The play of New York Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk has become stagnant, especially against the Islanders. It’s healthy scratch time.
He was involved in three of the four goals against the Rangers including the game-winner for the Islanders, even as the Rangers outshot the Islanders 17-1 in the third period. Pionk was even on the night, but that was not indicative of how poor a game he played.
In the first period with the Rangers up 1-0 following a power-play goal by Ryan Strome, Pionk had the puck on the left side boards and made an errant cross-ice pass intended for Jimmy Vesey. The pass was behind the Ranger forward while the team was making a line change. Islanders star forward Mathew Barzal took the puck, skated down the right side, and beat Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game at one.
The Rangers lead lasted less than a minute and all of the momentum gained with the man advantage goal was lost.
Pionk, now out of position, tried to sprawl across the ice to block the shot and wound up deflecting the puck over Henrik Lundqvist, giving the Islanders a 2-1 lead.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 11, 2019
Pionk played a total of 18:18 for the game as head coach David Quinn continued to show confidence in the 23-year-old. The defenseman never seemed comfortable during the game forcing passes as he continued to miss assignments.
The Rangers coach, always teaching and communicating, continued to trust the pair of Pionk and Marc Staal throughout the game.
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That decision ultimately cost the Rangers at least one point. Pionk, again, was on the ice for the game-winning goal.
A third period dominated by the Blueshirts had them outshooting the Islanders 15-0 with under two minutes to play in the game. Cal Clutterbuck streaked down the ice and found Josh Bailey with a cross-ice feed. Pionk was covering Bailey as the pass came across, but found himself undecided how to cover the forward.
Pionk wound up facing Lundqvist as the pass came across the ice and as he turned around to face the Islander forward, the puck was already on its way past the Rangers goalie.
There is never a good time for a bad game in the NHL and this was a really bad time as the Rangers were a little over a minute away from recording at least their first point of 2019. Instead, the Islanders scored the winning goal on their only shot of the third period.
Quinn will surely go over the events of this hockey game and probably will sit him for the teams back end of the home and home contest in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon.
The head coach has sat players after poor games not as a punishment but as a way for the player to understand what he needs to improve on. Not dressing a player is how the coaching staff has done things through this season with promising results when the player returns to the lineup.
This may also give the coaching staff a good opportunity to mix up the defensive pairings as Staal and Pionk should be separated for a while to get both to play better. The defense as a unit has struggled which is why the head coach has continued to rotate defenseman in and out of the lineup as was the case Thursday night when Fredrik Claesson was inserted in for Anthony DeAngelo.
Don’t be surprised if Neal Pionk fetches that dreaded healthy scratch on Saturday.
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