Defense Doing It At Both Ends

Jason Strudwick’s goal at 1:40 of the overtime session completed a four game sweep of their road trip as the Rangers, trailing 2-0 after one period, defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 last Saturday night at the Mellon Arena. With their fifth straight victory and ninth in the last ten, the Blueshirts gained sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division with 25 points. With all four goals being scored by the backline, the Rangers, who maintain the lowest goals allowed per game in the league, have a defensive core that is demonstrating exceptional skills at both ends of the ice.

The first period was by far the worst for the Blueshirts as they permitted the pesky Penguins to attack deep on their defensive zone many times during the frame. Both Dan Girardi and Michal Rozsival let Sidney Crosby and company do some damage. First, it was Maxime Talbot who beat Henrik Lundqvist at 5:51 while the Rangers had the man advantage (assist to Crosby) and then exactly three minutes later, Crosby (his 11th) doubled the lead to 2-0. The Rangers had ample opportunity to get on the board, but Marc-Andre Fleury was strong.

After the first, the coaches decided that the defensive match-ups needed some altering and it worked wonders. Not only was Crosby held in check for the remainder of the game, but both Rozsival and Girardi made up for their defensive gaffes in the first with some much needed offense. Just 49 seconds in, Rozsival got New York on the board (assists to Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Hollweg – his first point of the season) and just over three minutes later, he did it again while the Rangers were shorthanded. His two-goal effort was good enough to earn star of the game accolades. Barely four minutes had elapsed and the Rangers wiped out the mistakes of the first frame. It was Girardi’s turn at 18:35 when he beat Fleury with a power-play goal for the Blueshirts first lead of the game. New York took their precious one goal lead into the dressing room quite pleased with their effort.

With steadfast resolve, The Rangers suffocated the Penguins attack in the third period and did not permit a shot on goal until past the midway point of the frame. On the downside, they were not making significant headway into the offensive zone because their efforts were geared more to protecting the slim lead rather than padding it. But on just their second shot of the period, Petr Sykora knotted the score at three at 14:28 when he knocked in Evgeni Malkin’s pass in front of Lundqvist.

With regulation ending in a 3-3 tie, the Rangers made a quick statement in the overtime. For the fourth time in the game, the defensemen joined the rush and made the difference. Paul Mara and Strudwick skated in on a two-on-one break; Strudwick got behind Sergei Gonchar and Mara found him at the crease. He sent the puck directly towards him and the execution was perfect; Strudwick simply redirected in for the winning goal.

Lundqvist was unremarkable with 20 saves and Fleury was slightly better with 22 stops. The Blueshirts are back home tonight to face the Islanders; it’s time for them to step up and play to their highest potential against their bitter rivals, who had have too much success against them recently.

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