There has to be more than meets the eye — or maybe, in this case, the ear — to David Quinn’s explanation of why the Rangers went with Alex Georgiev in nets on Saturday against the Penguins instead of coming right back to Igor Shesterkin off his strong performance in Thursday’s overtime victory in Buffalo.
“Obviously the circumstances have changed here since last year without having Hank [Lundqvist] here,” the coach said. “I just thought for the short-term we’re going to go every other [game] with these guys for a while, and see how it goes regardless of how they play and give them a little clearer picture and maybe some more comfort in what the schedule is and who’s going to play.
“So, I don’t know how long we’re going to do it, but that will be the approach in the short term.”
Georgiev was not up to snuff in this one, surrendering five goals on 38 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss at the Garden in which he may not have been the prime culprit but could not do enough to win it. The Bulgarian-born netminder has recorded three straight starts with a .800, .875 and .868 save percentage, respectively.
Here they are, 2-4-2 in their first eight games, unable to protect leads in the third period, and lo and behold the Rangers do not have a No. 1 goaltender. At this moment, and it is still so early, even as the coach notes the club has “two good goaltenders,” there is no heir apparent to the King.
Georgiev yielded the tying goal at 9:20 of the third on a rebound put in on a second try off the post by Jake Guentzel. There have been too many loose rebounds yielded by Georgiev, who seems unsettled and haphazard rather than economical and in command.
“I’m sure Georgie would like one or two back,” said Quinn in what is becoming a familiar refrain.
The Rangers have held third-period leads in four of their past five games. They have blown the leads in each one, managing to win one in overtime while losing one in regulation and two in overtime — this one coming on Sidney Crosby’s drive from the slot at 2:27 with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad working on two-minute shifts.
The Blueshirts have not scored a third-period goal in their past five games, either, outscored 5-0. Perhaps the team lacks the mental discipline or commitment to carry their plan through 60 minutes. Perhaps they are not getting enough critical, game-saving stops that were so routine for the better part of a decade-and-a-half. The Rangers are not playing winning hockey.
This was a scrambly affair with scads of wide-open ice. Maybe that seduced the Rangers into trying to get by with a brand of pond hockey in the third period, and not a very good brand, at that. The Penguins, who played with five defensemen after Kris Letang left the match midway through the first period, were in control for the final 20 minutes of regulation after hanging on through much of the first 40 minutes.
This display seemed to infuriate Chris Kreider, who had his most imposing game of the year.
“We’ve shown what we can do in spurts, we understand what we need to do to be successful, and then they crank up the intensity a little bit in the third period and all of a sudden we get away from it and start going east-west instead of advancing zones,” No. 20 said. “You don’t win at the NHL level doing that.
“No team in the league can just throw their sticks out there, play east-west and try to steal their way to wins. You’ve got to go north at some point. There’s not enough space, there’s not enough time, you’ve got to make their D turn and dig pucks out of corners. It looked like a lot of fun for them in the third period.”
Brendan Smith — on with partner Tony DeAngelo for the first three Pittsburgh five-on-five goals, including one on which Kasperi Kapanen got behind him for a breakaway — did not get a sniff in the third period.
DeAngelo, by the way, has somehow been on the ice for nine of 16 goals allowed by the Rangers in 82:50 of even-strength work. We have already recognized how the absences of Lundqvist and Jesper Fast have impacted the team. Is it possible that Marc Staal, No. 77’s partner a year ago, is so sorely missed, too?
The Rangers have not been able to get any traction. They have not been able to build their game. But building a game generally starts from nets on out. Uncertainty abounds on the ice.
But there is one thing of which we can be certain. It will be Shesterkin in goal on Monday for the rematch.