Penguins-Rangers Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins spent a month earlier this season being

followed by film crews for an HBO documentary. The most creative

minds in Hollywood might not have been able to script the team’s

latest bizarre turn.

A minor bus accident in Manhattan followed a penalty-filled loss

that further diminished the roster of the injury-plagued Penguins,

who look to deal the New York Rangers a seventh straight loss

Sunday afternoon.

Serious injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin seem like

ancient history these days for Pittsburgh (35-18-4), which is

resembling an AHL team more every day.

Forwards Mark Letestu, Arron Asham and Chris Kunitz are also out

while Matt Cooke is halfway through a four-game suspension, but the

Penguins keep losing bodies. Dustin Jeffrey went down with an

upper-body injury in Thursday’s win over Los Angeles, then fellow

rookie center Eric Tangradi suffered a possible concussion Friday

night against the Islanders after receiving a nasty elbow from

enforcer Trevor Gillies.

Suddenly, the Penguins were involved in a scene more reminiscent

of “Slap Shot” than HBO’s 24/7 miniseries. Gillies’ third-period

hit sparked a series of brawls at Nassau Coliseum that overshadowed

the Islanders’ 9-3 rout.

The teams totaled 346 penalty minutes and 15 fighting majors,

and Penguins forward Eric Godard garnered an automatic 10-game

suspension for leaving the bench to defend goaltender Brent

Johnson.

“The first half of the game was a hockey game, and the second

was not,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who could also be

suspended for Godard leaving the bench. “I certainly didn’t

anticipate the third period looking like that.”

Pittsburgh’s first chance to get back on the ice was disrupted

Saturday morning. The Penguins’ team bus hit a car en route to a

practice in Central Park, leaving the players to hail cabs in full

practice gear to finish the trip.

“It’s a good thing we were wearing helmets,” forward Pascal

Dupuis jokingly told the team’s official website.

With Tangradi out Sunday, Pittsburgh will be missing eight

forwards who were on the opening night roster plus Asham, who was

injured and missed the first three weeks.

It’s been nearly three weeks since the Rangers (29-24-4) got a

win. New York was tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference after

beating Washington 2-1 in a shootout Jan. 24, but it’s dropped to

seventh after an 0-4-1 stretch.

The Rangers’ lone point came from a 4-3 shootout loss to the

Penguins on Feb. 1, Pittsburgh’s fifth straight win at Madison

Square Garden. Friday’s 3-2 loss at Atlanta, in which New York blow

a 2-1 lead with six minutes to play, was its fourth straight in

regulation.

The Rangers haven’t lost seven in a row since Dec. 16-29,

2006.

“Obviously it’s frustrating,” defenseman Marc Staal told the

team’s official website. “We were going pretty good, but just a few

mistakes cost us a game and two big points. We wanted this game

real bad, but we didn’t get it done.”

New York’s lack of offensive production has been constant during

the team’s 7-10-2 stretch since Jan. 1. The Rangers have averaged

1.74 goals in those 19 games, the fewest in the NHL.

“We have to angle all of our anger and disappointment and

frustration into something positive as we go into the next one,”

goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said.

Pittsburgh can become the first visitor to win six straight

trips to MSG since Philadelphia from Nov. 8, 2003-March 22,

2006.