“I always thought he was a great player,” Kovalev said after Rucinsky had two goals and an assist in the New York Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night. “A lot of people say, ‘He can’t play without good hockey players with him,’ but who can?
“He’s got speed and ability, and he’s having one of those seasons.”
Rucinsky, a four-time 20-goal scorer with Montreal, hasn’t had more than 16 goals in the last three seasons. But he has eight points during the Rangers’ four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1), including a four-point game Nov. 23 against Ottawa.
His seven goals and 18 points in 23 games put him on pace to easily surpass the 16 goals and 30 points he managed in St. Louis last season.
“We’re not a one-man line or a two-man line,” Rucinsky said of playing beside Kovalev and center Bobby Holik, each of whom had two assists. “If two are working and the third person is not, it’s not going to work for us.
“We work together well. We’re kind of building some chemistry with each other.”
After Rucinsky converted a Kovalev pass from behind the net for his second goal at 3:34 of the third period to break a 1-1 tie, Eric Lindros and Brian Leetch added goals for New York, which has lost only once in the last seven games (3-1-3).
New York’s Jussi Markkanen made 20 saves to extend his unbeaten streak to four games (3-0-1) as the Rangers beat the Penguins for the second time this season.
Kovalev, playing his first game in Pittsburgh since being traded from the Penguins last February, extended his scoring streak to six games when he threw a cross-ice pass from the right corner to Rucinsky. He tapped the puck in at 14:56 of the first period.
Rico Fata, one of the players acquired from the Rangers in the trade for Kovalev, scored his team-leading eighth goal at 8:17 of the second period with a slap shot from the top of the right circle on the power play.
But the Rangers killed off the next four Pittsburgh power plays while scoring the final three goals of the game.
“We battled hard for 40 minutes,” said Pittsburgh’s Martin Straka. “We got some good chances on the power play but we just couldn’t finish them off.”
After Rucinsky’s second goal, Lindros scored a goal for the second consecutive game just 3:29 later when he poked the puck past Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury after Fleury stopped a shot by Jan Hlavac.
Fleury, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, turned 19 on Friday but lost his sixth consecutive decision.
Rucinsky also assisted on Leetch’s short-handed goal with 3:45 to play.
“I thought the team played very well, and they played with composure when Pittsburgh came back and made it 1-1,” said New York coach Glen Sather. “Itcould have been easy to make mistakes at that time and start scrambling.”
The Rangers scratched forward Anson Carter and defensemen Joel Bouchard and Dale Purinton. Carter, who was slashed on the right wrist Wednesday against Florida, missed his first game this season. … The Penguins scratched LW Ramzi Abid and C Brian Holzinger. … The crowd of 15,908 was the Penguins’ first in nine home games to surpass 11,300. … The Rangers’ roster features six former Penguins: Kovalev, Bouchard, Kasparaitis, Petr Nedved, Dan Lacouture and Matthew Barnaby. … New York is in the midst of an 11-game stretch in which itplays nine on the road.