A 16-game stretch in November, marked by continued success on the road, concluded at home with last night’s 3-1 loss to the Penguins, and the Rangers have two days to regroup. December begins with a home-and-home series against the Islanders.
“It’s going to be big points,” said Brandon Dubinsky. “We have an opportunity to get some practice time, we haven’t had much with so many games and being on the road. We’ll be rested and prepared. It’s a rivalry that’s always fun to play in.”
The Islanders will be feisty, although not as skilled as the Penguins, who won their seventh straight game as goals off odd-man rushes by Kris Letang and Chris Conner in 1:15 of the second period, when Pittsburgh had 14 shots to the Rangers' six, turned a 1-0 lead into a three-goal margin.
“Every time we lost the puck in the neutral zone, they came so fast, it felt like they were cheating,” said Henrik Lundqvist. “They were just so quick.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella called that middle section of eight to 10 minutes “the worst part of our game. We’re trying to crawl back into it, we lost our third guy in some pinches, we overcommitted and they just threw it by us. They’re on a run, their goaltender has been playing very well and they’re opportunistic. When they have chances to get you, they got us.”
The NHL’s No. 1 penalty-kill also stifled the Rangers three times, including twice in the third period, after Marian Gaborik’s goal had made it 3-1 at 16:19 of the second period. The Penguins are 31-for-the last 31 when a man down.
“The biggest thing is trying to get the puck in the zone and set up,” said Ryan Callahan.” They pressured us and you have to give the credit, but at the same time we have to outwork their PK.”
Although the Rangers played a physical, energetic first period, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead on a mishap in front of Lundqvist. Fedotenko gloved a shot by Pascal Dupuis and dropped it, hoping for a pass, but Marc Staal bumped him and Max Talbot pounced on the loose puck, took a stride and beat Lundqvist at 5:10.
In the second, the Rangers were caught in a line change and Sidney Crosby, who has 26 points in the last 13 games, made a backhand pass to a trailing Letang, who made it 2-0 at 12:01 of the second after Lundqvist (24 saves) had made some key stops. Then Chris Conner, another trailer on an odd-man rush, made it 3-0. After Steve Eminger blocked Tyler Kennedy's shot, Conner grabbed the rebound in the slot, and beat Lundqvist, who was screened by Eminger, past his outstretched right leg.
“We have to make sure we come up and down as a five man unit. In that stretch, we didn’t and it cost us,” said Dubinsky.
Gaborik, struggling with the flu that had kept him out of Saturday's game in Nashville, decided to dress after warmups, and closed the gap to two on a pass from Michal Rozsival, Gaborik, alone in the left circle, whipped his fifth of the season past Marc-Andre Fleury with 3:41 left.
The Rangers (14-11-1) are now 4-2-0 in the last six and have not defeated the surging Penguins (16-8-2) in the last four games at the Garden.
“Tough month,” said Callahan, who noted that the young Rangers were 9-7---much of it without Gaborik and Michal Rozsival---and had worked hard. “We have to take the positives out of it and bring it into December.”