Pittsburgh Penguins Battle Past New York Rangers

Feb 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62) sktes with the puck against New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62) sktes with the puck against New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Marc-Andre Fleury played a strong game and Conor Sheary picked up his first multi-goal NHL game as the Pittsburgh Penguins clawed their way to a win over NYR.

Marc-Andre Fleury was tested early and often as the New York Rangers launched an all-out assault on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Luckily, Fleury stood strong and showed his athleticism, making several great saves in a row.

After a fast, physical start, the Pens seemed to finally get their skates moving and bodies hitting. Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary had a great opportunity almost on top of Henrik Lundqvist, but couldn’t convert. Chris Kunitz supplemented the play by throwing some heavy hits.

Olli Maatta soon took a penalty, his second high-sticking call in as many games. The Rangers’ powerplay has been pretty strong recently, boasting a 40% success rate in their past ten games. Fleury singlehandedly stymied a quasi-breakaway by Chris Kreider, launching himself out of the net to poke-check the puck.

Ian Cole joined Maatta in the box for a delay of game, putting the Pens two men down. Despite strong offensive pressure by the Rangers, the Pens escaped the 5-on-3 unscathed. The Penguins’ road PK is fourth in the league, a stat made all the more important by their precarious playoff position.

Fleury stood on his head over and over as the Rangers sustained pressure in the zone. Barely ten minutes into the first, the Rangers had 12 shots on goal compared to the Penguins’ 3. The short-lived momentum the Penguins had earlier disappeared the second Maatta sat in the sin bin and they’d been paying for it since.

J.T. Miller was caught holding Trevor Daley‘s stick, giving the Penguins a chance to attack with a man-advantage. Evgeni Malkin is out for the remainder of the season with an upper-body injury, and the Pens’ powerplay is often lackluster without him.

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Not today, though.

Kris Letang scuffled with some Rangers to get the puck to Crosby, who fired on Lundqvist. Patric Hornqvist snatched up the rebound and somehow fit it between Lundqvist and the goalpost, finding the back of the net from an impossible angle.

Hornqvist’s netfront presence could prove to be a defining factor if the Penguins make the playoffs. His ability to agitate and put the puck on net at the same time is unmatched on the Penguins.

As the period wound down, the lack of defense finally allowed for a NYR goal. The attacking Rangers caught the Pens flat-footed, moving down the ice efficiently. Kevin Klein dished the puck up to Derek Stepan, who deflected the puck right off the lurking Kreider’s stick into the net.

That goal came on the Rangers’ nineteenth shot of the game… with still over a minute left in the first period. The fact that the Penguins are allowing this many shots in a single period is absolutely ridiculous, and it’s clear that no matter how strong Fleury’s play is that this is just not sustainable.

The Malkin-less powerplay got another chance as the period expired. Justin Schultz moved up to the top powerplay unit and proved to be a fairly effective presence. His shot from the point tested Lundqvist a few times and he was a steady blue-line presence as the forwards converged around the net.

The Penguins could not take back the lead with Ryan McDonagh in the box. On the bright side, beginning the second period with the man-advantage seemed to bolster the Penguins’ play. They spent a lot of time in the Rangers’ zone, pressuring Lundqvist and getting some good opportunities.

Sheary tipped in a shot from Schultz, making up for the netfront pass he just missed earlier in the game. Schultz played a great game this afternoon, taking every chance he had to put the puck on net.

The Pens have a tendency to make one too many passes rather than just shooting, whether it’s on the powerplay or at even strength. Sometimes that extra pass can fake out the defense or goalie; the Pens are more likely to turn it over or fail to get a shot off altogether. Actually shooting the puck is something the Pens need to improve on.

Hornqvist took a seat in the penalty box just after Sheary’s goal, ostensibly for tripping Eric StaalDerick Brassard then had free rein to tie the game back up just six seconds into the PK. Brassard’s point shot deflected off Olli Maatta and wobbled past Fleury, right into the back of the net.

Maatta’s had a rough stretch of games recently, but the young defenseman is still one of the best in the league. He leads all NHL defensemen with a +26. Sometimes luck is just not on his side.

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Conor Sheary decided that he was going to drag his team to a win kicking and screaming, scoring his second of the game. Tom Kuhnhackl and Eric Fehr nabbed the assists, executing a nifty passing sequence through the Rangers players.

Mats Zuccarello took a penalty moments later, aggressively retaliating against Cole, whose stick was stuck between Zuccarello’s skates. The Ranger gave Cole a few shoves that escalated into vicious slashes.

Tempers continued to boil over as the players battled in front of the net. Fehr got into it with Marc Staal, and Maatta got in there with Klein. The scuffle ended without any more penalties, but it showed just how much animosity there is between these teams.

The second period ended with the Pens leading 3-2. After this game, they are 29-0 this season after leading through two periods, the only team in the league to do so.

An interesting pair of dueling partners sparred as soon as the puck dropped on the third period. Chris Kunitz and Chris Kreider dropped the gloves; Kreider eventually got the better of Kunitz. Both received matching five minute calls.

Carl Hagelin sniped the puck and hit his former teammate Lundqvist square in the mask. Lundqvist stayed down for a minute but seemed to be okay and stayed in the game. He didn’t tip over the net to stop play this time, so that’s at least a development.

Following the fight of the Chris K’s, each team’s number 16 took a seat in the penalty box with matching roughing minors. The Pens and Rangers have often proven to be evenly matched, but now they’re mirror images!

McDonagh scored to tie it up at three apiece; moments later Rick Nash broke away to shoot on Fleury. In an attempt to stop Nash, Cole was called for a holding penalty. Despite the kill, all the momentum was going for the Rangers now.

The Pens were caught watching a few times, just hanging out on the ice watching the play unfold instead of proactively playing. A few soft calls went against them as well, though if they make the playoffs there’s bound to be this much discrepancy in the referees’ calls too.

Matt Cullen gave the Penguins back the lead, scoring from behind the net. He shot the puck forward where it bounced off Marc Staal, who was right in front of Lundqvist, and went in. See what happens when you shoot the puck, Pens? Good things happen!

Dominik Simon, who made his NHL debut this afternoon for the Penguins, got an assist on the Cullen goal. He’s had a promising season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and it’s great that he joined the corps of young call-ups who are contributing.

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The end of the game was all back and forth, 200 feet of speedy passing and turnovers. After Lundqvist was pulled, Bryan Rust turned on the jets, negated an icing, and worked with Kuhnhackl to get the puck to Crosby, who put the puck in the empty net and the nail in the coffin.

The Penguins beat a fierce rival and grabbed two points in a regulation win, never once trailing. Though the game was anything but consistent, the Pens had their moments and Fleury, for the most part, was brilliant. Pittsburgh has now leap-frogged past Detroit back into the first wildcard position.

The Pens will head home to battle that other New York team, the Islanders, on Tuesday.