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.
Forwards Mark Letestu(notes), Arron Asham(notes) and Chris Kunitz(notes) are also out while Matt Cooke(notes) is halfway through a four-game suspension, but the Penguins keep losing bodies. Dustin Jeffrey(notes) went down with an upper-body injury in Thursday’s win over Los Angeles, then fellow rookie center Eric Tangradi(notes) suffered a possible concussion Friday night against the Islanders after receiving a nasty elbow from enforcer Trevor Gillies(notes).
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(notes) garnered an automatic 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to defend goaltender Brent Johnson(notes).
“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.
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(notes) 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.
Pittsburgh can become the first visitor to win six straight trips to MSG since Philadelphia from Nov. 8, 2003-March 22, 2006.