- In keeping with the positive vibes I promised, here's a positive note to kick things off: Being the road team does have its advantages. One of those is Game 1 really doesn't matter all that much if you can win Game 2. For the home team you really do want to take both games at home and then split on the road leg. So it shouldn't drive you to lose sleep the Rangers lost yesterday. HOW they lost? Well, uh, not in the positive note.
- I Told You So Note: This game went almost exactly as we (we being the analytical community) all said it would. The top of the defense totally let the Rangers down with Dan Girardi and Marc Staal continuously giving the Penguins life when the Rangers were actually dominating the game. That pairing was on the ice for three of the four non-empty net goals and Girardi was particularly brutal with his net-front presence. That's not going to change, and the two got consistently roasted against Sidney Crosby. Oh, Mike Sullivan also double shifted Crosby on the fourth line and those guys roasted them too.
- The Rangers dominated the first 20 minutes of the game and went into intermission down 1-0 because of their top pairing's inability to do their job and a last-minute goal against. Same exact thing for the second period. And suddenly it was the Rangers who were dominating a game, should have been leading and then got kicked in the nads with an unlucky goal against. That was the Rangers m.o. through the regular season and it came back again in the playoffs. Just against them rather than for them.
- What's worse is Alain Vigneault -- much like the Eastern Conference Final and the 82 games that came before this -- never adjusted. He did give Brady Skjei and Dan Boyle a few reps in the third against the Crosby line and then the Carl Hagelin/Phil Kesse line (where Skjei thrived, more on him later) but it was fleeting and quickly reverted back to what it was. So Vigneault's solution to his top pairing getting shelled in possession, scoring chances and actual goals against was to keep slamming his head against the wall. I'm shocked to tell you that didn't work.
- I don't really want to harp on him more than we have but in the first goal (which felt like a back breaker for as well as the Rangers played) Girardi holds his hand up for an icing that was never called, loses Conor Shery of all people, before Staal is caught standing in front of the net doing nothing for an easy Patric Hornqvist finish. Yeah, Eric Staal and Derek Stepan are in the area, too, but neither of them should have to be in the crease too when Girardi and Staal are there. Same goes for the second Hornqvist goal where Girardi was nearly hugging Kessel (note: Kessel was already behind Lundqvist) in the crease and somehow couldn't find the puck or defend anything before he slammed the puck home.
- The second goal was worse, though. Girardi had the puck at the point and knows he's the only guy back. Throw it deep. Throw it deep. Throw it deep. Those were his three smart options. What does he does? Gently tosses the puck into the shin pads of one of the plethora Penguins right in front of him (it ends up being Hornqvist) who hits Crosby for the breakaway to make it a 2-0 game. Are you honestly telling me the Dylan McIlrath would have had as bad of a game with the same assignments? I think not. And Skjei proved he was a better option all night.
- So the Rangers get a 5-on-3 (deserved), take their time (I hate how far away from the net they set up shop with the two-man advantage, though) and finally Derick Brassard works the puck to Rick Nash down low who back doors Stepan for the easy goal. Exactly how it should go. And in that moment the air got sucked out of the building. To that point Jeff Zatkoff looked like a hero (with much help from the Rangers forwards) and the wheels could have fallen off with Hagelin sill serving 58 seconds of the first leg of his double minor.
- Then the wheels did fall off ... For the Rangers. The Penguins force a turnover and turn a 2-on-1, Keith Yandle (who Vigneault called out for not taking the shot or the pass) tries to take the shot but misses his stick check and it's 3-1. J.T. Miller didn't hustle back and Boyle wasn't quick enough to catch up. Dagger.
- Vigneault's comment about that goal irk me. He didn't have a public thing to say about Girardi or Staal but when asked about that goal he had no problem tossing Yandle under the bus. And he's not wrong, Yandle didn't play the situation fantastically. But Yandle was also on the tail end of a 3+ minute shift and was exhausted. And that gaff aside, Yandle was one of the Rangers best players and their best defenseman. All a comment like that does is alienate a guy who doesn't have to stick around next year. That loss would be worse than Anton Stralman. Especially if Girardi and Staal are still on the team.
- Spare me the "but Vigneault did talk about the bad play that led to the Crosby goal." Yeah, he did, without mentioning names. What does he think he's protecting, really? We all watched the game.
- The Henrik Lundqvist freak injury is obviously a major factor here moving forward. Antti Raanta was fine in what he was asked to do (what could he do on any of those goals?) but the Rangers defense needs a God-mode Lundqvist. A God-mode Raanta might not be good enough. At the time we had no idea what the deal was with Lundqvist -- now we know he doesn't have permanent damage, at least -- but he shouldn't have stayed in the game. Especially when he didn't come out for the second. Not that he would have been able to stop that goal with two functioning eyes but still.
- So what does Vigneault do to adjust? Here's what I would do: Sit Girardi for McIlrath and sit Tanner Glass for Oscar Lindberg. Not that Glass was particularly bad in that game, but the Rangers just scored two goals on a goalie with the 44th best save percentage in the league. Oh, that should be the AHL league, not the NHL. More skill isn't a bad thing.
Here's what he will do: If Lindberg plays it will be for Kevin Hayes or Miller (I'd be shocked if it's Miller but after that short handed goal you never know). McIlrath won't play. That should work right? Headdesk.
- The Rangers better put it behind them and fast. They have to win on Saturday.
Update Note: Totally forgot to give Skjei a ton of credit. He was one of the Rangers best players. On the second Stepan goal, Skjei joined the rush flawlessly and pulled the defenders, allowing Stepan the space to score. When he did go up against Crosby, Kessel or Hagelin he held his own. He was solid from the start, and proved he can hang in this league and probably make an impact right now. He should stick in this lineup even when Ryan McDonagh is back. Seriously.