Rangers continue to struggle with Sidney Crosby

Rangers would never keep Sidney Crosby to a clean sheet, but things could be better in two games of their first-round playoff series.

Much of the conversation following the Rangers’ Game 1 loss focused on doing more against the Penguins’ front line, which Crosby was at the center of. And after Rangers’ 5-2 Game 2 win, much of manager Gerard Gallant’s time will again be spent trying to figure out how to slow down Crosby in some way.

Twice on Thursday night, Crosby helped score Pittsburgh goals from little and stunted the Rangers’ momentum. Rangers managed to cling to a win that ultimately looked easier than it was, but that doesn’t change the underlying calculus.

“I think overall we abstained [Crosby] a little, but they’re great players,” Gallant said. “[Jake] Guentzel and Crosby are good players. This line is a real top line and they are difficult to defend. … They get their chances.”

Crosby, one of the greatest players to ever lace a pair of skates, will be a problem either way, but Rangers can’t push that to the level they did in the Garden’s first two games.

Sidney Crosby, who scored in the second period, is hoping for a rebound while Igor Shesterkin defends during Rangers' 5-2 Game 2 loss to the Penguins.
Sidney Crosby, who scored in the second period, is hoping for a rebound while Igor Shesterkin defends during Rangers’ 5-2 Game 2 loss to the Penguins.

Towards the end of the second period on Thursday, with Rangers leading 3-1 and a fourth goal under threat, Crosby made something out of nothing. With the Rangers almost literally on his back, he drove straight down the ice on the rush, fed Bryan Rust and then put the rebound home.

Maybe there’s nothing Rangers can do if one of the game’s greats pulls this out of his back pocket. On Pittsburgh’s first goal, when Crosby turned Artemi Panarin in the neutral zone to start a sequence that ended with Guentzel scoring from the slot (his third goal in two games).

Of the six goals the Penguins have scored in their first two games, all but one came from the Crosby series – Evgeni Malkin’s treble winner in overtime in the opener.

At the start of Game 2, Rangers looked to hold Crosby’s line at bay for longer than the 25 minutes they managed on Tuesday.

They certainly put together more than a 60-minute effort on Thursday, but finding a way to calm Crosby will have to wait.

“I still think he’s a very dangerous player,” Gallant said. “Once again, I talked about matching. Mika [Zibanejad’s] Line plays against him quite a lot, but it’s the next guys, whoever plays against this line has to do a good job.

In fact, Zibanejad’s line was on the ice for both Penguin goals. And while it made two contributions of its own since Crosby’s line wasn’t as dominant as it was in Game 1, the advanced stats don’t tell a positive story. The trio of Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano had a lackluster 29.32 expected goals percentage in Game 2, five on five, per Natural Stat trick, with nine high-risk chances against.

So there’s still room for improvement, but that didn’t cost Rangers like it did on Tuesday. The Penguins, meanwhile, need their other three forward lines to make any meaningful contribution.

With the Rangers needing a win at PPG Paints Arena, the lack of an answer for Crosby could continue to plague them. Rangers continue to struggle with Sidney Crosby


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