NEW YORK (AP) — James Neal scored twice, Evgeni Malkin assisted on three Pittsburgh goals, and the Penguins chased reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist from the net in the second period of a 6-3 victory over the Rangers in New York’s home opener on Sunday night.
Neal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Niskanen all scored in the first period, and Malkin set up Pascal Dupuis in the second to push Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-1 and drive Lundqvist to the bench. The Penguins, building off a 3-1 win at Philadelphia on Saturday, are 2-0 in the lockout-shortened season and haven’t even played a home game.
Neal added his second of the game and third of the season off another assist by Malkin to make it 5-1 at 5:06 of the third. Kris Letang added an empty-net goal with 1:52 left to close the scoring.
Veteran backup Tomas Vokoun started for Pittsburgh over Marc-Andre Fleury and was solid in making 31 saves.
On the flip side, the Rangers — who won the Atlantic Division last season and had the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs — are 0-2 despite the addition of star forward Rick Nash, who netted his first goal with New York.
Ryan Callahan scored a power-play goal that briefly lifted New York into a 1-1 tie, Taylor Pyatt got the Rangers within three at 6:04 of the third, and Nash added a short-handed tally to make it 5-3 with 5:15 remaining.
But fans decked out in free blue T-shirts handed out to welcome them back following the lockout had little else to celebrate.
The only consolation for them in this one was Lundqvist got half a game to rest after stopping just 14 of 18 shots.
But he was hardly the lone culprit in New York’s failings that likely had already-feisty coach John Tortorella fuming.
The energy generated inside Madison Square Garden just 2 seconds into the game when Arron Asham — in his first shift with the Rangers — dropped his gloves with Turner Glass right after the opening faceoff was gone nearly as quickly.
Neal staked the Penguins to their first lead of the night with a power-play goal at 1:48 while Brad Richards served an interference penalty. It was Neal’s second goal in two days of the young season.
Callahan got the Rangers even at 9:55 with New York’s first power-play goal in its two games, but again no momentum was created for the home team. The Rangers had an extended two-man advantage after Simon Despres and Brandon Sutter took penalties at essentially the same time because Sutter was called for a violation on the ensuing faceoff after Despres went off for holding.
Unlike Saturday night, when the Rangers lost their season opener 3-1 at Boston, special teams played a big role early in this one. New York killed all seven power plays against and went 0 for 5 on the advantage.
The Rangers cashed in during their 5-on-3 power play on Sunday after failing on a similar advantage a night earlier when they trailed 2-1 in the third period.
Kennedy put the Penguins back in front with 4:55 left in the eventful first period, and defenseman Matt Niskanen made it 3-1 with 1:10 remaining — firing a shot off a clean faceoff win by Sidney Crosby from the center of the blue line that clipped the skate of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi before finding its way between Lundqvist’s pads.
Lundqvist had no chance on Dupuis’ power-play goal 9:11 into the second after Evgeni Malkin fed him with a perfect pass in front for an easy redirection that gave Pittsburgh a 4-1 lead.
With little realistic chance for a comeback and an already crammed schedule, Tortorella pulled his star goalie and replaced him with Martin Biron.
Biron stood his ground and helped kill a 5-on-3 Penguins power play that spanned the second and third periods. That advantage was built on consecutive delay of game penalties by Richards and Marc Staal in the final minute of the second.
It got so bad, that Rangers fans sarcastically cheered the announcement that only one minute remained in the second period.
Notes: Biron made 19 saves. … Crosby’s assist on Niskanen’s goal was his lone point in the Penguins’ first two games. … To make room in the lineup for Asham, the Rangers sent RW Brandon Segal back to Connecticut of the AHL. Asham made his Rangers debut one night after serving the final game of a four-game suspension he was given during last year’s postseason while playing for Pittsburgh. Segal played briefly in New York’s season opener and received two penalty minutes. … The Rangers went 0-2 in the first of their six back-to-back set of games this season. … The Penguins will host Toronto in their home opener Wednesday.
What are the problems you see with the Rangers after the first two games? Share your thoughts.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)