Early on Thursday, the Penguins called up Filip Hallander on an emergency recall from the AHL, meaning they lacked 12 healthy forwards. With an a non-COVID illness sweeping through the locker-room, it was only a matter of seeing which two forwards couldn’t play. One ended up being Radim Zohorna, a recent healthy scratch anyways, but in a blow the other sick player up front was Sidney Crosby. Add in John Marino to miss his first game of the season due to the illness and the Pens were playing from behind before the game even started.
Next man up.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 7, 2022
Sidney Crosby, John Marino, and Radim Zohorna are out of the lineup with non-COVID illnesses. pic.twitter.com/Keb7qWwM4e
Through 20 minutes, however, Pittsburgh impressively hung in there with the New York Rangers. They arguably had the best scoring chance of the period when Danton Heinen centered a pass for Teddy Blueger to get a great look at the net. He missed the net with his shot and play continued.
The Penguins have been bit as of late with critical situation goals that coaches always stress. First minute of periods. Last minute of periods. Shift after a goal. These are crucial times and in the first minute of the second period, Frank Vatrano struck to open the scoring for New York. Friend o’ the blog Jesse Marshall did a great breakdown of where and how the Pens’ forecheck failed them just for a second, and how that ended up biting them.
It's way too late in the season to see fundamental failures in the system like this one. This is a clear-cut example of what I mean when I say no forecheck means instant death in this system. Plain as day right here. This is off of a controlled breakout. pic.twitter.com/bNsX4PmWs0— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) April 8, 2022
Halfway through the second period, the Rangers extended their lead to 2-0, on an almost identical start of a sequence on the rush. Artemi Panarin scored on his backhand and maybe Tristan Jarry would want this one back.
Part two. Same stretch pass in the same lane because of no forecheck. This time it's off a faceoff in the offensive zone, which makes it works (in my opinion). Look how quickly everything collapses here. pic.twitter.com/hKOWe0WkRZ— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) April 8, 2022
That would be about it for the game highlights, with the teams trading a few power plays and then Dryden Hunt cashing in on the empty net to set the final score as a 3-0 Ranger win.
- A lot of the juice for this game drained away with the announcement the Pens were down Crosby, Marino and Jason Zucker wouldn’t be returning from his injury today either. It’s not much of a playoff preview with so many pieces missing, and not too much to take out of this one.
- With Marino missing a game tonight, Evan Rodrigues becomes the team’s lone candidate as an ironman who has appeared in all 72 games so far this season.
- Filip Hallander got his NHL debut (barely, at just 5:14 of ice time). But he also finally becomes the answer to the trivia question of “which was the first Penguin player born in the 2000’s”?
- For all the fan love that the Guentzel-Malkin-Rust combo gets, there wasn’t much of an instant spark in this one. Igor Shesterkin did rob Guentzel right in front in the second period off a nice pass from Malkin, and the Rangers broke up a Guentzel pass attempt to Malkin in the third, but otherwise a pretty quiet night for the best remaining players.
- Speaking of Shesterkin, he’ll close out the regular season against the Pens giving up just four total goals in four games, only one of which was scored at 5v5. That doesn’t leave a very favorable feeling going into the playoffs seeing a goalie with a .960 save% in the season series, but at this rate with Carolina losing to Buffalo at press time, who knows, NYR might do the unlikely and make a run at the top spot in the division if the current trends hold.
- Anthony Angello made some waves, dropping Tyler Motte with a big hit late in the game. Motte, 5’10 to begin with, had stretched out to play the puck. Angello, 6’5, could have cut him a break but didn’t and crushed a player in a vulnerable position. There was no head contact but it was a heavy hit. The refs obviously felt something needed to be called and settled on an interference minor, which made neither coach happy. Mike Sullivan would have had a better point, it definitely was not interference since the puck was in the play. If anything it was for roughing for a hitting a smaller player too hard,
- The national broadcast was a bit critical for Angello on his decision to go in for the big hit when he could have let up, but we’ve got a fourth line player who gets a few minutes a game and is (literally) trying to make an impact. Angello was credited with four hits on the game, despite playing under seven minutes. He’s trying to throw the body around and do his job which is to finish his checks and play hard. Hopefully Motte will be OK but that’s not exactly a player who needs to be targeted or anything, more of an unfortunate result of a collision.
- The Pens got three power plays and none were effective or very pretty looking. Understandable given there was no Crosby out there.
- The tough news - this is actually the start of three games in four days, and four games in six. Schedule only ramps up from here, and hopefully the worst of the illness-based absences are over. Just when you thought that was left in 2020 or 2021....
And it’ll be a big weekend indeed, with the Caps and Preds coming to Pittsburgh for a couple of afternoon hockey games.