Rangers Make Pens Melt
Maybe the three days off did the Rangers some good. Either way, they were much better in scoring a season high seven goals, dominating the Penguins (12-30-10) 7-1 in a primetime NBC mismatch Saturday at The Garden. It was their fourth win in five, pulling them within three points of the Atlantic-leading Flyers, who were shutout 6-0 by Tampa Bay at home. It sets up a pivotal four-point swing game when Philadelphia visits Monday night.
Rebounding from a disappointing 2-1 loss to Buffalo Tuesday in which they were severely outplayed which didn't please Coach Tom Renney, the Blueshirts got the message by throttling the Penguins. Just how dominant were they. They outshot their overmatched opponents 51-14, making Henrik Lundqvist's life a whole lot easier. There have been many instances where the 23-year-old Swedish rookie sensation has bailed out his teammates. This time, it was reversed with them requiring Lundqvist to make only 13 saves.
Battling a chest cold the last couple of weeks, Jaromir Jagr scored twice and setup another goal while Martin Rucinsky added a goal and two assists. They were two of eight Rangers who had at least two points.
Sharp from the outset, they cycled the puck effectively. In a smart move by Renney, he started the game with Jagr's top unit against Sidney Crosby's line. Pinning the 18-year-old wiz kid's line in the corners, it took away any attack time and led to a couple of early opportunities. Setup on the doorstep, Michael Nylander was robbed by Fleury when his shot went off the glove and caromed off the crossbar. Jagr was also similarly alone for what looked like a tap-in but a sprawling Fleury dove across to deny him.
It didn't matter on the next shift. Centering a new second line, Petr Sykora won a faceoff to Rucinsky, who fired a floater which Fleury had trouble with, leading to Jason Ward putting home his eighth of the season at 8:40 on the rebound.
Though the Rangers were by far the superior team the first half of the period, Fleury's acrobatic goaltending (44 saves) kept Pittsburgh down a goal. The only downfall took place when Jason Strudwick and Marek Malik were penalized 32 seconds apart leading to a five-on-three Pittsburgh power play goal. Crosby one-timed his 25th off Lundqvist and into the net to tie it at 15:56. Michel Ouellet and Mark Recchi notched assists.
Despite outshooting the Pens 16-6, the Rangers were tied after one. Instead of letting down, they continued to execute the gameplan to perfection, firing 16 more shots on Fleury while allowing just two. It was a recipe for success. After failing to score on their third power play, the Rangers' new second line struck again to put them ahead. After Ward recovered a loose puck in the corner, Sykora fed Rucinsky for a quick wrist shot from the left wing, which trickled through Fleury's pads at 11:48. It was Rucinsky's first goal in January. He last tallied in a 4-3 OT loss to the same Pens on December 31, 2005.
It didn't take long for the Rangers to increase the margin. With the Pens guilty of several defensive breakdowns leaving the point wide open, former Pen Michal Rozsival finally capitalized to score his third of the season, making it 3-1 2:10 later. Sneaking in on an effective cycle by Martin Straka and Nylander, Rozsival one-timed a Nylander pass over Fleury's outstretched glove. A big part of his team's success, Rozsival also setup a goal later and was a plus-four for the game to increase his team best plus/minus rating to plus-25.
In the third, they would blow it open. Jagr, who took a game high 11 shots, finally tallied his 31st when Marek Malik set him up for a tap-in to make it 4-1 at 6:47. Petr Prucha matched his jersey number with his 25th to tie Crosby for the third most goals by a rookie this season (Ovechkin-34, Svatos-31) 2:05 later when he stuffed home a Jason Strudwick rebound.
After a strong shift by the fourth line of Dominic Moore, Jed Ortmeyer and Marcel Hossa- returning to replace Ryan Hollweg after missing two games due to a hit at Boston in which he lost some teeth- drawing a power play, they struck again less than two minutes later. With it becoming a two-man advantage, Jagr added insult to injury by one-timing a Fedor Tyutin pass for his 32nd past Fleury to put his team up by five with 9:28 remaining.
Having already matched their season best of six goals achieved against these Pens and the Islanders, they showed no mercy when a Strudwick shot went through Fleury with 2:33 remaining for the final margin.
Notes: Pittsburgh has lost 12 of its last 13. ... With his three points, Jagr now leads the league with 75 points (32-43-75). ... The 51 shots and 14 allowed were season bests for the Blueshirts. The 37-shot differential was the largest disparity in '05-06. ... With a goal and assist, Strudwick notched his first career multipoint game in his 400th NHL game. ... Rangers improved to 4-1-1 against Pittsburgh in season series with two meetings left. The Pens return to MSG Wednesday. ... Rangers (29-15-7, 65 points) host Flyers (30-13-8, 68 points) Monday.