For the Rangers, Saturday afternoon at 3 PM in Pittsburgh cannot come a moment too soon — just to eliminate the bad taste left by Game 1.
After the Penguins beat Alain Vigneault’s skaters, 5-2, in Pitt Wednesday night, it has become clear that there are some problems to be fixed and questions to be answered.
1. Will Henrik Lundqvist‘s late first-period eye injury, which forced him to miss the last two periods, keep him on the sidelines in Game 2?
2. Where will New York’s scoring come from?
3. What’s keeping Eric Staal and Rick Nash from firing up their howitzers when needed most?
4. Can the Seventh Avenue Skaters win with Antti Raanta between the pipes, if King Henrik remains scratched?
This much is certain; to beat Sidney Crosby & Co., the Blueshirts not only will have to muzzle Captain Sid — who scored a pivotal breakaway goal — but also Pitt’s fifth-leading scorer during the regular season, Patric Hornqvist, who recorded a hat trick.
Hornqvist opened the scoring late in the first period after Lundqvist returned to the cage after Marc Staal‘s stick accidentally whacked The King’s mask and injured his right eye. He then capped off the trick with an empty-netter.
Another question to be debated — at least until Saturday — is whether or not Lundqvist should immediately have been sent to the infirmary or allowed to finish the period as happened.
No doubt, the night’s opening goal momentarily deflated the visitors.
Whether or not Zatkoff or Marc-Andre Fleury start in Game 2, Vigneault must solve a surprisingly effective Pitt defense which protected the third-stringer over two periods with 14 blocked shots, constantly getting in New York’s shooting and passing lanes.
Likewise, the Rangers’ bomb sights were a little off-target. When the game still was in reach with 20 minutes left, the visitors’ shots had missed the net too often.
Zatkoff may have been more vulnerable had his foes created more havoc in the dirty areas around the crease, but this did not happen enough to be effective.
Not to be overlooked were the undisciplined penalties and lack of finish in the offensive zone.
My pre-game Blueshirt blueprint was basic: Execute simple and crisp, while being mindful of New York’s own end.
Ideally, the Rangers first had to pick up the Pens’ attack before it reached center ice. Secondly, the speedy Pitt wingers had to be adequately defended on dump-ins down the boards.
For AV’s crew, defensive zone coverage and puck management had to be superior to the level achieved during the season.
Since the score remained zip-zip for almost the entire opening period, the game plan seemed to be working. But Lundqvist’s injury appeared to have changed everything.
Making the Rangers plans for Game 2 even murkier is the promotion of goalie Magnus Hellberg from Hartford. The AHL puck-stopper stands 6-foot-6, 200 pounds. The question about New York’s starter could be a mystery titled “Suspense.”
That said, there were Rangers positives. To wit:
- Brady Skjei, the rookie from Minnesota, looked good on defense.
- The penalty-kill was four-out-of-five and held up early when it most counted.
- Derek Stepan not only scored both goals, but was superb as well on defense.
To top it all, Stepan said it best for himself and his teammates, looking toward Game 2: “Everybody has to step up and play a bigger role!”
Personally, I can’t wait for that to happen.