A first place team is always in a different realm when it comes to expectations, especially when it is a team coached by John Tortorella. And even though it isn’t exactly so, the New York Rangers seem to be on a losing streak. 1-1, 1-1, 1-… , kind of like a heartbeat, reminding them of their humanity and maybe even a little fragility. First place is shaky, and each loss can mean a significant change in the standings. At the same time, each unanswered goal can be magnified threefold and most definitely be used against you. Which is, in a sense, what happened on Thursday night at the Garden.
The Rangers only had one sluggish period, and they came out only one goal down despite being outshot 0-8 and then 6-14 at some points of the first period. They even stole the momentum back when Hagelin squeezed one between Fleury’s pads, but then the scales tipped back into perfect balance when Rangers failed to take a single shot on the late second period power play.
And then came the third, when the Rangers were not outplayed, not outshot, but clearly, unambiguously outscored. A mistake in the offensive zone resulted in a three-on-one, and Park’s goal put the Penguins ahead by one. For the rest of the period, two Penguins shone – Evgeni Malkin with a backhander and an empty-netter, and Marc-Andre Fleury with some big saves, managing to stay as close to his own net as he could.
Despite what the score suggests, outside of the first period, the Rangers looked solid and worked as hard as ever. “I don’t think we played that bad,” said Henrik Lundqvist, whose Crown Collection selection of apparel launched last night. “It’s all the little details that at the end will be the difference. We have to do everything, if not perfectly, really well to win games. Every night it’s tough to win, especially now when teams come in and expect a tough night. We have to work really hard to get our points. We always have been working hard to get wins – that’s not going to change.”
The standings indicated that Penguins were 14th in the NHL, but they are a talented young team, not unlike the Rangers, and they won the Cup three seasons ago. Not to mention that they seem to be having a better month than the Rangers, at least as of 10 PM last night. And no one realizes that better than the Rangers.
“We’re alternating through here,” John Tortorella said. “I guess everybody is used to those five game winning streaks, those seven game winning streaks. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a grind through a couple months. I think our players understand that. Again, I don’t think we played poorly tonight. We gathered ourselves and I thought we played really well, but for a space of five minutes, we had some bad reads, some brain-dead reads and a couple struggles with some players. They [Pittsburgh] are that good, that quick and that good, and they beat us.”
Losses by three are tough to stomach, but they are by no means an indication of anything. That this loss followed James Dolan’s claim is just as meaningful as the win that preceded it.
Here’s the deal. Even with last night’s loss, the Rangers are still 2-1 against Penguins this year, although tied at eight goals apiece. Though unpleasant, it hardly shook anyone up, but rather pointed out things to work on. Which is exactly what captain Ryan Callahan pointed to. “I think everyone is still pretty confident in here,” he said. “You’re going to have stretches throughout the year where you’re going to get some losses, but I think the big thing is how we respond. We have to try to make sure these don’t build up. Throughout the year we’ve responded well after losses, and we have to do the same going into Boston.”
Here’s to continuing the streak.