The Rangers continued their hot streak last night with a convincing 3-0 result in Pittsburgh. The Penguins went into the evening riding a six-game win streak and with Sidney Crosby in the midst of a red hot stretch. Unfortunately for the Pens, the Rangers three-game run was the trend that prevailed.
With Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup with a lower body injury, the offense failed to beat Lundqvist and at points looked non-existent. The best scoring chance of the game came when Sidney Crosby threw a pass across the zone to Phil Kessel who was unable to make good contact on a shot with Lundqvist out of position.
The problem for Pitt is that when those big names don’t score it is tough for the team to get on the board. For seemingly a decade,since Crosby and Malkin came to town and made them a contender annually, they have been criticized for not surrounding them with enough talent. Against a Rangers team known for rolling four lines deep that disparity was evident.
On a night where the three goals came from Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes and Dominic Moore, the value of a deep roster was on display. Hayes and Moore currently sit on the third and fourth line respectively and with the return of Rick Nash, Fast will likely return to the third line with Hayes. While the Rangers third and fourth lines came on the ice and put pucks in the net, the shifts from the bottom two lines in yellow and black were visibly unsatisfactory. While the Rangers are built to be able to produce with arguably there best two players sidelined, the Pens live and die by a handful of scorers. The league is trending toward more depth as the enforcer has been thrown by the wayside and as recent as this offseason the Penguins have only exacerbated their top-heavy roster signing Phil Kessel.
This problematic distribution of skill goes beyond last nights tilt. New York has 11 players with at least 20 points. Pittsburgh has only six. Last night while Hayes finally broke his cold streak, Fast continued his sneakily productive season and Moore got a goal for the underachieving fourth unit, the Pens had more than a third of their shots from Letang and Kessel who each had six.
For Rangers fans, last night was another sign of a team finally finding an identity and hitting stride, for the Penguins that loss doesn’t take away from a good record of late but makes you wonder how much longer they can lean on a handful of players when they compete against fully stocked rosters.