Sluggish Penguins fall meekly to Rangers at Madison Square Garden
NEW YORK — Evgeni Malkin did not lose this game.
Coach Dan Bylsma made that clear Wednesday night after the Penguins' 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Still, Malkin is without a goal in nine consecutive games, and he has only three in 16 contests this season.
“It's going to have to be a factor right now and how we approach the game,” Bylsma said. “I think he's looking for an opportunity and a goal, and you can see it weigh on him.
“But I don't see that as an issue in terms of where we made our mistakes (Wednesday) night and where we were not good.”
The Penguins (11-5-0, 22 points) were not good in a lot of areas after failing to capitalize on opening momentum. They peppered Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 10 shots in the opening 15 minutes, but he turned aside each of them to afford teammates an opportunity to become only the second Metropolitan Division opponent to defeat the Penguins.
Lundqvist finished with 28 saves, but the early ones set an ominous tone for the Penguins, who fell to 6-2-0 in the division.
The Penguins had seven giveaways, their third-highest total. They had 14 in a loss at Toronto and 13 in a win at Tampa Bay.
The Rangers attempted 52 shots, getting 25 to the net on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins managed only four attempts over about the last six minutes of the first period — the point when the Rangers turned momentum. Goals by defenseman Ryan McDonagh (third) and center Derek Stepan (fourth) came about a minute apart in the final two minutes, staking the Rangers to a multiple-goal lead they never lost.
A power-play goal by Kris Letang briefly brought the Penguins within 3-1 late in the second, but Rangers captain Ryan Callahan answered about a minute later.
Malkin assisted on Letang's third goal to extend his point streak to three games. He has produced 14 points in 16 contests for a .875 per-game average.
Malkin is 12th in NHL history with a 1.21 points-per-game average, but he has averaged a point per game (47 in as many contests) since winning the MVP and a second scoring title two years ago.
He was not available for comment Wednesday night.
Malkin has played all but one period this season without regular right winger James Neal. The player in the No. 2 line's right-wing slot has scored a goal and produced two assists this season.
Left winger Jussi Jokinen said he was not sure “forced” applied to Malkin's performances.
Frustration stems from Malkin not receiving validation for more responsible play of late. Jokinen noted improving trust between Malkin and rookie right winger Jayson Megna. Bylsma has mentioned Malkin's renewed push to dictate with his shot. All of that has provided Malkin nothing in the goal department, though.
That — even more than a potential injury to top-line right winger Pascal Dupuis, who did not return after leaving this loss in the second period — is, as Bylsma said, “a factor” for the final four-fifths of the season.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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