Is there any New York Ranger that has been as big of a surprise as Kevin Klein this season? Klein's overtime game-winning blast was his 6th goal of the season and, without a doubt, his most important goal of the 2014-15 campaign. The Rangers needed the win last night very badly before the puck was dropped and after they lost their 3-1 lead in a matter of 24 seconds in the third period, they were downright desperate to redeem themselves and come up with the win in extra time. Thankfully, Kevin Klein's goal put the Rangers back up to 2 games above a .500 record just before the club departs for a four game road trip that starts at late Saturday night in Vancouver against the Sedin twins.
It's important to celebrate that huge win over the Penguins, which gives the Rangers the 2-0-1 lead in the season series against Crosby's club, but let's not forget just how close this team came to losing a game after having a 2 goal lead for the second game in a row. In my pregame piece before last night's game I said the following:
We've all seen how the Rangers have played defense against teams like the Lightning and Red Wings lately and how frequently lapses in defensive coverage, turnovers, and failing to protect the net has turned into goals for the opposition. The Penguins feast on those things, especially with the elite talent they have in their lineup.
Sometimes I hate being right, especially about the inadequacies of the Rangers. The Penguins first goal, which came from the stick of Nick Spaling off of a feed by Crosby, came about because of a neutral zone turnover. And in the third period the Penguins got themselves back into the game when the Rangers made unforgivable errors in their own zone, failed to clear the puck, lost track of Evgeni Malkin in front of the net, and when Marc Staal maddeningly whiffed on a bouncing puck right in front of the net which allowed Steve Downie to tie the game. The Penguins outshot the Rangers 35 to 29 and several times it felt as if the ice was tilted, especially when Evgeni Malkin, a guy who loves to play in New York, was on the ice.
On the bright side the Rangers managed to take just one penalty in the game when Kevin Hayes briefly closed his hand over the puck in the first period. The Blueshirts did a great job of staying out of the box against the league's best power play which is a good thing because on their one man advantage the Penguins looked terrifying. However, on their own three power plays opportunities the Rangers looked absolutely hopeless and had no answer for the aggressive penalty killing of the Penguins' role players. At some point the power play is going to need either a shake up to see what happens or a lucky bounce to give them some confidence because right now it is about as hopeless as a turtle on its back going down a waterslide.
-Rick Nash was outstanding last night. Another breakaway goal to give him his 18th of the year and he registered 5 shots on net. In the 2014 Playoffs when Nash had a golden opportunity you almost expected him to blunder it because of how snake-bitten he was, but right now he is the best player on the Rangers and is giving this team a lot more than just goals. He's been a revelation this season. Just give the guy the puck and send him towards the net with speed and a little bit of room. He can beat anyone right now.
-Tanner Glass was a mess, but we were all expecting that from him. Glass, who never looks fleet of foot, looked particularly slow last night, but that may just have been because we have grown accustomed to seeing players with some legs on the Rangers' fourth line. Glass registered 2 hits and killed 0:19 seconds of penalties against his team from last season.
-Martin St. Louis had a very strong game. He made a few great back-checking plays and made that beautiful pass to J.T. Miller to get the Rangers on the board in the second period.
-How about J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes picking up a goal each? With Chris Kreider out of the lineup, Miller really took his opportunity in the Rangers' top six by the horns. He was skating well and I liked his positioning throughout the game. Hayes' decision to shoot on the rush with Nash was a huge relief and it was fantastic to see him follow his shot and get rewarded with a very big goal. It's great to see the kids contribute some depth scoring, which the Rangers desperately need.
-I thought that this was Ryan McDonagh's best game since returning from his shoulder injury. He looked fast and smooth against the Penguins last night and I liked what he was doing in the transition game and in the offensive zone. He picked up the primary assist on Kevin Klein's game winning goal in overtime and ate up 25:52 of ice time for the Blueshirts. It's no easy task to take on Sidney Crosby all night and Girardi and McD kept Sid to just a single assist early in the game.
-John Moore came in for Matt Hunwick who was a healthy scratch tonight. Moore put 4 shots on net, registered 2 turnovers, and played just 10:45 last night. This was yet another game where I was absolutely unimpressed with Moore's game and his decisions on the blue line in the offensive zone, especially on the power play. Moore is another young Ranger that feels like he has all the requisite tools to be a solid or special player but, for whatever reason, it's just not clicking right now with him. The kid needs to hit the books and spend some extra time on the ice with Ulf Samuelsson before the coaching staff loses whatever little confidence they still have in him and his game.
It's a long wait until Saturday night's game against the Canucks but thankfully the Rangers (and their fans) get to breathe a bit more comfortably after coming up with a big two points against a team that is on top of the Metropolitan Division. It's true that the Penguins were missing half a dozen key players in their lineup, but these two points count just as much as any other win and the Rangers should feel good about getting 2 wins and 1 shootout loss against the Penguins thus far this season. Going into this road trip with a record of 12-10-4 feels a whole hell of a lot better than going into it with a record of 11-11-4. Hopefully by Saturday night Chris Kreider will be able to return to the Rangers' lineup.
Let's go Rangers.