It’s a tough time to be a New York Rangers fan these days. While the Blueshirts recently pocketed a five-game win streak, the Rangers derailed on a four-game trip losing 4 of 4 games. It seems as though the wheels are starting to fall off the wagon, but the Rangers are still close enough to the 8th spot to maybe wrestle for a playoff position as the regular season comes nearer to a close.
The Pittsburgh Penguins dictated the skill pace early in the first period this afternoon. The Ranger’s opportunities came in the second when they were able to keep Pittsburgh to the outside in the defensive zone, and turn it up ice, working below the hash mark. The issue is though, when you can not get on the board, and you go into a third period with a talented Pittsburgh team you are asking for trouble. This is exactly what happened. Two goals go in and it is game over, warm up the bus. When you want to try and create offense it can not come in the third period. The Rangers need to get their legs going from the get go. The Blueshirts did not force a lot of mistakes on the talented Pittsburgh opponent, which left the Penguins in a solid position to pull off the win. Shots were 27-23 in favor of the Penguins, and Pittsburgh added another 2 points to make it 8 consecutive wins, and 7 straight wins over the Rangers. The Rangers are the only team Pittsburgh has held scoreless this season.
It is a very discouraging three game stretch. Four penalties against a struggling Buffalo team in the second period resulted in the first loss of the 4-game trip. The Jets with their talented wingers posed a threat that ultimately helped them to dominate against the Rangers in Winnipeg. The Pittsburgh game just added the icing on the cake. The first game set the stage for the funk that would encompass this struggling Ranger squad, and the thing is it is not going to get any easier in the upcoming games. The Rangers will face-off against Carolina next who are 6-2-0 over their last 8. Then there is the Devils. There is no light, per se, at the end of the tunnel for these boys in blue. If the Blueshirts can start to capitalize on the powerplay and in the opportune scoring chances, the glasses may start to look a little rosier again. However, if you can not find a way to score it is hard to win.
The initial goal coming from Beau Bennett within 90 seconds of the first period set the tone. Bennett beat Henrik Lundqvist from the right circle with a slap shot to make it his second goal of the season. Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis sealed the deal in the third period to give the Penguins the two points that pushed them into first place in the Eastern Conference. Marc-Andre Fleury earned his first shut out of the season and established a franchise record for career shut outs. On the other end, The Blueshirts lacked any shots on net within the opening 11 minutes of the first. One solid opportunity came in the second period when Carl Hagelin shot one from the left side that deflected off Brooks Orpik. The puck fell on the goal line, but did not sneak past Fleury. Despite any efforts, the Blueshirts could not light the lamp.
The Rangers have been held to 2 total goals over their last 3 games.
Similarly in the previous game against the Jets, Winnipeg took the early lead with a power play goal at 1:58 of the first period. Marian Gaborik was awarded a penalty shot at 11:17 in the second period, but did not get the goal. Ryan Callahan tallied a goal at 1:11 of the second to tie the game, but to the Ranger’s demise, Antti Miettinen responded shortly after to get the go-ahead goal. Andrew Ladd added the clincher with a empty net goal at the end of the third. Like the Pittsburgh game, the Ranger’s had their chances to close in and did not. The Rangers can not rely consistently on the performance of Rick Nash. They need consistent goals from guys like Gaborik, Callahan, and Richards. With the talent of teams like Pittsburgh and upcoming teams like Carolina and New Jersey, the Blueshirts need to start finding a way to put the puck in the back of the net, otherwise the Blueshirts will quickly find themselves on a consistent downward spiral.
On the upside of all this, maybe history has a way of repeating itself. Rangers get Marc Messier in 91, win the Presidents’ Trophy, run into some familiar faces named Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in the 2nd round and fell short. 92-93 the Blueshirts really underachieved, (sound familiar?) and miss the playoffs, but lets just hope they can still make the playoffs this season. Then there is the ever-so-famous 1994.
Last year, they finish 1st in the East but fall short. This year, they are riding the struggle bus a bit, but there is still a decent chance to make the playoffs. If the pattern continues… who knows, but one thing is for sure regardless of history, these Rangers still have a chance to make it to the playoffs this season and as far as I am concerned that is what they should be focusing on: one game at a time and trying to start generating that very necessary offense.