It would appear, at the very least, as though the Rangers have this whole “beating the Penguins” gimmick figured out.
Apparently all you have to do is hold Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to an assist and five combined shots. Also, get in their face and hit them. This is a novel approach, but it seems to be working. With tonight’s 3-2 shootout win, it became the seventh time in as many games that New York defeated Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden in as many tries.
Neither star was left alone all night, especially by Colton Orr, who did his best to shadow Crosby and, in doing so, even helped draw a double minor for both tripping and unsportsmanlike conduct from Brooks Orpik on a blatant and very comical play. After Orr followed Crosby up the ice and drew a couple shoves, Orpik hooked his stick blade inside Orr’s knee and pulled. Orr went down like he stepped on a banana peel in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but at least they got a four-minute power play out of it.
The only time in regulation that either Sid or Geno did anything of note to help the Penguins was when Crosby picked off a puck inside the Rangers zone on a breakout (and boy, “own-zone turnovers” must’ve been a common phrase around the New York dressing room tonight), carried it around the net and make a perfect backhand pass through the slot to a hard-charging Mark Eaton, who put the Pens up 1-0. Other than that, you didn’t see too much of Sid, who came into the night with something ridiculous like nine points in his last three games.
A lot of credit has to be given to the pairings of Marc Staal and Michal Roszival and Wade Redden and Dan Girardi, who were out there for the majority of shifts by Malkin and Crosby, respectively. It wasn’t too often that either Pens star was skating into the zone unpressured, and for the amount of bitching from Ranger fans about a few of the aforementioned defensemen, they played like All Stars tonight and helped the Rangers secure a win that, in watching the game, you saw they didn’t really deserve.
The Rangers trailed 2-0 after a Jordan Staal tip-in midway through the second, but Nik Zherdev answered with one of his own a minute and a half or so later to cut New York’s deficit in half. Petr Prucha, in his first game back from injury and after refusing to accept a rehab stint in Hartford, scored the game-tying goal with about five minutes to go in regulation on a crafty dummy play where he let a puck go by him to Gomez, who shot wide, and went to the net to bang in the puck as it came off the end boards. Not a bad little greasy goal for the kid in his first game back, and you could tell the Rangers were happy he got it. It was his first since Jan. 31.
Once the game went to OT, it was all Henrik Lundqvist, who made 29 saves, and the defense holding back the floodgates as the Penguins mounted a TON of pressure but only managed two shots. But once the Rangers got the game to a shootout, it was a fait accompli. Zherdev, Markus Naslund and Freddy Sjostrom all scored, and only Kris Letang was the only one that could answer for the Pens. Poor Dany Sabourin was helpless.
Really, it was a night where the Rangers did all the little things right (except, as I mentioned, for not turning the puck over in their own zone). They played Crosby more physically than I’m used to seeing, they kept a lot of shots to the perimeter and perhaps most importantly when you play a team with Crosby and Malkin on the same power play unit, they didn’t take a lot of penalties. Those two were only on the ice together for six shifts in the game, and three came in overtime. If you keep them separated, you at least have a chance to beat the Penguins.
It also didn’t hurt that the Rangers dominated at the dot. Literally almost every time you looked up, the Rangers were winning a draw away from the Penguins. Only one Pittsburgh player had a faceoff percentage of 50 percent or more, and that was Max Talbot, who won 2 of 3 draws. Mike Zigomanis was 2 for 6, Jordan Staal was 9 for 19, Rusty Fedotenko and Tyler Kennedy were both 0 for 1, Malkin was 1 for 6 and Crosby was 6 for 15. In the attacking zone, the Pens as a team were 3 for 14. In the neutral zone, they were 6 for 16. And in the defensive zone, they were 10 for 22. Grand total: New York outdrew the Pens 33-19. Scott Gomez was the ONLY Ranger who lost an own-zone faceoff as he went 1 for 4. That’s taking care of the puck to an unreal extent.
But despite that, there’s still not a lot to be convinced about with the Rangers. Christ, this was their seventh shootout win of the year. If they played in the Western Conference, where it’s actually hard to win games, things wouldn’t seem this rosy on Broadway.
Ottawa 5, Atlanta 1
Dany Heatley had a goal, two assists and, surprisingly, no vehicular manslaughters as the Sens cruised after a three-goal first period. Heater opened the scoring 1:18 in, then set up goals from Jason Spezza and Dany Alfredsson. Atlanta was so bad, even Sean Donovan scored. Right, the guy that got stoned by a junior high goalie. Him. Oh Ondrej Pavelec, will you ever win?
Minnesota 4, St. Louis 0
Just a few nights after giving up a six spot to Colorado, the Wild bounced back to kick the living Christ out of St. Louis behind two-point nights from… Eric Belanger, Marek Zidlicky and Marc-Andre Bergeron, somehow. Goalie Nicklas Backstrom made 22 saves to pick up the shutout. Helpful hint for the Blues: Don’t let Brandon Crombeen lead the team in shots ever again.
Chicago 4, Anaheim 2
Kris Versteeg continues to stake his Calder claim, picking up an assist on both the tying and winning goals for Chicago late in the third period. He had a secondary assist on Martin Havlat’s goal to knot the game at 2-all with 5:45 to go, and made a gorgeous pass to Jonathan Toews to put the ‘Hawks up for good with 1:35 remaining. The teams put a combined 73 shots on Jonas Hiller, who faced 40, and Cristobal Huet, who saw 32.
Edmonton 5, Dallas 2
Where was this Dallas team last night? Y’know, the really bad one with no goaltending? Marty Turco gave up four goals on 21 shots (as opposed to the headstand he did against the Flames all last night) and Edmonton was allowed to glide to an incredibly easy two points. Some of the goals, like Shawn Horcoff’s 40-footer and Lubo Visnovsky’s blue line floater, were the stuff of Turconian comedy. Because why not, right? Four different Oilers had two points, and Mike Modano scored both Dallas goals. Panic panic panic! Bring back Avery!