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Pens/Rangers Recap: Disjointed Pens suffer a meltdown

Ever seen a goat rodeo? There was one on Broadway tonight, Penguins are all sorts of out of sorts and lose 5-1 to the Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins had an opening to forget on Friday night against the New York Rangers, and the bad news started before the game even started. Evgeni Malkin, who participated in the morning skate, was a late-announced scratch from the game due to a non-COVID illness. That left the Pens out of sorts before the first puck dropped, down to just 11 healthy forwards with the team, with Mark Friedman dressing as an extra.

That disjointed feeling bit early, with the Rangers scoring three times in the first 4:16 of the game. The first two goals had a common theme — missed chances going back on the rush to bite the Pens. Just 2:07 in, Alexis Lafreniere scored following an opportunity for Evan Rodrigues on the Rangers’ side leading back on a rush. Marcus Pettersson couldn’t stop Filip Chytil from centering a pass to Lafreniere, whose five-hole shot beat Tristan Jarry.

Only 1:51 later, the Rangers gave their fans more to cheer about. After Jake Guentzel heeled a shot attempt, Mika Zibanejad found Chris Kreider fresh off a line change and back behind the Pens’ defense. It ended up a breakaway effort for Kreider, who isn’t missing much this season for his 43rd goal of the year.

If there was any doubt the wheels hadn’t fallen off, just 18 seconds later Frank Vatrano would extend the lead to 3-0, off another nice pass from Zibanejad and absolutely no coverage in front of the net for Jarry.

At this point coach Mike Sullivan used his timeout to rightfully ask what many observers would be thinking as “uhh, wtf guys?”. That reset did stem the momentum and just a few shifts later Rodrigues and Danton Heinen crashed the net and the puck ended up going over the line. Unfortunately, after review the goal was disallowed with it rightfully ruled that Heinen pushed the goalie’s equipment in to also cause the goal.

In the second, the Pens’ got a power play when goalie Igor Shesterkin cleared the puck over the glass, but it would be the Rangers to score anyways. Jeff Carter lost a puck, Kris Letang was caught deep, Jake Guentzel had his controller disconnect not skating with Chris Kreider and Sidney Crosby was, well, just kinda in the way but not good enough to stop Zibanejad from his THIRD great assist of the night when he fed Kreider for yet another goal to snap behind Jarry.

Having no timeout but still wanting to send a message to his team, Sullivan pulled Jarry at this point and replaced him with backup Casey DeSmith. DeSmith made a few really nice saves, but Brian Dumoulin accidentally bumped DeSmith’s head. DeSmith had to leave the ice, what a goat rodeo the whole night turned into for Pittsburgh, with Jarry having to come back into the game.

On a power play, Kasperi Kapanen showed signs of life, snapping a shot really hard to the top corner with some help from a Jeff Carter deflection right in front. That was with 14:00 remaining to make the score 4-1 and at least foil the shutout bid.

Jarry came back with a vengeance making several point blank saves on high danger chances, but finally Andrew Copp got one through for the 5-1 final score.

Some thoughts

  • Malkin being out threw the proverbial monkey wrench into Pittsburgh’s plans and lineup from the very start. This was clearly not something expected for very long, since the team had been planning on Geno to play with Rickard Rakell tonight. It is curious that they didn’t only brought 12 forwards with them, but let’s not get too fancy — with Malkin out and having Michael Chaput or Drew O’Connor in wasn’t going to be the difference in a result for this game versus for a few shifts of Mark Friedman as a winger.
  • Still, it is odd to get burned with not having 12 healthy forwards. It isn’t a salary cap issue at this point, with plenty of space for a temporary call-up with Jason Zucker on LTIR. There are limited recalls and assignments available to send down to the AHL after the trade deadline, which may have caused hesitation to use one...But this of all years when people could get sick more than ever, only having the bare minimum of 12 sounds like touching a stove top and hoping it wasn’t recently used.
  • Pittsburgh had no juice in this one, and maybe we should have seen it coming. They weren’t sharp on Wednesday in Buffalo. This is the third game in four days, and fourth in six. And all of that coming off a Western road swing last week. It’s a team that didn’t look ready to play or energetic because..well, that’s probably the case.
  • Poor Friedman, playing up as a winger got drilled by NYR defensemen along the boards twice while trying to get the puck deep. Not easy to switch positions to pickup new and unusual responsibilities at the NHL level.
  • Maybe some of Kreider’s finishing will rub off on the Pens by proximity? He got some glorious chances and was totally clinical with putting the puck in the net. It’s wild that he’s going to score 50+ this season.
  • Then again, with Zibanejad sending the level of elite passes his way, who could fail? There have not been many performances vs. the Pens as good as Zibanejad was tonight. He was off the charts good, credit where it’s due.
  • If the Marcus Pettersson - Chad Ruhwedel pair was not two people playing hockey and somehow a boat, they would be phoning into the Coast Guard and sending out SOS’s for taking on water. Very ugly stuff from both of them.
  • Such a weird game for the goalies. First, Jarry didn’t stand a chance and this was a doomed evening from the start. Pulling him was the right move too, no reason to leave him hanging in the fire his team was putting him in. DeSmith comes in cold, but plays really well until Brian Dumoulin’s backside crunches him. He doesn’t even leave immediately and makes another save or two and then checks out of the game. So Jarry, who naturally had to have mentally checked out of this game on some level, gets thrown right back in there and he now has to deal with the nonsense his teammates were doing. Unbelievable turn of events.
  • Are you searching for any silver lining at all on this? The power play scored, so that’s something. And there is another one — in a kinda twisted sort of way. How about this perspective: tonight’s game, very bad, but with goal differential the sixth tie-breaker in the standings, in essence this game will mean literally as much as the 1-0 win vs NYR that the Pens got a few weekends ago. PIT/NYR are both 1-1-0 against the other this season. Two more to go.

Sometimes hockey would be better if it was a heavyweight boxing match. You could just get a first round knockout every once in a while and call it an early night. Would have been the case tonight. Thanks for seeing it out with us, not much fun in this one but the story