Rangers Take Game One; Pittsburgh Still In Control of Their Destiny
The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped game one of their series against the New York Rangers in terrible fashion on Friday night. There were multiple instances of horrible turnovers and poor positioning that inevitably led to a Rangers victory.
The Rangers Benoit Pouliot was the most visible player on the ice for a majority of the game. He played physical and smart, leading his team with a goal and an assist. His line mate, Derick Brassard, scored the overtime winner after a horrible Rob Scuderi turnover below the net.
Matts Zuccarello failed to register a point in the game, but certainly had himself a strong afternoon. His mix of speed and tenacity helped keep the Penguins top line in check all night. If Zuccarello starts to find the twine, this series could take an ugly turn.
The Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist also had a strong game, making 34 stops on 36 shots. Lundqvist was at his best on the penalty kill as well, stopping all seven shots, forcing the Penguins to go 0-4 in a scenario that should have given the Penguins an advantage. Instead, King Henrik continuously killed the Penguins momentum in route to a strong victory on opposition ice.
Despite all of this, Pittsburgh actually controlled the play for a majority of the game. They started the second period very strong, peppering King Henrik with 15 shots, only allowing four in the process. They would score two goals to tie the game up, one of which was apparently controversial.
Consequently, this forced noted thug enthusiast Mike Milbury to go into a rant. Milbury stated that Evgeni Malkin clearly interfered with the Rangers netminder by using his stick to take away the glove on a floating puck. Unfortunately for Milbury, this wasn’t the case as you could have made the argument that Henrik Lundqvist used his glove to stop Malkin’s stick from making a play on the puck. Either way, the goal counted and consequently, didn’t matter in the end.
Rob Scuderi has had a brutal playoffs for the Penguins. His lack of foot speed and propensity for turnovers cost Pittsburgh the game. Once Brooks Orpik becomes healthy, Scuderi should see time in the press box as he is being outplayed by Robert Bortuzzo in just about every facet of the game.
Evgeni Malkin continued his late surge from round one into round two on Friday. Geno recorded his fifth assist of the playoffs on James Neal’s goal in the second period. He also carried the puck exceptionally well and limited his turnovers. His strong puck possession game kept the Rangers on their toes all night.
Unfortunately Malkin’s play did not rub off onto Sidney Crosby. Crosby was not only held pointless in game one, but he was on the ice for all three Ranger goals. He had just three shots on goal and was out of position for most of the game.
Many are now starting to question the health of Crosby, which, might be a good question. He looks visibly slower out on the ice and has yet to make any individual impact, which is truly out of character. If he is hampered by an injury to his core, say a torn abdominal muscle or sports hernia, it would certainly explain his lack of breakaway speed and strength below the net. If he is in fact healthy, then the Penguins superstar is in one of his worst slumps of his entire career.
Thoughts on Next Game
The Penguins might have lost game one, but they certainly did not look like the lesser team the entire game. The Penguins actually held a distinct advantage in possession time and shots on goal from the start of the second period on. They rolled three very strong lines and produced ample amounts of scoring chances.
The problem is that Pittsburgh spotted the Rangers a two goal lead to start the game and that in itself is a recipe for disaster. With Crosby not playing well, the Penguins can’t afford to give any team a lead right now. Pittsburgh might have to go back to a Kunitz-Crosby-Malkin line for game two if they want to help out their slumping superstar. This would push the surging Brandon Sutter into the second line center role and bring Marcel Goc into the third line center role.
Both Goc and Sutter had very strong game’s on Friday and were visibly in control in every zone of the ice. It is their presence on this team that is going to allow Pittsburgh to shake things up for game two.
The Power Play for Pittsburgh also needs a big shake up. Going 0-4 in game one is unacceptable for this team. I am not ready to put Malkin back on the point yet, but I think it is time to give Kris Letang his spot on the point again. Matt Niskanen has done a good job, but replacing him with Letang adds a new element for the Rangers to stop.
While the power play was weak, the Penguins Penalty kill did a fantastic job of stopping the Rangers. The Rangers also went 0-4 on Friday, manufacturing little from the man advantage. Pittsburgh did a good job blocking shots and clearing the puck in a timely fashion. The Penguins know that the Rangers power play has been weak though and it would benefit the Penguins greatly if they can put more pressure on the points. They had success doing so against Columbus and in result, they scored a few shorthanded goals.
Gibbons has to play. This statement was not being made a few weeks ago by many, but now it seems everyone wants the speedster to jump back into the lineup. What Gibbons lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and skill. He is not too different from the Rangers’ Matts Zuccarello in his abilities. He is a very good forechecking forward who uses his speed to take away passing and shooting lanes.
Gibbons became even more versatile when he became a penalty killer. His speed and abilities fit well with Crosby’s tendancies and his forechecking ability takes responsibility off of Crosby’s shoulders. If Gibbons is ready to return, the Penguins don’t have any other choice but to play him.
Hopefully Gibbons will be ready for game two, but no word has been shared from the organization. The Penguins will most likely ice the same roster from game one for game two, but if healthy, Gibbons and Orpik must replace Craig Adams and Rob Scuderi.
All in all, Pittsburgh did not play a horrible game on Friday. If they can get a better start on Sunday, then you could reasonably expect a Penguins victory. With a back to back on Sunday and Monday, it is crucial for Pittsburgh to come away with a win at home, likely putting a lot of pressure on the Rangers for game three. Pittsburgh, unlike the Flyers, have had great success at MSG over the past few seasons.
A win on Sunday could quickly turn into another win on Monday, causing a huge turn in momentum for this series. I still think Pittsburgh has the edge over New York, but they have to pounce on Sunday night and that starts by getting significant production from their team captain.