As the clock reached the nine-minute mark of the third period Thursday night, Chris Kreider couldn’t stop thinking about penalties.
Specifically, the Rangers’ lack of penalties as they battled the Penguins.
The forward didn’t want to mention anything to his teammates at that point (“That’s usually when you take one,” he joked after the game), but the Rangers eventually got through the entire 60 minutes of the 4-2 victory without committing a penalty, the first time they had done that in a game since Jan. 24, 2021, also against the Penguins.
The secret to accomplishing something that the Rangers have only done seven times across the past decade isn’t complicated, though.
“The best way to kill penalties is not take any,” Kreider said.
The Rangers have logged the sixth-fewest penalty minutes among NHL teams, with 522 this season, and their penalty kill has operated at a 79.7 percent clip, which is 16th in the league.
But Thursday was still a performance the Rangers needed, especially against the Penguins, who have the NHL’s No. 14 power play (21.9 percent) and had scored four power-play goals in seven previous opportunities against them this season.
Part of the improvement stemmed from playing more disciplined, defenseman Adam Fox said, but the Rangers also controlled the puck and weren’t “chasing in the D-zone” as much.
Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant attributed the penalty-free game to, in part, the referees doing an “excellent job,” but he added that he didn’t witness uncalled penalties from the bench, either.
The next step will be attempting to replicate that performance.
“That’s a really good thing to see, especially against a team that’s got great special teams — especially after how last game went with what [the Penguins] were able to do on the power play,” Kreider said.
In an unusual regular-season scheduling twist, the Rangers will host the Penguins again Saturday for their second meeting in three days. The teams also played at Pittsburgh last Sunday.
Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said that it reminds him of the “COVID-protocol schedule,” when teams would travel and play opponents in “two-game, mini series” — something that happened four times between the Rangers and Penguins in 2020-21.
The games have playoff implications for both of the Metropolitan Division rivals.
The Rangers (88) have 10 more points than the Penguins (78) in the divisional standings, but Pittsburgh is tied with the Islanders — and three points ahead of the Panthers, with a cluster of other teams nearby — for the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot.
“These games are so important,” Sullivan said Friday following his team’s practice at Chelsea Piers. “They’re divisional games. We’re fighting for a playoff spot. They’re important games. It is unique in the sense that it doesn’t happen very often in today’s schedule or this season’s schedule.”