Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
The first word that came to mind when the Penguins took the ice Saturday was “ridonkulous,” but alas, sometimes editors frown upon the use of words that are not actual words.
So let’s keep it dictionary- friendly and just say the Penguins’ first power-play unit is “talented” — very, very talented — and is perhaps the biggest single obstacle the Rangers must overcome to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Rangers are aware of this, of course, and are taking all appropriate steps to deal with Patric Hornqvist, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang as their series moves to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday night.
At the top of the list: Limit penalties, thereby minimizing the Pittsburgh quintet’s chances to do damage.
Next: Keep the Penguins’ power play out of the offensive zone, thereby minimizing its chances to get organized.
Easier said, and written, than done.
“Obviously, they have some of the best players in the world,” said Viktor Stalberg, one of the Rangers’ penalty- killers. “They’re going to make plays. You have to try to be tight. They’re going to get shots, but you have to give them as bad an angle as you can and then Hank [Henrik Lundqvist] is going to make some big stops for us, which he has.”
Defenseman Kevin Klein, who noted that the Penguins’ second power-play group is not too shabby, either, said, “We’re doing our best to try to limit those options and opportunities, block shots when we can. But they have a lot of shooters. It’s difficult. You just try and give Hank [help], let him see the shots, take away the rebounds and get it out when you can.”
The Rangers outscored the Penguins 4-0 in Game 2 when the teams skated five-on-five. Both Penguins goals came on power plays, both by Kessel. But the first came off a quick breakout, mostly with the second unit on the ice, and the second was scored when the teams were skating four-on-three.
“I think the biggest thing is just obviously trying to make it hard on them to get in the zone,” defenseman Keith Yandle said. “Once they set up, they obviously do a really good job. Our killers have done a great job of being hard on their guys at trying to get in the zone.”
Said Stalberg, “It’s tough. They have good shooters on both sides and Letang is good on top. They have a lot of options. It’s not like you stand by one guy and take him away, because they’re just going to find another one. You have to do a good job as a unit.”
“There’s just not one thing you can key on,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job in the neutral zone on entries. Not letting them set up is key.”
Malkin and Letang handle the points, with Hornqvist, Crosby and Kessel as the forwards. That is a lot of firepower, matched in the conference perhaps only by the Capitals — the Rangers’ likely second-round opponent if they survive this series.
So at least the Rangers should have plenty of practice by then. And maybe by then their captain and lone 2015-16 All-Star, defenseman Ryan McDonagh, will be back.
Staal’s older brother Eric has seen it all in his decade-plus in the league, and has seen few power-play units the equal of the Penguins’.
“There’s definitely a few guys you have to be aware of, and sometimes they’re going to make plays,” he said. “We went over a lot of video of stuff we can try and focus in on to help us. I think we’ve done an OK job. I think we can try to continue to get better as the series goes on.”
Told the Penguins’ unit looks like a power-play All-Star team, the elder Staal smiled and said, “That just makes it more fun.”