First off, let me start with a clarification - John Tortorella did not blow off a between-period interview during Thursday's 5-4 shootout loss at Atlanta, which is what I wrote on the blog yesterday. It was supposed to be a player interview and the between-period meeting went long so the player wound up unavailable. Also let it be noted that since his blow-up Thursday, Tortorella has been much more relaxed and forthcoming with the media. It's a work-in-progress, this coach/media relationship and there will be ups and downs but that's human nature. And it's a two-way street so I feel badly - even though it was unintentional since I was reporting what I had been told - for shining a poor light on Tortorella.
As for this afternoon's game against the red-hot Penguins, the numbers don't stack up nicely for the seventh-place Rangers in what conceivably could be their last opportunity to move ahead of the sixth-place Penguins If Pittsburgh wins in regulation, it would move three points ahead of the Rangers with each team having six games left on the schedule. The Penguins finish with the Devils, a three-game road trip to Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay, a home game against the Islanders and at Montreal. The Rangers host the Devils, go to Carolina and Boston, host Montreal and the Flyers and finish at Philadelphia. So the Pens play three teams currently not in the playoffs (including two - the Lightning and Isles, who have no shot), while the Rangers only face teams in playoff contention, including four games against teams in the East's top four.
Plus the Rangers have lost 9 of 11 in this building (including playoffs), the Penguins are 13-2-3 since Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien and both Sidney Crosby (28 goals, 68 assists), Evgeni Malkin (33 goals, 73 assists) and G Marc-Andre Fleury (31-17-6, 2.67 goals-against) are playing well. A healthy Crosby has five goals and 12 assists in 10 games since returning to the lineup and Malkin has three goals and six assists in his last four games. Fleury is 8-1-2 with a 1.77 GAA in March. The Rangers have been outscored 9-2 at the Igloo this season.
The Rangers are 3-for-26 on the power play their last five games and their 2-for-10 against Atlanta included a failed five-on-three with the Thrashers playing one stick short. Coach John Tortorella said there will be changes on the power play, particularly if they get another five on three. Defenseman Derek Morris will get more a chance to be a big shot from the point and Markus Naslund will probably not be used, with Nik Antropov getting his PP time. Tortorella admitted he's still concerned about Naslund's speed and skating.
"My frustration, and I was frustrated with a couple of them, was we don't let the puck work for ourselves," Tortorella said. "We move it, we hold it and we let them adjust to us. We're just a little bit too deliberate. Is it nerves? Is it confidence? It could be both of them. I don't know. We did a little work yesterday as far as quicker puck movement. We're going to continue to try to work on that because we will go nowhere if we don't get more consistent with that.
Tortorella was also talking about the rare luxury of having three righty-lefty defense pairs in LH Marc Staal-RH Dan Girardi, LH Paul Mara-RH Mike Sauer and LH Wade Redden-RH Derek Morris.
"I've never had that," Tortorella said. "I'd like to know what the percentage of right shots in the league are, there's not many of them. When you don't have a righty and you move a lefty to the right, it doesn't look screwed up. You do it the other way, it's all fouled up. to have three righties, especially in certain situations getting out of the end zone, it's a big plus."
Medical update: Paul Mara (swollen left eye) is fine for today's game. D Michal Rozsival (lower-body/presumed left knee) is working out back at the Rangers' practice facility but there is no timetable for him to begin skating. He was diagnosed as out 7-10 days last Monday.
Lines as reported yesterday:
Sean Avery-Scott Gomez-Ryan Callahan
Fredrik Sjostrom-Chris Drury-Nik Antropov
Markus Naslund-Brandon Dubinsky-Nikolai Zherdev
Lauri Korpikoski-Blair Betts-Colton Orr
Check back for updates when the game begins shortly
UPDATE, 1:54 First period: Don't tell me the refs aren't keeping an extra close eye on Sean Avery. The minute he started pushing with Tyler Kennedy, he was manhandled away.
Also, top two lines for Penguins: Matt Cooke-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora, Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Bill Geurin. That's some pretty good balance.
UPDATE, 3:49 First period: Sean Avery probably didn't get much that satisfaction out his brief fight with Tyler Kennedy, who landed the better punches and then quickly landed on top of Avery.
UPDATE, 6:43 First period: Superior move by Evgeni Malkin to stickhandle through the Rangers' zone for a hard shot on Lundqvist, but what is Derek Morris, who gets called for hooking, supposed to do there? He can't go hard and take the body, he'll get called there. And as soon as he uses his stick, the refs will call that. But credit the Penguins for getting Malkin into that spot. Sort of like creating a blocking call in basketball.
UPDATE, 8:40 First period: A few too many turnovers by the Rangers in their own end. It hasn't hurt them yet, but it will at some point.
UPDATE, 8:57 First period: Really smart head-man pass from Ruslan Fedotenko to free Maxime Talbot into the Rangers zone as he skated in front of Paul Mara. Talbot beats Henrik Lundqvist five-hole.
UPDATE, 10:22 First period: Sean Avery roughly pushed down in front of Pens' crease following whistle. No call. Scott Gomez and Ryan Callahan quickly skate in to defend Avery.
UPDATE, 11:06 First period: Forgot to mention. Talbot's goal breaks the Rangers' eight-game streak of scoring first.
UPDATE 11:20 First period: Rookie Mike Sauer actually played strong defense as Talbot was able to get his stick on Malkin's centering pass. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the puck came back out front to Matt Cooke, who falling down, knocked in a rebound after a flopping Lundqvist couldn't control the puck. Pens' up 2-0 and the Igloo continues to be a house of horrors for the Rangers.
UPDATE 18:28 First period: Faceoff wins in the opponent's zone can't be underestimated. Scott Gomez wins the draw, gets it to Avery who gets it to Ryan Callahan for a slot shot that beat Marc-Andre Fleury high to the right post. The Rangers talked about how Ilya Kovalchuk's goal in the final minute of the second period Thursday gave the Thrashers (then down 4-2) life into the third period. We'll see if this does the same.
AFTER FIRST PERIOD: Deja vu, except the other way around. Brandon Dubinsky's wraparound with 4.4 seconds to go ties the game at 2-2 going into the second period. Wonderful turnaround by the Rangers. Here's what made it happen. After the Penguins went up 2-0 on their ninth shot, they did not take another shot on the net the rest of the period. The Rangers outshot them 10-0 in the final nine minutes, 40 seconds.
JUST SO YOU KNOW UPDATE: One of the banners here at the Igloo (which is more fun to type than Mellon Arena, I mean, if you're going to call it Mellon Arena, at least spell Mellon the right way) reads like this: "The Rangers are like the Titanic, they both look good until they hit the ice."
UPDATE, 2:30 Second period: Heavyweight bout, Colton Orr vs. Eric Godard. Their fourth fight this season and sixth overall. Call it a draw.
UPDATE, 4:14 Second period: Lack of on-ice protection for Sean Avery is appalling. Hal Gill knocks him down with a left forearm to the chest behind the Penguins net, sending Pittsburgh into transition up the ice and Fedotenko converts a two on one against Derek Morris, holding onto the puck while skating with Jordan Staal.
UPDATE, 15:16 Second period: Nik Antropov ties the game with the teams skating four on four by collecting a rebound of Chris Drury's right post shot, spinning and beating Fleury. But a key player occurred earlier in the sequence, when Derek Morris prevented Evgeni Malkin from getting up ice possibly on a break by stripping him of the puck at the Penguins' blue line after Malkin had created a turnover.
AFTER SECOND PERIOD: Give the Rangers credit here for sticking tough on the road, particularly in a place that's been so tough for them to play in over the years. The Penguins are playing a better game but the Rangers aren't folding under the pressure. Say what you will about the goals Lundqvist allowed (saw the comments) but he made some good saves in the second period, particularly two in a row against Crosby.
UPDATE 2:47 Third period: I'll admit, that's a new one for me. Five minutes and a game misconduct for interference to Colton Orr. Granted, he shouldn't have come in high like that against Mark Eaton. If I'm lip-reading correctly, Tortorella said "I don't want to talk about it" when the ref came over with the explanation.
UPDATE, 8:48 Third period: Not sure what happened there but the Penguins wound up with 28 extra seconds of a power play because the Rangers didn't have anybody in the box serving Colton Orr's five-minute major for interference. It expired at 7:47 and the next break wasn't until 8:15. Lauri Korpikoski was out at the start of what was essentially a three-minute, 28-second power play and as the Rangers had trouble clearing, he couldn't get off the ice for the longest. He was completely gassed by the time he could get off the ice, the Rangers are lucky the Penguins couldn't convert because they were essentially skating five on three.
UPDATE, 9:56 Third period: Sidney Crosby regains the lead for the Penguins, splitting Wade Redden and Derek Morris after taking Fedotenki's head-man pass from the Penguins' blue line. Again, though, play starts behind the Pens' goal line, with Brooks Orpik pushing Avery off the puck and against the boards.
UPDATE, 12:14 Third period: Anyone get an APB out on Mike Sauer. He's been on the ice four 1:59 over four shifts in the game.
FINAL: PENGUINS 4, RANGERS 3: Some quick hits because I need to make a 7:48 flight (through D.C.) back home tonight.
- John Tortorella said no explanation was given to him as to the severity of Colton Orr's interference call, or why a linesman is making that call despite a referee looking right at the play without raising his hand.
- The explanation for no Ranger in the penalty box during Orr's five-minute major is this: Tortorella said it was totally his call. He didn't want to lose the option of using a player during that time so he chose not to send a player to the box, even though assistant Jim Schoenfeld was advising him to put a man in the box at the start of the five minutes. What Tortorella said he didn't count on was the lack of stoppages as the penalty wore on, so he couldn't get a man over there. Tortorella said he deserved the blame for that and it would never happen again.
- Both Chris Drury and Henrik Lundqvist said the lack of protection Sean Avery is getting on the ice is becoming unfair. Lundqvist went so far as to say it might be time for the Rangers to talk to some people (i.e. league officials) about it. "I do think Sean is a marked guy," Drury said. Lundqvist, though, said Avery is not getting frustrated by the apparent free shots the opponents get at him. "I think he's used to it," Lundqvist said. And more than just protecting Avery, Lundqvist said while Avery draws some calls, the extra power plays that should be coming the Rangers way because of his play would be a huge benefit.
- Avery was not available for comment after the game.