One thing the Rangers should remember when they arrive Sunday at Consol Energy Center: If they win in a shootout, don't leave the ice.
Who can forget the shootout circus on Nov. 15, the last time the Rangers visited Pittsburgh?
An intense, physical game. Dan Girardi rocked by Evgeni Malkin, forcing him to briefly leave the game. Playoff atmosphere. Tied at 2 after overtime, during which Henrik Lundqvist robbed Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang on breakaways.
Dan Boyle beat Marc-Andre Fleury at the right post in the third round of the shootout. The Rangers celebrated and left the ice. They start undressing in the music-filled visitors' room, sticks are gathered for packing.
Not so fast, my friends.
A video review showed that Boyle's initial shot hit the post and deflected into the cage off his stick -- a rare, but illegal double-hit in a shootout.
So Lundqvist comes back on the ice, clearly not as focused as when he left, and Brandon Sutter scores. Fleury then denied Rick Nash, and it was the Pens' turn to party. Wacky.
Memo to hockey ops: The NHL should have kept both teams on the ice until the goal was reviewed. Not sure if that's the procedure now, but if not, it should be.
Don't let the Islanders' recent success over the Penguins fool you. John Tavares & Co. seem to have their number recently. But the Rangers, who have scored two goals in the last three games, face a difficult matinee matchup Sunday. Under Mike Johnston's watch, the Penguins have been sideswiped by injuries, but are still battling for first place in the Metropolitan Division with the Islanders. Crosby and Malkin each have 50 points. Newly acquired David Perron has four goals in five games. And Lundqvist and Fleury are expected to be in the nets for the fourth clash of the season.
In the three previous games, the Rangers won handily (5-0), in overtime (4-3 on Kevin Klein's goal) and fell in the strange shootout. How will the puck spin this time?
Better options than Staal?
For those wondering if president and general manager Glen Sather is overpaying for defenseman Marc Staal, consider this: Here's some of the free-agent blueliners expected to be available this summer: Paul Martin, Andrej Sekera, Cody Franson, Johnny Boychuk and Mike Green. Not exactly the Fab Five. Would you really replace Staal with any of them?
Staal, who turned 28 on Jan. 13, has played just 502 games, given concussions and a serious eye injury. Next season is the last on Dan Boyle's two-year contract, and perhaps Kevin Klein moves into the top four. So the opening down the road would be for a third pair d-man, who will be less expensive.
A potential side benefit of Staal signing long-term? Perhaps it could eventually help lure brother Eric from Carolina, the big center that the Rangers need to compete against top clubs. Salary would be an issue, though: $8.2 million next season, then free agency before the 2016-17 season. That might be when the Rangers can afford him.
It's a little early to think trades, but every team that talks to the Rangers inquires about J.T. Miller, so presumably he'd be in demand if Blueshirts management wants another star forward.
Glass half full
Every season, no matter the record, fans have a whipping boy, from Tom Poti to Michael Del Zotto. This year's target is Tanner Glass. The social media bleaters who bow at the altar of fancy stats, and disregard all else, are out in force. They conveniently ignore how much the players like his presence. Granted, the fourth-line left wing, who signed a three-year deal, has not played well enough. But he is showing signs of performing the way he did when Vigneault coached him in Vancouver. In the last two games, he's delivered 14 hits and lit a spark with two fights. Vigneault is one of the better coaches (check those stats, folks), so it's tough to argue if he wants to give minutes to Glass.