(Photo courtesy of Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before; the speed of Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, and others were too much for the Penguins tonight.
Yeah, I thought so.
Tonight’s game was no different from the last 3 games of last spring for Pittsburgh; a three game stretch that saw the Penguins blow a 3-1 series lead over the Rangers in the 2nd round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After losing games two, three, and four, the Rangers stormed back to outscore the Penguins 10-3 in games five, six, and seven and win the series in seven games. In the final three games of the series, the Rangers were able to use their speed and rely heavily on their goaltending in order to shut down the Penguins’ high powered offense.
Fast forward to tonight and you would mistakenly think you were watching a replay of the series on NHL network.
The Rangers were dominant from the start of the game. After a players-only meeting, the Rangers were eager to prove that they were a better hockey team than they had shown to that point in the season (entered play with a 6-6-2 record good for 5th in the Metropolitan division). The Rangers’ forecheck was outstanding all night. Like I mentioned before, the speed of New York’s forwards was a major factor in pressuring the Pittsburgh defensemen. The Rangers were content with simply dumping the puck into the Penguins’ zone and getting on the forecheck. The Penguins were unable to alleviate the pressure and puck support was an issue for much of the game.
Not only did the Rangers forecheck well, they also got lots of pucks and bodies to the net. On most occasions, the Rangers had at least two forwards with a few feet of Fleury’s crease. Also, the Rangers did a great job of cycling the puck down low in the offensive zone. They used the Penguins’ net to shield the puck and work it to the slot for prime scoring chances. At the end of the night, the Rangers were able to shoot a total of 35 shots on Fleury and score 5 times.
The face of the New York Rangers for a while has been their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. When he sees the puck, he is going to stop it. It’s that simple. Tonight, he saw the puck and played a phenomenal game. His rebound control was excellent and he stopped the Penguins when they upped the pressure in the third period. If Lundqvist can play like this moving forward, the Rangers will find themselves rising in the Metropolitan division standings.
Even though the Rangers played a great game, the Penguins didn’t do much in order to affect the outcome of the game. The forwards were terrible in their defensive zone tonight. On many occasions, they left the defensemen out to dry when the Rangers came on the forecheck. The forwards needed to do a better job of collapsing down low in order to support the puck when the defensemen tried to clear the zone. Instead, the forwards stayed high near the point and caused the Penguins’ defensemen to have no options for breakout passes.
Fleury didn’t have his best game tonight. On most nights this year, when he sees the puck, he is going to stop it just like Lundqvist. However, there were at least two shots that Fleury saw that he was not able to keep out of his net (Klein’s goal in the first period and Brassard’s goal in the second period). In order for the Penguins to keep these games closer, they need Fleury to be on his game. In fairness to Fleury, he has been great all year and tonight was probably his first poor performance this season. Pinning this loss on only him would be a huge mistake for any fan to make.
As I stated a few games ago against the Winnipeg Jets, aggressive and in-your-face hockey is what has the best chance to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although the Jets were not able to defeat the Pens, they revealed the blueprint on how to do so. The Rangers were paying attention and did a great job of picking up where they left off last spring. Pittsburgh must find an answer to this aggressive style or they will be in trouble once the competition gets tougher in the playoffs.
My Three Stars for the Game:
1. Lundqvist (53rd career shutout, stopped all 33 shots faced)
2. Stepan (2 assists, 61% on faceoffs, unsung hero of the Rangers on many nights)
3. Nash (1 goal, 2 assists, led the Rangers with 6 shots, his speed was a factor on the forecheck)
If there were 10 stars of the game I could give you 10 Rangers that had a great night. Tonight’s win was truly a team effort by the Rangers.
The Penguins’ 7 game winning streak came to an end tonight as well as their streak of 39 consecutive penalty kills. Pittsburgh will look for redemption and the start of a new streak Friday night at 7:30PM EST in Toronto.