By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)
Being down 2-1 in the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins will once again host the New York Rangers tonight in a pivotal Game 4 at CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Monday night, in which they controlled play in the third period. It was probably one of the most memorable games they’ve played at home in the playoffs in recent memory. After Patric Hornqvist cut the Rangers’ lead in half with a goal late in the third, Pittsburgh really stepped up their game and pushed to the very end. Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby were men on a mission desperately trying to tie the game. It did not happen, however as Evgeni Malkin and David Perron continue to struggle. Malkin has not recorded a single point in this series yet while Perron can’t buy a goal at this point. Malkin has pretty much admitted that he’s not healthy, but if the Penguins want any chance to move on, they will need more from their alternate captain. Without Kris Letang, this team is really struggling offensively. It almost seems like they only generate good chances when Crosby and Hornqvist are on the ice, which is not good. The fourth line, mainly Maxim Lapierre, has been doing a better job lately, but the Penguins need more from their second line. A line with Malkin and Perron is supposed to cause problems for opponents, but that really hasn’t been the case so far. Malkin seems to be passing up a bunch a of shooting opportunities while Perron looks like a different player than the one we saw when he was first acquired from Edmonton.
While Pittsburgh has plenty of problems to deal with at the moment, you can tell that New York is a little concerned. The Rangers went into this series very confident, but the Penguins have showed the Rangers that they can compete. Some of the Rangers looked a bit nervous in the final three minutes of Game 3. The Penguins fought hard and hopefully that energy will carry on into Game 4 tonight.
One big lineup change tonight could the the return of defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who still has not played this postseason. Pouliot is the closest thing to Letang the Penguins have, so if he can play tonight, that would be big. He’s used to being a top defenseman and can play big minutes. He also skates really well and can contribute offensively. With Pouliot back in the mix, Brian Dumoulin or Taylor Chorney will be scratched. In my opinion, Mike Johnston should consider putting Pouliot in the top-four immediately. This would force either Ben Lovejoy or Rob Scuderi to lose some minutes, which is best for them and the team. Nothing against those two, but they will be more effective if their minutes go down a bit. A top-four of Paul Martin, Pouliot, Ian Cole and Scuderi/Lovejoy looks a lot better than Martin, Cole, Scuderi and Lovejoy. That may be the best the Penguins will get this season in terms of defense as Christian Ehrhoff had to stop skating. Ehrhoff is still recovering from an upper body injury and his latest setback puts his return this postseason in doubt. In other injury news, Johnston will need to decide if Beau Bennett will return to the lineup or not after missing Game 3 with an upper-body injury. Bennett was replaced by Scott Wilson, who made his playoff debut.
Pittsburgh needs to have a good start in this game tonight. How many times have we said that sentence in the last few weeks? Slow starts have killed this team in the second half of the season and it does no good on home ice. Get the fans involved early with a good start. It should make a big difference. A 60 minute effort is needed in order to beat this great Rangers team.
It’s a shame that the Penguins are wasting great performances by Marc-Andre Fleury too. He has been outstanding all season long and deserves better. However, it’s no easy task to beat New York’s defenders and Henrik Lundqvist. I’m honestly not sure how Lundqvist didn’t get called for embellishment in Game 3 after Crosby went by him. Crosby literally did not touch him and Lundqvist flopped onto the ice. That was pretty embarrassing. Many people are talking about bad officiating and that;s fine, but get used to the non-calls on certain penalties. The Rangers should have gotten a penalty when they hooked Maxim Lapierre, but stuff like that happens in the playoffs. We all should be used to that by now. It’s not fair, but you have to get over it and not use bad officiating as an excuse. It affects both sides.
Carl Hagelin‘s goal in Game 3 was all caused by a bad line change by the Penguins, which caused Cole to be all by himself. He tried to cut off the angle but Keith Yandle‘s pass was perfect. Pittsburgh really needs to be smarter out there. The Rangers are so fast in their transition game so you cannot afford to make mistakes.
A breakout performance from Malkin or Perron would pay big dividends for this team tonight and could spark the Penguins. That line will be the key to this game, in my opinion. Also, has anyone really noticed Martin St. Louis this postseason? He’s been extremely quiet in this series, which is really unlike him. It’s only a matter of time before he starts producing again. This series is far from over and with a 60 minute game, the Penguins have a chance to make this a best of 3 series.