You don’t have to be Scotty Bowman to look at the Pittsburgh Penguins roster and see a few holes.
The bulk of their bottom six forwards leave a lot to be desired, with names like Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass, and Craig Adams consistently getting the nod while the Megnas and Gibbonses await their turn to draw in. Their d-corps pales in comparison to the best out there. Their goaltender has had some post-season struggles, to put it as politely as possible.
But don’t mistake the Penguins having a few holes for a team you can sleepwalk past, as it appears the Rangers did last night. New York may have the better roster top to bottom, but if that “top” part doesn’t get their act together, the Pens heavy-hitters could bowl them over.
There’s been no shortage of words spent on Crosby’s inability to put the puck in the net, but he tore the Rangers apart on Sunday. He was on the ice when Pittsburgh generated 20 shot attempts while only giving up seven. He racked up 10 of those himself, with six finding their way to the net. Goals or not, he’s vastly affecting games, with his post-season Corsi moving into the 60% range.
The Penguins best player played like their best player, much in the same way Carey Price and P.K. Subban helped Montreal steal a game in Boston. For New York, Henrik Lundqvist has lived up to his end of the deal, particularly in Game 2, but the rest of the Rangers core has left him on an island.
Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan were basically non-existent in Game 2, as both of their scoreless droughts reached six. Rick Nash has one goal in 21 playoffs games with the Rangers, including zero this year. If Crosby was dominant, it was at the hands of Rangers talented young defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who was victimized so often they had to take him off the assignment in favor of Marc Staal and Anton Stralman.
While Brad Richards’ line was okay Sunday, he’s averaging a team high 5:08 per game on the powerplay in the role of quarterback for a unit that hasn’t scored in its previous 29 attempts, dating back to Game 2 of the opening round versus the Philadelphia Flyers. Coach Alain Vigneault has put the blame on himself for that, saying “The power play ultimately is my responsibility. I have to find the right trigger points to make it work. I’m going to spend the night trying to figure it out.” And maybe that’s at least partially fair, but at some point the players are responsible for making reads, creating chances and making it happen.
The players the Rangers need to play well to succeed simply let them down. Hell, Mats Zuccarello, who led the Rangers in scoring this season, posted a Corsi number of 11 - yes, that’s 11 - percent in Game 2. That’s so bad it’s impressive.
The smart money heading into this Pittsburgh/New York series was on the Rangers - they have a good enough d-corps that they should be able to at least manage the Penguins’ tremendous top-end talent, they have enough offensive skill themselves that they should be able to put a bunch past Marc-Andre Fleury, and their goaltender always gives them a chance.
But if Lundqvist is the only guy going for the Rangers, the Penguins are going to have a real shot at seeing the Conference Final, something I didn’t see coming a few days ago. Game 2 could’ve been a rout, and they weren’t far off winning Game 1.
Flawed though they may be, you still have to play well to beat the Black and Gold. Crosby and his goal drought may be drawing the headlines, but it could very well be the slump of the Rangers top talent that dictates how this series plays out.