Pittsburgh power surge burns Rangers
The standings show the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins tied atop the hyper competitive Metropolitan Division.
But on the ice — at least for now — there appears to be plenty of separation.
Captain Sidney Crosby picked up his NHL-leading 22nd goal and Evgeni Malkin added a goal and two assists as the Penguins overwhelmed the Rangers 7-2 on Tuesday night.
Bryan Rust, Phil Kessel, Justin Schultz, Patric Hornqvist and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, while Matt Murray made 26 saves.
“Everyone chipped in,” Crosby said. “Some nights, you have guys who are on and some guys have tough nights. I felt like tonight everybody was involved and creating things. From the goalie out, everybody played well.”
Michael Grabner collected his team-high 14th goal for the Rangers and Matt Puempel added his second, but New York struggled to keep pace.
Antti Raanta stopped 40 of
47 shots and allowed four third-period goals after the Rangers had pulled within 3-2.
The Penguins have outscored New York 13-3 in two games against each other. No other team has put up more than five goals on the Rangers this season.
“The schedule just caught up to our guys,” New York coach Alain Vigneault said. “That’s just the way it is.”
The Rangers went into the game with an NHL-best 23 wins — just ahead of Pitts- burgh, Columbus, Washington and Philadelphia.
The Penguins briefly claimed the top spot last week before a pair of overtime losses to Los Angeles and Toronto, a 27-hour stretch in which Pittsburgh’s high-powered lineup managed all of one goal.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan tinkered with the lines in search of a spark and found one seemingly everywhere he looked, whether it was putting Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz together with Malkin on the second line or reuniting the “HBK” line of Kessel, Bonino and Carl Hagelin that worked so well during last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup.
Ten Penguins collected at least one point against the Rangers and seven finished with two or more.
“When we load up on the top six (forwards), it’s an easier matchup game for our opponents,” Sullivan said. “The balance makes us more difficult to play against.”
Their meeting on the eve of the official start of winter was more of a litmus test of sorts for two teams that won’t face each other again until March 31.
Pittsburgh dominated the opening 20 minutes, peppering Raanta early while dictating the pace.
Crosby opened the scoring at 5:55, streaking into the slot to redirect Ian Cole’s shot over Raanta’s stick for his teamhigh eighth powerplay goal of the season.
“This group’s been together long enough now that each individual has to know what it takes for our group to be successful,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.
“We can’t afford to be sleeping at the start and kind of crawl our way through.”
The Penguins went in front for good 4:43 into the second when Malkin shook off his check at the blueline before drilling a one-timer past Raanta off a feed from Kunitz.
Kessel found himself to the left of the New York goal then deked his way to the front of the net. His shot caromed off Raanta and just over the goal line.
Grabner briefly gave the Rangers life when he beat Murray 1:52 into the third, but Schultz restored the two-goal cushion just over two minutes later.
When Crosby hit a darting Rust with a slick centering pass, Rust flicked it into the net, putting the Penguins on their way to tying the Rangers atop the division.
Goals by Hornqvist and Bonino turned it into a blowout in the final minutes.
“When they made it 3-2, we knew on the bench if we take our foot off the gas, they were going to jam it down our throats,” Rust said.
“We just had to turn it up a notch.”
Jaromir Jagr had three assists to move into a tie for second place on the NHL’s all-time points list as the Florida Panthers edged the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday night.
Jagr pulled even with Mark Messier with 1,887 points, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (2,857).
Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck scored for the Panthers n the shootout and Roberto Luongo stopped 33 shots, including both attempts in the tiebreaker, to pull into a tie with Terry Sawchuk for fifth all-time with 447 wins.
Nick Bjugstad had his first goal of the season, Keith Yandle also scored and Barkov had a goal and two assists for the Panthers.
Rasmus Ristolainen and San Reinhart each had a goal and an assist for the Sabres. Evander Kane also scored for Buffalo.
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Justin Schultz (left) and Evgeni Malkin celebrate Malkin’s second-period goal during Tuesday’s 7-2 romp over the New York Rangers at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.