Monday, November 29, 2010

Penguins doom Rangers

In what amounted to a tough night during their 3-1 loss to the Pens, Ranger forward Brandon Prust played with plenty of spark.

Simply put, it wasn't their night. Our heroes were outplayed by the Sidney Crosby Penguins who did most of their damage in a dominant second, posting a 3-1 win in Gotham. Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Henrik Lundqvist masked our recent struggles to complete a 2-1 road trip.

Did the schedule finally catch up? There's no question the Rangers have been very busy taking part in their 26th game over 48 days. Especially recently with the Thanksgiving trip and then playing the Pens tonight before facing a well rested Islander team for a classic home-and-home series starting Thursday. At least they'll have two days to prep. In between, John Tortorella's staff needs to work on getting back to basics. Our team turned over the puck too much and gave up a ton of scoring chances and odd-man rushes. Very un-Ranger like. They just weren't mentally sharp. It showed in how Pitt got their three goals.

1.Ruslan Fedotenko foolishly carries puck into no-man's land colliding with Marc Staal, allowing opportunistic Max Talbot to surprise from short range.

2.Unable to get off the ice during a dominant shift from Crosby, Staal misreads a play at the blueline taking himself out, allowing Sid's touch-pass to Pascal Dupuis back to The Kid for an awesome set up for a Kris Letang rocket.

3.Turnover leads to pesky Chris Conner getting to a Tyler Kennedy rebound off a skate and firing low through Mike Del Zotto, who again had a rough go. More on that later.

When you're running on fumes, lazy habits start to creep in. Tonight, our D was caught flatfooted a lot and our forwards were careless on the forecheck, leading to dangerous opportunities for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If not for Henrik, who stoned Geno on a two-on-one and denied other Pens, this one could've been ugly. None of the goals were his fault. He was a victim of uneven play. The middle stanza in particular where the Pens had the puck virtually the entire 20, tallying twice in a 75-second span while outshooting the Blueshirts 14-6. Puck possession was theirs. Even on a night in which faceoffs were close with our club actually winning 26-of-54, the road club from Pennsylvania was simply better, constantly using quick touch passes to get behind the defense.

Tortorella also changed lines a bunch, trying to find the right combos for Marian Gaborik, who ended a six-game drought with a quick wrister from the left circle courtesy of a great Michal Rozsival pass. Despite being tightly checked by four different Pen blueliners (Orpik-Letang, Martin-Michalek), Gabby was going. But credit Pittsburgh for not giving him much time and space. That along with Tort running out Erik Christensen, Fedotenko, Derek Stepan, Sean Avery, Brian Boyle, Alex "MIA" Frolov and even Brandon Prust resulted in little continuity. While I get the need to get the Big Ticket going, it was too much chaos, throwing our lines out of whack. Despite plenty of try, both Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan had rare off nights. Dubi was more noticeable while Cally only stood out for an absolute horrible call involving who else but the Chosen One. Kudos to the former for yet again calling out Sidney during a first intermission interview with MSG's Al Rotwig Trautwig. Thanks to cathybytes for providing the video.

Much has already been made of Crosby getting away with slew footing Callahan, who blind mice Brad Watson (what a shock) and Steve Kozari (who) amazingly called for interference. Yep. It was his fault that No.87 kicked the feet out making our future captain hold onto the gutless Pen captain while falling down. Clearly. Not to beat a broken record to death. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the game, extending his point streak to 13 (12-14-26). I can live with that. But the amount of cheap plays the league's leading scorer gets away with is mind boggling. He again slashed Dan Girardi following a whistle to no avail. How can someone so gifted be so dirty? Sure. They finally caught him for taking down Avery in the third but of course Prust also went to the box for elbowing. At that point, it didn't matter anyway. Our team simply wasn't good enough. That doesn't excuse the game's best from bending the law. Something teammate Matt Cooke often does right under Colin Campbell's nose.

The officiating wasn't bad. Even if they missed a few more infractions from the Pens, we only got that one phantom call on Cally. And you know there were probably others they just missed. Usually, the Rangers are effective at even-strength. Not tonight. The Pens were quicker and better in all three zones. Even if outside of that dreadful second, our guys fought tooth and nail with a hot club that's now won seven in a row. It just wasn't their night.

Outside of Gaborik and Rozsival, there wasn't enough oomph. When Prust and Boyle are more visible than Cally and Dubi, it's not a good sign. Prust again did all he could battling much bigger man Mike Rupp to a draw. Avery also dropped 'em with Tyler Kennedy getting a take down that briefly sparked the club. Afterwards, Rozy sprung Gabby and he notched his sixth with a lethal wrister past Marc-Andre Fleury, who wasn't tested. Sure. He stayed hot making 25 saves but never had to stand on his head. Kudos to the Pitt D.

Our powerless play struck again when during a stronger third, earning legit calls the first half, nothing got done. The Pens are ranked No.1 in penalty killing and eclipsed 30 straight after being perfect in three. Outside of the early PP spanning the first and second, it was dismal. The aforementioned Del Zotto stunk. I've said it numerous times but he's going through a sophomore slump. His decision making isn't fluid, allowing defenders to close. He logged more minutes than anyone (25:01) but didn't register one shot with a few getting blocked while others, including a nice Boyle set up with Lundqvist pulled, the kid flat out missed. DZ wasn't the only guilty party but five of 15 missed shots were from No.4. It's no secret he's shaky in his end but made one outstanding play, diving across to break up a two-on-one, blocking Crosby's pass to Malkin. If he's going to continue to be run out there, he must be better.

I'm at the point where I'd like to see Matt Gilroy given another look. Say what you want about him but Hobey was more active when Rozy was out, joining the play and taking shots. Gilroy has three assists in 18 games in a lot less time compared to Del Zotto's eight points (2-6-8). For whatever reason, Tort hates him. As Twitter PR spokesperson (sarcasm folks) Leahockey would say, "Give him a chance." At the moment, Rozsival is our best at getting involved. He was one of the few bright spots.

Now, it's time for them to get ready for the Islanders. A team that loves beating us. This back-to-back starting Thursday at The Coliseum and concluding at The Garden Friday are essential. No excuses.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brandon Prust, NYR (fight vs Rupp, four hits, 7 PIM, energy all 17 shifts-13:43)
2nd Star-Brooks Orpik, Pit (six hits, three blocked shots, plus-one in 23:07)
1st Star-Chris Kunitz, Pit (2 takeaways, hit plus-one, solid all around play in 18:13)

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