breakaway goal. Jarry made the initial save but kicked the puck into the net when he attempted to close his pads on the puck. 3-2.
The Rangers penalty killing unit counted four Penguins in the defensive zone gathering for a breakout. They missed the fifth–Patric Hornqvist. Evgeni Malkin sprung Hornqvist on a breakaway. Hornqvist’s wrist shot over Ondrej Pavelec‘s glove tied the game. 3-3.
Midway through the third period, Kris Letang scored the losing goal for the Penguins when he deflected a centering pass into his net. It went top shelf, for good measure. Pavel Buchnevich was credited with the goal. 4-3. It was a flukey goal and Letang couldn’t recreate it if he tried. I
The Penguins applied heavy pressure in the third, it a couple of posts, but never scored.
Press Box Nachos
1) The Penguins win streak came at the expense of soft teams. They beat the Flyers, who had lost nine in a row and they beat the punchless Buffalo Sabres. Their biggest win, Tampa Bay, was aided by three 5-on-3 goals.
Were they “back”? No. Is this the beginning of finally playing better hockey? Yes. Are they better than the New York Rangers? A little. The Rangers won three of the four line battles…
2) The Penguins best line, by a mile, was the Guentzel-Malkin-Kessel line. Kessel scored his 13th goal by one-timing a pass from Guentzel. The line was precise and aggressive, all night. They intercepted Rangers clearing attempts, kept the puck in the zone and created more offensive pressure than the other lines, combined.
3) The Penguins power-play generated shots, but the Rangers PK, except for the Hornqvist goal, was effective. The Rangers attacked the point, in this case, Letang, aggressively.
The Penguins used their 1-3-1 diamond configuration, which allowed Rick Nash or Kevin Hayes to confront Letang but also get to the right wing circle to harass the Penguins rotating forward. That allowed the Rangers other three penalty killers to man-up on the Penguins.
The Rangers had a couple 2-on-1’s, shorthanded.
4) Kris Letang is still struggling. Tonight was a step backward. The Rangers pressured him, successfully, including minutes into the game–Kevin Hayes intercepted a Letang pass for a 100-foot breakaway.
The Penguins may not have a solution because….
Matt Hunwick is not Trevor Daley. Hunwick was scored with a pair of giveaways and yielded prime offensive chances, including Zuccarello’s breakaway goal. Hunwick will have to show a lot more going forward.
Chad Ruhwedel, statistically and the eye test, has been a better defenseman. Pending Schultz’ health, the time is coming to install Ruhwedel as a top-6, and Hunwick a #7.
6) Jarry is fun to watch. He uses his blocker almost as a second glove hand. He directs pucks with it; he makes big saves. His hands are quick. He plays with great athleticism, but not an overuse of it.
7) Alain Vigneault usually contains the Pens when the teams are on the same level. In the last two years, the Penguins have won every game which mattered. Previously, the Rangers were able to trap and frustrate the Penguins.
The Penguins were not frustrated, Tuesday, but the Rangers were tactically sound. Right now, these are even teams. A playoff series, with Lundqvist in net, could go either way.
But, dollar for a donut, the Penguins will not look the same in March. Just a hunch.