Another Division Game, Another Loss: Rangers 3, Penguins 1

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 06: Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins stands attended for the National Anthem before the NHL game against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center on January 6, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Rangers defeated the Penguins 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There's no denying it - the Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now. Not only do they hold a six point lead over Philadelphia for first in the Atlantic Division, but New York's 56 points also places them first in the Eastern Conference.

If this season has proven anything - especially lately - it's that the Penguins struggle against division rivals. Friday was no exception, as the Penguins fell 3-1 to the Rangers.

When it comes to looking at the bright side of a loss like this, I guess all we have to bank on is that it wasn't a shutout. Plus, when you consider Ben Lovejoy registered the only goal, it almost seems like a wasted contribution from a guy who isn't exactly known for lighting the lamp.

Nevertheless, Henrik Lundqvist proved to be the better goaltender tonight, stopping 37 of Pittsburgh's 38 shots to earn his 18th win of the season. Getting some offensive help didn't hurt his chances of picking up that 'W' either.

I don't know which broadcast you may have been privy to, but I know the MSG one showed a flashback to 2010 when Brandon Dubinsky pulled off a solid toe drag while rushing in 2-on-1 with Ryan Callahan on the wing. The short-handed duo connected for a goal last season and Friday's game more or less showed the exact same play only with a slight role reversal. Callahan hooked up Dubinsky for the goal, complete with the toe drag, to give the Rangers the lead in the second period. From thereon in it was just Rangers hockey until the final whistle.

The Penguins played a very well disciplined game which at least kept them out of the box and limited NY's power-play chances. But if they're going to give up a goal shorthanded, I suppose it doesn't really matter much either way.

Given the injuries to this squad, I'm seeing a Penguins team that is capable of staying afloat. Winning it all? Hard to say. Evgeni Malkin will have to crank up his production a bit more and James Neal will need to remain the team's prolific scorer if this team is to get by without Sidney Crosby for what could possibly be - gulp - the remainder of the season. Nothing will stop me from cheering for the team, but a first round bounce in the playoffs again isn't exactly far fetched given the current state of this team.

Which in turn leads to another topic of consideration - now that we've flipped the calendar to 2012, and the trade deadline is fast approaching, will Ray Shero and company once again be active to find players on the open market? Let's not forget who came on board by means of the deadline last season; Neal and Niskanen. While each struggled in his own right last year, they're undoubtedly found the groove from Day 1 of the 2011-12 campaign. So, is there a solution available as we edge closer to that February deadline? Because as it stands now, it would appear as if the team needs help...somewhere.

To his credit, Marc-Andre Fleury ranks second overall in the league with 19 wins, five behind the league-leading Jimmy Howard. But he can stop all but one shot and still lose a game if this team cannot find a way to gel offensively.

Wherein lies the problem? Is it a defensive lapse or an offensive one?

No rest for the weary as the Pens head across the Hudson Saturday night to take on the New Jersey Devils, another division rival that has put the Pens through fits not only this season but many seasons in the past. Puck drops at 7pm.

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