Was today's 3-1 loss to the Penguins as frustrating for the Rangers to play as it was for fans to watch? They were definitely frustrated at allowing the Pens eight power plays, but they only blamed themselves. They were definitely frustrated to have killed off all those penalties except for one five on three but fail to capitalize on their own power plays after Brandon Dubinsky's early marker, especially with one last chance near the end of the game, never even coming close to setting up. And they were probably frustrated that they couldn't hit the net in the second period, sending nine of their twenty shot attempts that were not blocked wide of the net.
In the end, they had to be frustrated at holding Pittsburgh's potent attack to just ten shots on goal through two periods despite all those power plays and limiting them to just that one five on three goal plus one off an unfortunate bounce, and then holding them to just eight more shots in the third period until two shots generated the last minute insurance goal that kept the Rangers from pulling the goalie to try to tie it up. In the end, they had to be frustrated that they wasted the first of their two games in hand and now have to consider where they end up among the lower four playoff seeds rather than shoot for a division title.
Fans experienced a different sort of frustration, albeit over many of the same items. The power play -- what's left to say? How can so much talent produce so small of a threat? How many points can a team squander for want of a power play goal before it destroys them completely? This is supposed to be the part of the game that's easy, yet it's the most difficult. And perhaps most frustrating of all is how the attack picks back up the second the advantage is over, even with the same unit on the ice. Why not just play the same way on the power play? And missing the net that way -- much of that came on the power play.
Fans had a different perspective than the players on the way this game was called by the officials. And that is because fans had to watch it on national TV, where it was painfully obvious that this was a Penguin game, not a Ranger game. The bulk of the audience had to be Ranger fans, and the bulk of the play, especially early on and through those portions of the second period when there was no penalty to kill (heck, even during those second period penalty kills), went the Rangers' way. But the attention devoted by NBC was Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh (and a whisper of Rangers here or there, thanks to the presence of 1994 Black Ace Eddie Olczyk).
So how much of a stretch is it for fans to make the leap to referees devoting that same level of attention to Sidney Darling, the NHL's prime marketing tool? When a referee looks right past Crosby's multiple cross-checks right in front of him to call a marginal Jagr hold across the ice, and then see Crosby cross-check again to ignite a post-whistle scrum and still leave him without penalty, what is a Ranger fan to think? When a referee watches Michal Rozsival and Jordan Staal coming right at him in pursuit of a puck and sees Staal put his arm out to fend off Rozsival and Rozsival do the same, and he penalizes only Rozsival, what is a Ranger fan to think? When Martin Straka is picked off coming in for a puck without an arm being raised and then is sent off for another marginal hook because Staal took a dive as the puck went the other way, what is a Ranger fan to think?
When Petr Prucha off all people is called for roughing when landing a clean hit, but Scott Gomez can be hit freely from behind into the boards, what is a Ranger fan to think? When Jagr is interfered with from behind, hooked off a sure goal, interfered with again, with nary a call, but Sidney Darling throws his head back so artfully to draw a high-sticking call that never came near his face, and Sidney Darling draws a slashing penalty to his wrists while he is getting away with a hook, and the good folks at NBC turn a blind eye -- and even apologize to him for suggesting that he "sold" a call after he challenged them on it during the game! -- just what is a Ranger fan to think?
No, the referees did not call this game to help the Penguins win -- they made a ridiculous call on Marian Hossa too. And the Rangers didn't lose the game because of the penalty calls (nor did they allow themselves that excuse), although it was certainly an important factor. But when Ranger fans have to digest the force-fed all-Sidney, all-the-time marketing campaign during a game and watch the Rangers get three penalties for one to the Pens, four straight for two to the Pens, and all the while watch the Pens get away with so much, including a lot of Greg Louganises, how do you expect them to react?
Game reports at New York area outlets: Daily News, Newsday, Times, Post, and NYR.com. Rangers Report has an update from the morning skate -- not much new other than Blair Betts taking to the ice pain-free but still in need of condtioning. Additional Ranger notes at Yahoo! Sports. Pitt point of view here, here, and here, with additional notes, some relevant to the Rangers, here, here, and here. Previews of tonight's game at NYR.com and Rangerland. Stan Fischler at MSG.com is growing a little concerned about clinching a playoff spot, as are we. Hartford completed a sweep of their three-game weekend with a shootout win over the junior fishsticks -- see the Courant and Howlings (also check out Howlings on the Pack's 10-1 win the night before). Prospect Park discusses the prospects headed to Hartford.
In addition to his News article, John Dellapina takes on Sidney Crosby in Blueshirts Blog here and here. The reverse-angle replay that supposedly shows Crosby being hit in the mouth by Gomez's stick actually demonstrates conclusively that he was not hit by a high stick and that he embellished the call. First of all, you can't conclude from that angle whether he was hit in the mouth or whether the stick blade was away from the mouth -- just like on the Nigel Dawes goal the other night, where you can't tell from the overhead angle that his arms were in the air, not on the ice. And in a shot that shows Crosby's mouthguard right after being hit, there is no black mark on it. But even if he was hit in the mouth, the stick was hand-high, which is not high sticking -- Crosby's face was low, and that's not a penalty. And his whiplash reaction can plainly be seen to take place well after the alleged hit in the mouth -- if it was indeed a high stick, than that's embellishment.