Published on February 1st, 2013 | by James Conley0
At Home on the Road. Penguins 3, Rangers 0
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this current Penguins line-up is anticipating which version of its Jekyll and Hyde self is going to arrive on any given night.
Road games are a safe bet to see the former, apparently, as the Penguins moved to 4-1 on the road and 4-3 on the season with a 3-0 shutout win over the New York Rangers Thursday at Madison Square Garden. The Penguins have now beaten the Rangers in six straight contests dating back to last year and have won nine of their last 11 in MSG.
Simon Despres, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal scored in the win, with Malkin and Despres earning two-point nights apiece and Neal notching his team-leading fourth goal and second man-advantage marker of the year.
The win moves Pittsburgh to third in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of the Rangers and one point shy of both the Islanders and Devils for the division lead.
Pittsburgh had been out of sorts prior to Thursday’s date with the Rangers, losers of three in four and out of the playoff picture in the still-young season. Pittsburgh had scored six total goals in the four games since their win at MSG earlier this year (1-3-0 in that span), but managed to put three on the Rangers Thursday night.
As mentioned, the Penguins have the Rangers’ number. They’ve taken six in a row from the blueshirts, outscoring them 25-7 over that span. The addition of Rick Nash has done nothing to stall that momentum. Nash’s first goal as a Ranger came against the Penguins, but that’s the only positive the Rangers can take from the season series so far. Pittsburgh has outscored the Rangers 9-3 in two games this season, both in MSG.
Tomas Vokoun earned his second win of the season Thursday. Both his victories have come against the Rangers. Vokoun stopped 28 shots en route to his 49th career shutout, fourth-most among active goaltenders.
While the Rangers generated very few scoring chances, Vokoun snuffed out the few they managed to create by controlling rebounds and remaining in good position.
It was also a big game for some of the Penguins’ newer faces. Robert Bortuzzo saw his first action of the season and seventh-career NHL game, earning 12:11 TOI and an even rating. Bortuzzo’s minutes were relatively sheltered and his impact was barely felt on the box score. However, Pittsburgh’s third defensive pairing had become a liability with Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy struggling to minimize their mistakes.
That Bortuzzo had a quiet night is indicative of a good game on his part. Given his relatively successful night, he should be in line for another start Saturday against the Devils.
Like Bortuzzo, Despres had a strong game for Pittsburgh Thursday. Despres was one of the lone bright spots against the Islanders Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, and continued his strong play against New York’s other franchise. Pittsburgh’s first goal, a one-timer by Evgeni Malkin, was the result of a smart defensive play by Despres which led to a good breakout and sustained offensive zone time. Despres would eventually earn the primary assist on Malkin’s goal.
Despres earned his second point of the night in the third, scoring on a mini-breakaway after exiting the penalty box and beating Henrik Lundqvist with a forehand-to-backhand deke. Though Despres got into some trouble with a bad turnover and a hooking penalty in the third, he atoned for the possible damage with his putaway goal, his first of the season and second of his career.
Despres now has three points in five games played with a plus-one rating.
28 saves on 28 shots. Increasingly looking like the steal of the offseason.
One goal, one assist. Leads Pens with 6 assists and 8 points in 7 games.
Another strong showing in just 12:47 TOI. Earning more ice time.
Elsewhere, Evgeni Malkin isn’t quite into his Art Ross form of a year ago, but he’s not far removed. Malkin enjoyed another two-point night against the Rangers, giving him 6 assists and 8 points on the season, both team-leading totals. His one-timer goal opened the scoring early in the first and he earned the secondary assist on Neal’s power play goal early in the third period.
Malkin’s line has struggled for consistency, as he and Neal have cycled Tyler Kennedy, Eric Tangradi and seemingly every other forward on the club in and out of their line. While Kunitz has remained on the Crosby line, Dustin Jeffrey has nicely acquitted himself on Malkin’s line. Jeffrey has yet to earn a point playing with Neal and Malkin, but has done a fairly good job of facilitating scoring chances and has stabilized the unit defensively.
In Jeffrey’s two games this season, the trio of Malkin, Neal and Jeffrey is a combined plus-3 with two goals and three points. In four games without Jeffrey on the unit, Malkin and Neal are a combined minus-7.
Pittsburgh faces New Jersey for the first time this season Saturday. The Devils are 3-0-3 and one point ahead of Pittsburgh for the division lead. The Penguins split the season series with the Devils last year and will look to continue on their strong game Thursday in the weekend match.
Audio courtesy of Jason Seidling & Pittsburgh Penguins
Image courtesy of we stole it from Getty & step it up, flickr