Pens – Rangers Fallout

Last night Pittsburgh extended their winning streak to four games with an impressive 4-1 victory over the conference leading New York Rangers Thursday night. Suddenly the Atlantic Division is back to looking like a four-team race from a statistical standpoint with so much hockey left to play.
Pittsburgh returns to action tonight with a great opportunity to extend their winning streak to five games with a bad Montreal team coming to town.
The decision tonight for head coach Dan Bylsma is whether to go back to Marc Andre Fleury in back-to-back situations. Despite making 19 straight appearances, to me it’s a no brainer to go back to Fleury who was excellent last night. Brent Johnson has been awful this season and is 0-4-1 with a 3.09 goals against average and .892 save percentage in his career vs Montreal. You don’t want to halt the momentum Pittsburgh has right now and there’s plenty of time next week for Fleury to rest during the All-Star break, even though one argument from some is you don’t want to overuse your starting goaltender at this point in the season.
Bylsma will meet with the media at 5:00 p.m. The team also recalled forward Jason Williams this afternoon.
Evgeni Malkin comes into tonight’s game with 24 goals and a league leading 54 points in just 39 games played.
Neal, Kunitz and Malkin combined for 3 goals and 3 assists vs Rangers. In the Penguins last nine wins, the three have combined for 21 goals and 26 assists for 47 points.

X’s and O’s From Last Night’s Game

The Rangers got beat at their own game last night. They came out sluggish and fell behind 1-0 but got to their game in the second period, tying the game at 1-1 at 10:06 of the period on a goal by rookie winger Carl Hagelin.
On the goal, Pittsburgh got caught with that one big breakdown they seem to have every game of late as Paul Martin got caught deep and New York quickly came the other way where Evgeni Malkin and Matt Niskanen went towards Marian Gaborik the puck carrier who fed a breaking Hagelin for the goal. Hagelin beat James Neal and a late coming Martin to the net.
Following the Hagelin goal, New York began to dominante the puck possession game, providing constant pressure in around the net to goaltender Marc Andre Fleury in the second period, although they only held a 10-9 shot advantage. Things were starting to setup for them where they usually wear down a team in the third period and come away with a 3-1, 3-2 win.
It was a totally different outcome than the Rangers are use to seeing as Pittsburgh exploded for three third period goals, en route to a 4-1 win.
“They fed it to us in the third,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said.
What the Penguins did an excellent job in 4-1 win was turning mental mistakes by the Rangers into goals. New York got caught with two costly pinches that seconds later had the puck in the back of their net.
John Tortorella called the Rangers mental mistakes, “brain-dead reads”
One prime example of that was Chris Kunitz first period goal when Ryan McDonagh made a bad read just inside the Penguins blueline, leading to a rush the other way and then in the third period Marc Staal got caught with a bad pinch which lead to a 3-on-1 rush resulting in a Richard Park goal.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring 3:16 into the game on what was a turnaround sequence as Ruslan Fedotenko fanned on a wide open scoring attempt and Pittsburgh goes the other way and scores on a rebound off the rush, jumping out to a 1-0 lead. Ruslan Fedotenko was in 2009-2010 season form missing his point blank chance.
How the Play Developed: Ryan Callahan beats Zbynek Michalek in a 1-on-1 situation on the boards at the right hash mark and goes to the net, setting up Ruslan Fedotenko for what should have been a tap in goal…..Fedotenko fans on the scoring attempt and Michalek throws the puck up the boards, James Neal wins a battle just inside the Penguins blueline taking Ryan McDonagh out of the play and Pittsburgh goes the other way as Chris Kunitz buries a Paul Martin rebound off the rush after Kunitz avoided a hit from all-star defenseman Dan Girardi in the neutral zone to find a breaking Martin who did an excellent job of jumping into the play.
VALUE OF NEAL James Neal is such an effective player because of the little things he does. Neal taking McDonagh out of the play and winning the puck battle on the boards leading to the offensive rush was a prime example of that and little things like that is what I hear members of the Penguins organization have been praising all season about Neal’s play, even more so than his goal scoring prowess.
What led to several odd-man rushes in the game was Pittsburgh activating their D and jumping in the play That’s when they are at their best. Paul Martin did it on the Kunitz goal and Deryk Engelland joined the play on Pittsburgh’s 3-on-1 rush following the bad pinch by Staal on Richard Park’s goal.