In the opening 15 minutes of their game Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Pittsburgh Penguins did everything right – except score. All seemed well, though, as it looked like a matter of time before the visitors broke through.
Instead, the New York Rangers took advantage of Pittsburgh’s unexpected defensive breakdowns and netted two quick goals at the end of the first period. The Penguins never regained their edge after that, as they dropped a 5-1 decision to their Metropolitan Division rivals.
Brad Richards (2a) and Brian Boyle (1g, 1a) had two points apiece for the Rangers (7-8-0, 14 points), who moved within eight points of the first-place Penguins (11-5-0, 22 points) with the comfortable regulation victory. Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and Derick Brassard recorded a goal each for the home side, backing up Henrik Lundqvist’s 28 saves.
Lundqvist was the difference early, denying all of Pittsburgh’s 12 shots in the first period and giving the Rangers an opportunity to steal the lead. Sidney Crosby had arguably the Penguins’ two best chances, one on a spectacular rush through the New York defense in the opening minute and another on a power-play putback later on, but the NHL’s leading scorer couldn’t beat one of hockey’s top goalies.
McDonagh and Stepan scored during a 65-second span late in the first, with both players picking corners on Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury (20 saves). Fleury, off to a particularly strong start this season, was the victim of numerous Penguins turnovers in what was probably the team’s worst effort of the year.
A Dustin Jeffrey turnover in the offensive zone directly led to Boyle’s goal that made it 3-0 New York with about seven minutes left in the second period. Kris Letang poked in a loose puck to give the Pens a power-play marker at 14:34 of the same frame, but Callahan deflected Richards’ point shot for a 4-1 Rangers lead 64 seconds later.
Brassard earned the final goal of the night, rapping home Derek Dorsett‘s turnaround pass in front with 10:03 to play. The teams combined to go 1 for 10 with the man advantage, but the Rangers’ 0-for-4 performance didn’t hurt with the Penguins providing them more than enough opportunities to score.
Pittsburgh played without wingers James Neal and Beau Bennett once again, although both continue to make progress toward returning. To make matters worse, Pascal Dupuis left the bench in the third period with an undisclosed injury.
The Penguins’ waning forward depth loomed in key spots Wednesday night, as grinders Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, Jayson Megna and Dustin Jeffrey each failed to convert on golden chances that might’ve kept comeback hopes alive.
The Pens will have two days off before returning to game action Saturday night in St. Louis. Faceoff with the contending Blues is set for 8 p.m. Eastern time.