If Tuesday’s loss to Buffalo was “just one of those games,” what do you call the Penguins’ 6-1 defeat to the Rangers on Wednesday night?
No matter the label, the Penguins’ level of play has dramatically dropped off, and they have 10 regular-season games left to fix it.
While the Pens (28-10-0, 56 points) are suffering from malaise after their 15-game winning streak ended, the Rangers (18-15-3, 39 points) are in a fierce battle to simply make the playoffs. New York played appropriately desperate hockey at Madison Square Garden, sprinting to a 4-0 lead less than 22 minutes in.
Earlier in the day, the Rangers acquired Ryane Clowe, Derrick Brassard and John Moore in trades, and the three newcomers combined for four goals and four assists. Clowe, a former San Jose winger who entered the game with zero goals, netted a pair, while Brassard had a goal and three assists despite arriving from Columbus just before warm-ups.
The Penguins have also recently traded for a handful of new faces, but it was Pascal Dupuis who scored the only goal for the visitors, his 18th. Offensive pressure was an issue for Pittsburgh for most of the night, although the Pens hit the post twice in the early stages of a scoreless game.
The lack of scoring chances was symptomatic of a glaring energy disparity between the two teams. That intensity gap manifested itself even more in the Penguins’ defensive zone, where the Rangers had free reign to move as they pleased. New York fired 39 shots on Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was mostly excellent despite allowing a season-high six goals.
After surrendering only nine goals in the final 11 games of their long winning streak, the Penguins have now allowed 10 in their last two contests. They’ll have a practice day to try to smooth out the wrinkles before hosting the Rangers on Friday night at Consol Energy Center.
Wednesday night marked the Penguins’ second full game without Sidney Crosby, who is recovering from a broken jaw he sustained Saturday. Puck-possessing defensemen Kris Letang (toe) and Paul Martin (hand) are also nursing fractures.
Despite their missing pieces, the Penguins generated some good opportunities on an early power play, including the aforementioned shots off the goal frame. However, it was New York that cashed in on the advantage when Brian Boyle deflected Brad Richards’ point drive behind Fleury midway through the first period.
About two minutes later, new Penguin Brendan Morrow lost track of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonaugh, who gunned a wrist shot under the crossbar for a 2-0 New York lead at 12:19. Exactly two minutes after that, Derek Stepan picked Brooks Oprik’s pocket, setting up a point-blank goal for Clowe.
Brassard connected for his eighth goal of the season 1:53 into the second, lifting the rebound of Boyle’s shot over Fleury’s blocker with the Rangers on their second power play. Dupuis answered quickly thereafter on a similar play, with Robert Bortuzzo and Brendan Morrow earning assists at 2:27.
But the Penguins couldn’t capitalize on the adrenaline rush, and the Rangers made it 5-1 after two periods when Brassard set up Clowe on the doorstep with Matt Cooke in the penalty box.
22-year-old defenseman John Moore – just acquired from Columbus in a trade that sent Marian Gaborik out of town – capped the scoring at even strength midway through the third, with Cooke inadvertently deflecting his blast from the left circle. From there Lundqvist (26 saves) and the Rangers cruised to the finish line.