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Rangers plagued by power-play problems

by Mike G. Morreale /

NEW YORK -- There will come a point when the New York Rangers will need to make the Pittsburgh Penguins pay the price for taking careless penalties in their Eastern Conference First Round series.

The Rangers' power play had plenty of opportunities to deliver a knockout blow against the Penguins in Game 2 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday but instead failed miserably in a 4-3 loss. The best-of-7 series, now tied 1-1, shifts to Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG, ROOT).

The Rangers managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities in Game 2 and are 2-for-12 in the series. Quite simply, their power play needs to be better.

"We have a group of guys that have frustrated themselves [on the power play] and we just have to go out and get some good mojo going and find a way to pop a couple in and relax a little bit on it," center Derek Stepan said. "We've got a lot of guys who are gripping the stick and there's no need for that, especially now.

"We need to get some positive energy on it, zip it around, and make some plays."

The one time the Rangers did have success in Game 2 was while Blake Comeau served a slashing penalty early in the third period. New York's seven-shot barrage ultimately produced Derick Brassard's second goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Forward Mats Zuccarello, who assisted on Brassard's goal 3:16 into the final period that made it 3-2, was asked what worked so well on that particular power play, which gave the team and full house at Madison Square Garden an emotional boost.

"I don't know," Zuccarello said, matter-of-factly. "We'll look at it and figure something out; we'll see."

New York's power play has been an enigma this season. A team-record 53 regular-season victories masked the problems on the power play, which finished tied for 21st in the League at 16.8 percent.

New York finished the regular season by going 2-for-17 (11.8 percent) on the power play in its last five games. The Rangers are 2-for-12 (16.7 percent) in their first two playoff games.

"I think we have to look at ourselves first and we have to get the job done," forward Rick Nash said. "If we aren't getting the job done [at even strength], we have to get a huge momentum off the power play and the individuals that are on that [power play] have to be a lot better."

Nash said the Rangers might be guilty of passing too much when shots are there for the taking during power plays.

"It didn't seem like we were getting enough looks, enough shots there in the shot lanes," Nash said. "We weren't working to get through the shot lanes and get the shots on net."

In Game 2, the Rangers did generate 13 shots on goal during their seven power-play chances, which totaled 13:32 of time with the extra man. They have 20 shots on goal on 12 power plays in the series.

"We could have really taken the game over there with the power-play opportunities," captain Ryan McDonagh said.

There's no question the Rangers have the personnel and speed up front and along the blue line to make life miserable for any opponent that persists in taking penalties. But through two games, the Penguins have succeeded in making the Presidents' Trophy winners virtually powerless.

"Our penalty kill did a great job," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It's not that easy to have that many in a game, especially a playoff game. I thought all the killers did a great job."

In particular, penalty-killers Brandon Sutter and Maxim Lapierre played key roles in frustrating the Rangers, who were 17-1-1 when outscoring the opposition on special teams in 2014-15.

"Obviously, 1-for-7 isn't good enough [on the power play]," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "They scored two, we only got one. We were better in the third, I thought, but they ended up making us pay."

Despite the success on the penalty kill, Penguins coach Mike Johnston believes his team needs to control their emotions for the remainder of the series.

"We've got to look at the game and figure out how we're getting ourselves in penalty trouble," Johnston said. "Is it because we're not moving our feet? Do we get a stick in there? We've got to break that, for sure. You just can't give a team that many power plays. Even though we took seven penalties and they took four, that doesn't matter. What matters is you give them early momentum and that's something we've done in both games."


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