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Rangers fall 5-2 to Pittsburgh, waste game in hand, Trouba’s struggles

April 2, 2024, 12:57 PM ET [197 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Rangers rolled into April but started the month as they began March, with a desultory performance. New York was on their heels right from the jump and never able to get back to level footing. A bad turnover early and poor game overall from Jacob Trouba contributed heavily to the 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh. With the loss, the Blueshirts lost the advantage of a game in hand in the battle for the division, conference and President’s Trophy. The Rangers face the Devils at home Wednesday.

Game recap:

Rangers lines vs. Penguins:



Scratches: Gustafsson (upper-body injury), Rempe, Scanlin, Ruhwedel
LTIR: Chytil, Wheeler

A few thoughts:
1) Trouba - could we really start anywhere else. He said all the right things post game, correctly taking blame for his poor play, including the turnover in the first shift that set the tone for the game. Coach Peter Laviolette tried to take some of the burden off Trouba post-game, noting that it does sometime take players time to settle back in after an extended absence. Both parties can be and are correct, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

“It’s a big mistake that cost us a big goal in the game," Trouba said. "That can’t happen. That’s not on anybody but me."

Vince Mercogliano noted that Trouba was on ice for all three of the Penguins' even-strength goals and five of their eight high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Through two games back, in which he's combined for a minus-five rating, he's been sloppy with the puck and far from his usual physical force in the defensive zone. Those are damning numbers, even if Trouba is working his back after missing 11 games.

I will say I would have Trouba skate with Zac Jones and K’Andre Miller play with Brendan Schneider. Those pairings seem to make the most sense and allow for Miller and Schneider to continue the growth we saw from each while together. The flip side argument, which is the one Laviolette is likely making, is that he believes Trouba and Miller can once again be a solid second pairing and he has a few weeks to see if that can be the case while Trouba scrapes off the rust.

We can disagree with that approach, but with New York having clinched a playoff berth and in mild experimentation mode, despite battling for those placements I mentioned earlier, this could be the time for that approach. The question will be, if Trouba and the duo continue to struggle, when do you pull the plug. My guess is one more game. If we don’t see improvement Wednesday and/or Friday and the division is at risk, then Laviolette has to make that change. For now, though, Laviolette seems comfortable with the status quo.

“I can't guarantee anything with regard to a round in the playoffs or a game of the playoffs or the last game of the year," he said prior to the game. "That's down the road, but I know where we've been, I know where I'm at tonight and I know what I'm comfortable with."

2) Matchups: this one is on Laviolette. New York opened the game with Trouba, Miller, Vincent Trocheck, Artemi Panarin and Alexis Lafrenière on the ice. Hard to blame the forwards for Trouba’s turnover off Reilly Smith’s skate and Bryan Rust’s goal 18 seconds in. But that forward unit, which usually is solid defensively, especially Trocheck, was cratered by Sidney Crosby’s line. Crosby added the second goal in the opening frame to put a stamp on his dominant play.

Laviolette finally made a change to start the second period. He usded Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Jack Roslovic as often as possible against Crosby. As Vince Mercogliano pointed out, they were effective in slowing down No. 87 while outshooting the Pens, 9-3, and limiting them to zero high-danger chances. The numbers really aren’t a surprise. Zib’s unit has been solid defensively nearly all year and they have matched out well against team’s other #1 lines. I understand why Laviolette might have put the Trocheck line on initially, but a swap should have been made early when he saw how that unit was getting hemmed in and beaten offensively.

3) Turnovers, a problem against Philly and Arizona, were one of the main issues against Pittsburgh, as New York was charged with 18 of them. Besides Trouba’s faux pas that led to the opening goal, Will Cuylle’s bad giveaway at the opposing blue line led to a breakaway and goal by Emil Bemstrom in the third period that basically sealed the game. Part of the challenge also was a change in style in going from those two games to Pittsburgh. The Pens play a tighter forechecking style than both teams, especially the Coyotes. While the contests against the Flyers and Yotes were wide open, yesterday’s was one where time and space were more limited. New York didn’t adjust until the second period. By that time, they were down 2-0 and they were unable to catch up.

4) One bad game - coming off a small road trip and five wins in a row, a mild let down was expected. Rather now than later. But the game in hand is gone, and even though the remaining schedule may not be completely against teams in “playoff position,” several will come against squads trying to make the postseason, including Detroit. Irrespective of that, when facing the Devils, Isles and Flyers, records mean little. The last game of the year is against Ottawa, who gives New York fits.

Come out Wednesday, establish the forecheck early and get back to Rangers hockey. Laviolette might consider dressing Matt Rempe, though given the opponent and history, that would certainly raise the intensity level. I would move Cuylle, despite the turnover, back up to the third line with Alexander Wennberg and Kaapo Kakko, who scored last night, to make it a more dangerous third line. Get back in the win column with a solid effort and move on to the next game.

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