Penguins stall again, lose to Rangers
NEW YORK – Few teams have bested New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist at Madison Square Garden this season.
Seemingly fewer Penguins players tested him early Thursday night.
Lundqvist faced only 14 shots through two periods. When the Penguins’ offense finally awoke in the third, he turned aside 13 of 14 shots to seal the Rangers’ 4-2 victory.
The Penguins have lost four of five. Their feast-or-famine offense continues to baffle.
They have scored 46 goals through 16 games this season, but 28 have come over six contests.
They are averaging 2.88 goals per game. The Penguins ranked third in the league with a 3.38 per-game average, and through 16 games had scored 55 goals.
Almost 20 percent of the season has passed, and the high-flying Penguins of last season are a distant memory.
“Honestly, right now I do not have the answers,” forward Petr Sykora said. “I do not know why we are (struggling).”
The Penguins have scored only 22 goals in their past nine games.
Making matters worse, their power play has been considerably weakened in the absence of defenseman Ryan Whitney, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a groin injury.
Without Whitney to man the left point on the first power-play unit, the Penguins have scored only three man-advantage goals in their past 20 opportunities, including a 1-for-6 performance against the Rangers.
A fizzling power play combined with a stagnant offense has proven a recipe for underachievement. The Penguins are 7-8-1, ahead of only New Jersey in the Atlantic division.
But it is not so much their record as the way the have struggled to it.
“We never expected this, for sure,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said of the offensive woes. “Going back to last year, we always scored goals. I wish I knew (the answer).”
There was very little chance the Penguins’ offense would get going against Lundqvist, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist.
He is the early poll-leader for that award this season, if not a favorite for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Lundqvist was most valuable to the Rangers late in the third period last night, when he made a series of saves to preserve a two-goal advantage.
He is now 6-1-0 in his previous seven homes games.
The only blemishes on him last night were Gonchar’s third goal at 11:31 of the opening period, which briefly tied the score, 1-1, and forward Mark Recchi’s power-play goal at 4:22 of the third period that brought the Penguins to within 4-2.
Other than that, though, Lundqvist was his trademark stingy self. He has held opponents to two or fewer goals in 12 of 16 games. He entered the contest ranked second in the league with four shutouts, sixth with a 1.59 GAA and sixth with a save percentage of .940.
He has stopped 47 of 50 shots in two games against the Penguins this season.
New York dominated the opening period, firing 22 shots on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who did well to help the Penguins enter the first intermission down only 2-1.
Fleury, starting for the second time in six games, stopped 35 of 39 total shots.
Forward Scott Gomez and defenseman Michal Rozsival tallied their respective fourth goals in the first for the Rangers.
Left wing Sean Avery, a constant nuisance to the Penguins, scored his first goal midway through the second. Center Brandon Dubinsky tallied his first career goal in the third period to push the Rangers’ lead to 4-1.