After Friday’s debacle against the New York Islanders, no one could quite be sure how the Penguins would look this afternoon when they faced the New York Rangers. The already downtrodden team, struggling to get by as its roster shrank, had played a violent, controversial, and – score-wise – embarrassing game.
Today there was a mix of apprehension and hope as the Pens hit the Madison Square Garden ice. Just 2:06 into the contest, defenseman Deryk Engelland put one past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, with help from Chris Conner and Mike Rupp. Exactly two minutes later, recent AHL call-up Nick Johnson got another one, assisted by Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis.
Things were looking good – very good. The Rangers had lost their last six games, so perhaps today would indeed be the day that things turned areound for the Pens, who had lost three of their last four.
Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella called a time out, and whatever he said gave the Blueshirts a big energy boost. The Pens, who had appeared to be in control early on, were messy in the offensive zone and penetrable in their own, and the Rangers were taking over. Before the end of the period, goals from forwards Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan tied the game at 2-2.
The Rangers owned the second period as Callahan, Vinny Prospal and Artem Anisimov all logged goals to give New York a 5-2 lead.
Brett Sterling’s power play goal (assisted by fellow defensemen Alex Goligoski and Kris letang) put the Pens within striking distance at 5-3, but that’s all the team could gather.
There was a glaring problem in the Penguins’ game today, and it wasn’t the depleted roster.
“Special teams have been a big factor for our success and the lack thereof,” head coach Dan Bylsma told reporter Dan Rosen after the game. “If you lose the special teams battle, with the margin for error now, we’re starting down a goal and that’s not a recipe for success.”
“They won the special team battles,” forward Maxime Talbot told the press. “With or without every guy in the lineup, we’re the Pittsburgh Penguins. If we play the system and win special team battles we have a good chance to win a hockey game and tonight we lost it.”
The playing field – or ice, in this case – was level in regards to power play chances. Each team took 12 penalty minutes. However, where the Rangers succeeded, and the Penguins did not.
“Their special teams, their power play, was pretty good tonight,” Staal said to the media. “They threw a lot of pucks on net and it was tough for us to recover and get those second rebounds. They definitely capitalized when we were in the box.”
Three of the Rangers’ five goals were on the power play, a poor showing for what is currently the top penalty kill in the NHL. The power play didn’t fare much better as Sterling’s goal is the only one that came from the Pens’ man advantage.
Overall, the team looked sloppy, failing to connect on offensive plays and losing the puck too easily. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury worked hard between the pipes, making 26 saves on 31 shots, but he cannot compensate for team-wide error.
“We have to manage the puck properly and make sure we don’t turn the puck over. If you don’t turn it over you don’t give them any chances,” Letang told Rosen. “Right now they’re all feeding off the turnovers we give or the poor decisions we make.”
“We made mistakes and had details in our game that we let go, and it gave them good opportunities to get goals,” said Bylsma. “As a result we found ourselves down after getting up 2-0. We have to have those details regardless of who is in the game, and that was not there.”
The consensus amongst the team seems to be that despite missing so many key players, there is no excuse to not play better hockey.
“We have to find ways to win games and guys that are filling those roles like myself and other players, we all need to step up our game,” Staal said. “Everyone on the team needs to elevate their game if we want to win games.”