Rangers aim for turnaround against Penguins
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NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers are sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference at 1-5-0, their worst start since 1980. They are desperate for a victory, and the good news is their next game is on home ice Tuesday night.
The bad news is their opponent is the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who have won three of four and have owned the Rangers in recent years. The Penguins captured 10 of their past 14 meetings with New York, including a five-game win in the first round of the 2016 playoffs.
"I've never had a start like this in my career, so it's tough mentally for sure," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said to the New York Daily News. "By no means is this group going to quit, I know that for a fact. And I know that we will keep working here and trust our system and we'll start playing the way we need to with a little more edge, a little bit more desperation.
"Hopefully this is rock bottom here early on and a real gut-check time, and understanding what's expected of us individually and as a group."
The Penguins (3-2-1) dropped their first two games before turning it around, but coach Mike Sullivan sees room for improvement in an area where the team excelled last season -- getting pucks on net.
After finishing first in that category last season, the Penguins are just 10th in the early going.
"We pass up opportunities to put the puck on the net when we're in pretty good areas because we're looking for that next play, and sometimes, or a lot of times, that next play never materializes," Sullivan said.
The problem is asking players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel to abandon their creative natures to shoot more.
"They're always looking to make that play to try and set up a goal, and that's part of what makes them elite," Sullivan said. "There's always that delicate balance, and as a coaching staff, we don't want to get in the way of their instincts. We certainly don't want to force them to shoot all the time, because that's what separates our guys from others."
Malkin and Kessel, who have been on a line together this season, have combined for just two goals in six games, and just one goal at even strength. Malkin believes that Sullivan has a point about being a little less fancy and a little more direct.
"We try to play beautiful every time," Malkin said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's not working. We need to change our game and play a little bit straight-line to the net.
"Me and Phil, we look to each other too much. When he plays with (the) puck, he stops in the offensive zone and looks to me. Same with me. Sometimes, we need to just go to net. Simple play, rebound, wait for (the) puck around the net and go to the net more."
The Rangers simply want to put together a solid 60-minute effort. In their 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night, the Rangers dominated the first period only to fade over the final 40 minutes. A performance like that against the Penguins likely would result in a bad start getting even worse.
"The problem right now is we can't put a full 60 minutes together," Rangers forward Rick Nash said to the New York Post. "It's surprising we couldn't keep it going.
"It's easy to point fingers right now and get on top of each other, but good teams get through things like this and come out even better."
Updated October 16, 2017