Rangers need to do more to contain Sidney Crosby

Rangers need to do more to contain Sidney Crosby

Gerard Gallant said he didn’t want the Rangers to focus on Sidney Crosby, and by golly, his team followed the head coach’s instructions to a tee.

Unfortunately, the Blueshirts seemed to interpret Gallant’s message literally, with No. 87 and linemates Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust turning in a dazzling and dominating performance in the Penguins’ 4-3 triple overtime victory at the Garden on Tuesday to grab a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven.

Crosby did not get the winner. That belonged to Evgeni Malkin, who scored on a deflection that counted as the 83rd shot against a gallant Igor Shesterkin after 105:58 of pulsating hockey. The Rangers had their chances, oh they had their chances throughout this contest — in which Casey DeSmith equaled Shesterkin’s work before leaving with an undefined ailment 9:18 into the second overtime. Relief netminder Louis Domingue pitched shutout ball the rest of the way while facing 16 shots.

So though Shesterkin was superlative in this one, the Penguins found that he was not impregnable. Who would be? The fact though is that DeSmith and Domingue canceled the Blueshirts’ perceived edge in nets right off the bat. Shades of Jeff Zatkoff in 2017.

If the Rangers entered this match inexperienced, they sure got heaps of it in this contest in which they grabbed a 2-0 lead early in the second off a dominant first 23 minutes before penalty trouble, and Crosby’s unit engineered a dramatic sea change in the contest.

Sidney Crosby (second from right) celebrates with Jake Guentzel (59) and his teammates after Guentzel's goal during the second period of the Rangers' 4-3 triple overtime loss to the Penguins.
Sidney Crosby (second from right) celebrates with Jake Guentzel (59) and his teammates after Guentzel’s goal during the second period of the Rangers’ 4-3 triple overtime loss to the Penguins.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

The Rangers no longer were as straight-line. Their forecheck game — keyed by a four-line rotation that resembled rolling thunder — largely evaporated. The Blueshirts fell back into their habit of looking for the perfect play instead of getting the puck in deep or to the net. Neutral-zone turnovers resulted. Shots from the middle of the ice were passed up in favor of passes to more acute angles. Opportunities were missed.

The Rangers earned their first power play at 8:58 of the first period on which they capitalized with Adam Fox giving his team a 1-0 lead at 9:19. Over the next 97 minutes, the Blueshirts never got a second chance.

Gallant had all four of his forward units out against the Crosby connection through the first half of the match before settling on power-on-power with a straight match against the Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad line. It was not from a lack of effort, that’s for sure, but it proved a tough go, with the Rangers forced to play in their own end way too much of the time.

“They’re going to create chances but obviously the best way to keep them from getting their chances is to have the puck with some O-zone time,” said Zibanejad, who logged 14:07 against Crosby among No. 93’s total of 32:32. “It’s a hard battle, but I think it’s a fun challenge to go against a guy like that.

“I like that. Obviously I’m going to get to know him a lot better. So we’ll just move on.”

Crosby was sniffing around all night. He controlled play. This is a Crosby who did not appear in last year’s opening-round six-game defeat to the Islanders. His line amassed 71.67 percent of five-on-five attempts with a 72.73 percent shot share and an ungodly 78.96 xGF playing against an elite opponent.

There was much good in this one, even though the club could neither maintain its game or leads of 2-0 and 3-2. Those guys who came in without playoff experience have a heavy dose of it now. The Kid Line with Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko had a number of impressive moments. They grew throughout this one, even if it was a double-teamed Chytil who lost the puck on the game-ending sequence.

The Blueshirts did try and get the puck on Domingue, but could never quite create the golden opportunity to beat him, even in a wild second overtime period in which the clubs sent a combined 36 shots on net (19 for the Blueshirts), or nearly two a minute. Seems kind of impossible.

Artemi Panarin had a tough night, bottled up much of the time, often trying to force the issue. Frustration emanating from No. 10 was obvious, even as his unit with Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp created multiple opportunities. Just two shots on net in 10 attempts in 34:10 of ice time for Panarin.

This was only Game 1. The Rangers have to file this, learn from it, and hope that this workload does not impair Shesterkin for Thursday’s Game 2. Life comes quick in the playoffs. So does Crosby. The Rangers might want to focus a bit more closely on No. 87 the next time.


Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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