Rangers Fail Lundqvist Yet Again, Fall in Shootout
According to Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the King. Ask Henrik Lundqvist, however, and you’ll probably get a different remark. The Rangers netminder has been under fire recently, and quite frankly hasn’t been playing consistently at the elite level the Rangers and their fans have come to expect. On Wednesday Night Rivalry, however, Lundqvist was a man possessed. King Henrik stopped 29 of 32 shots through regulation and OT, and was a brick wall in the first four rounds of a shootout that saw one goal on 10 shots.
The consolation prize for the Rangers is that they received one point of the two possible, although it would be more accurate to say that the point fell into their laps than to say the earned it. In fact, half the goals scored in regulation can list the Hockey Gods as the Primary Assist.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring past the twelve minute mark with a powerplay goal as the Rangers defense (including the much scrutinized Michael Del Zotto) failed to clear the front of the net and allowed Chris Kunitz to get a timely whack at the puck moments before Lundqvist could fall on it. Less than three minutes later, the Rangers got it back on a beautiful breakaway, as Carl Hagelin found the five-hole of a sprawling Marc-Andre Fleury. That tie lasted until five minutes into the third, when Chris Kunitz chopped the stick of McDonagh in half. The referees missed the call (their view was obstructed by the net), and the absence of Mac’s active stick allowed Kunitz to start a tic-tac-toe passing play that was polished off by Dupuis. Almost exactly a minute later, Brandon Sutter got a breakaway of his own, and fooled Lundqvist with a brilliantly disguised backhand.
The Rangers tried to surge back, but were largely unable to gain much sustained offensive pressure. It was a mistake by one of the young Penguins defensemen that finally allowed the Rangers to break through. John Moore slapped a shot from the top of the slot that squeaked through Fleury and sat in the back of the crease, waiting patiently for Mats Zuccarello to push it the extra few inches across the line. Derek Brassard tied the game on the powerplay after an extremely lucky bounce off the end-boards left him with a wide open net. He was at a sharp angle, but didn’t miss, and the Rangers stumbled into overtime, and finally, the shootout.
Once there, Lundqvist did an astounding job, fending off Jokinen, Crosby, Kunitz, and Dupuis before finally giving up the shootout winner to Sutter. The Rangers sent shootout connoisseur Mats Zuccarello, who was just stopped by the quick pad of Fleury after a speedy deke. The rest of the Rangers shooters (Nash, Dominic Moore, Richards, and Pouliot) were decidedly less creative, opting to walk in and fire. Fleury went undefeated in the shootout.
Lundqvist had his share of issues unrelated to the puck, as he was the victim of two Penguins penalties, once by Harrison Zolnierczyk (unsportsmanlike conduct), and a scary collision with Kunitz that left Lundqvist face-down and in pain for several minutes. You can view the video here. Kunitz was assessed a minor penalty on the play, but the Rangers failed to capitalize, leading to the aforementioned shootout defeat.
None of the Rangers who live outside the crease played particularly well, but Michael Del Zotto once again got attention for all the wrong reasons. He and John Moore had been competing to be the Rangers biggest defensive liability, but Del Zotto pulled away, ending up a -1 and being benched for much of the third, while Moore managed a +2 performance notching two assists. Rick Nash played over 22 minutes, but he mostly glided around as though he were still in practice, routinely being stripped of the puck, and missing on passes at key moments.
With the Penguins missing more than a dozen players, the Rangers had a fantastic opportunity to continue the turn-around they started against Calgary. Instead, they lose another home game (1-4-2 on the 9 game homestand) and further sully the stats of one of the league’s best goaltenders.