The New York Rangers came off two crucial games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Blueshirts walked away with two of a possible four points. Yet, based on the first of the two games, the Rangers looked like they should have walked away with all four points. A stunning 8-4 victory on April 6 led to high hopes for their next matchup two days later.
Alas, the Rangers left empty-handed following a 2-5 loss against one of the top organizations in the league this 2020-21 season. April 8’s loss was the final of eight meetings between the two clubs.
Of the eight games, the Rangers won two, lost four in regulation, and had one overtime and one shootout loss to the Penguins. Needless to say, the Penguins have not been an easy team to face for the Blueshirts.
The Rangers’ 8-Goal Game
As the season dwindles down, points in the MassMutual East Division become even more enviable. With Pittsburgh in third place and the Rangers currently in fifth, the Blueshirts showed they could at least compete with the red-hot team, but their final win was something else.
Nearly one-third of goals scored on the Penguins this season occurred during this game. The Rangers capitalized on the Penguins 25 times; meanwhile, Pittsburgh outscored the Rangers with 31 goals during the season series.
It’s not a secret the Rangers struggled against the Penguins this season, but the outcome of that Tuesday game saw goals up and down the lineup, and that itself is something to celebrate. In fact, this season has not been kind on the Rangers at all, really.
Regardless, eight different Blueshirts were able to net one past Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry and later Casey DeSmith. Colin Blackwell opened the floodgates in the first period. Then it was Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Ryan Strome who were able to tack onto the lead.
Alexis Lafrenière was the lone New York goal in the middle frame, the sixth goal of his debut season. Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, and Pavel Buchnevich cemented the win with goals in the final period. The perfect blend of seasoned skill and contribution from the kids.
Netminder Igor Shesterkin faced 45 shots, almost evenly spread amongst the three periods. He looked sharp, despite giving up two third-period goals. Indeed, Jake Guentzel, who had the first late-game goal, capitalized from being wide open in the slot.
Later, Radim Zohorna outworked three Rangers to allow a pass to Brian Dumoulin for the final goal, which left Shesterkin without much chance. Mistakes like this are dangerous. Though the Rangers had a more than comfortable lead, they have given up leads before, and to this team in particular.
With the 2020-21 division realignment and the elongated division series, the Rangers should have been more than prepared for Pittsburgh. Evidence of that was really only shown Tuesday night, thanks to their surplus of production.
To see the Blueshirts topple a team like this was certainly enjoyable, especially with how good young Vitali Kravtsov looked since he joined the team, but the offensive burst was not sustainable. Their eight-goal game was an elating win, but it would not last for long.
The 5-2 Rangers Loss
It seemed like you could feel the loss coming before the game even started. It was not the first time the Rangers could roll over a team and then come out completely different the next.
The Penguins were able to exploit Shesterkin, and they continually did so, particularly five-hole. While in the midst of this stretch, Shesterkin is going to have to take away those opportunities.
Though the Rangers do not face the Penguins again this season, they can learn a lot from their series. The underwhelming record on the Rangers side of things shows they can get a “sneaky win” when it comes to facing these solid teams, but these are wins typically not strung together, unable to propel the Blueshirts into the postseason.
But the finger cannot be pointed towards one department anymore. Panarin and Chris Kreider were virtually invisible in this series. This definitely adds to the skepticism that surrounded Kreider’s contract extension last season. Thursday’s production came from Rooney, Buchnevich, Kakko, and to no one’s surprise, Fox. It is also not shocking Blackwell contributed that night as well.
The lack of continuity with this team is frustrating, but working on this aspect of the game is a learning process, and it’s being worked on with a very young group. The Rangers still face every other team in the division heading into the homestretch.
It is unlikely the Blueshirts will secure a playoff spot, but each season moves the organization closer to finishing the rebuild chapter. Even without a playoff run, the Rangers received answers this season. They see promise in defense, skill in the net, and most importantly, legitimate talent with the upcoming generation.
Rachel is a recent graduate from the University of Pittsburgh earning a degree in Communications and English. After moving to Pittsburgh for school, she fell in love with the vibrant hockey community but that only strengthened her love for the team she grew up rooting for — the New York Rangers. Rachel covers the Rangers at thehockeywriters.com and she can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.