Dynamic Pens duo giving Rangers fits


GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It started with a turnover, as so much of Pittsburgh's success did in Game 4 against the Rangers. New York defenseman Anton Stralman attempted a pass up ice that was intercepted in the neutral zone by Evgeni Malkin.

The turnover allowed Malkin to gain the offensive zone with possession and control, finding teammate Sidney Crosby across the ice. Crosby's pass back was deflected but somehow found Malkin's stick, and a 360-degree spin later the Penguins had a 1-0 lead in a critical game at Madison Square Garden.

It was just one goal, but it highlighted so many things the Rangers are struggling with as the Penguins seize this series. Neutral-zone turnovers. The speed of Malkin and Crosby. Allowing the two stars to operate in the offensive zone with too much space. Forwards who aren't coming back with enough urgency to help their defensemen. And, finally, the raw talent of two all-world players making plays like a spin-a-rama backhand to beat Henrik Lundqvist.

So far in this series, which shifts back to Pittsburgh for Friday's Game 5, the Rangers haven't had an answer for Dan Bylsma's decision to load up his top line with Crosby, Malkin and Chris Kunitz. Part of the reason is that there simply isn't one.

"Those guys are the best in the league. Right now, they're playing real strong," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after Thursday afternoon's practice. "It makes it challenging for our whole group to try and contain them. I don't think you can stop players like that; they're going to get some looks, they're going to get some chances, and they definitely are."

In Game 4, Crosby, Malkin and Kunitz dominated possession. When Crosby was on the ice at even strength, 79.4 percent of the shot attempts were controlled by the Penguins, and Malkin (78.4 percent) and Kunitz (76.9 percent) weren't far behind, according to ExtraSkater.com. When you get that much zone time, good things are going to happen -- typically a puck ending up in the back of the net.

But looking at the goals Crosby and Malkin scored in New York, there's at least hope for the Rangers that they're correctable. On his goal, Crosby somehow got behind everyone on the Rangers before receiving a stretch pass from Robert Bortuzzo to score on a breakaway in Game 3. That's easy enough to solve. Malkin's goal doesn't happen if there isn't an ugly giveaway to set off that chain of events.

So, the message coming from the Rangers after their Thursday practice was that their errors can be fixed and they fully intend on doing that in Pittsburgh.

"We didn't throw the kitchen sink at them," Rangers forward Brad Richards said. "We know what we did wrong pretty much all over the ice. Easily fixed on our part."

As a team, the Rangers' goal is to cut down on the errors that led to Pittsburgh's scoring chances. Then it comes to making adjustments on Crosby and Malkin when they do try to gain the offensive zone. Part of the challenge is the different looks they're giving the Rangers in this series.

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