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Preview: Penguins at Rangers

Henrik Lundqvist back in goal for New York; Pittsburgh expected to use Matt Murray

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PENGUINS (11-5-3) at RANGERS (14-5-1)

7 p.m. ET; MSG, ROOT, NHL.TV


Penguins team scope

The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to break out of a mini-slump and avoid losing back-to-back games in regulation since losing the first four games under coach Mike Sullivan last season (Dec. 14-19). They've lost three of their past four (1-2-1), including 5-2 to the New York Rangers at PPG Paints Arena on Monday. The slump started with a 7-1 loss at the Washington Capitals last Wednesday. They defeated the New York Islanders 3-2 in overtime two nights later but lost 2-1 in a shootout at the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday despite a 47-33 edge in shots on goal. The Penguins are expected to start Matt Murray in goal after Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals on 35 shots in the loss against New York on Monday. Murray is 5-1-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in six appearances. Pittsburgh did not hold a morning skate.


Rangers team scope

The Rangers will try to build on their four-point lead on the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division and improve their 8-2-1 record at Madison Square Garden. Though it's just their 21st game of the season, they see it as a significant one. "I think for the confidence of our group and what we're trying to achieve and what we're doing, I think it will be worth more than just the two points," defenseman Marc Staal said. "They're a great team. They're going to come out hard and they're going to play better. If we can find a way to match that and come out at home with a big win, it's something throughout the course of a season, when you're up and down, you can come back to, to know that you're able to do it." Coach Alain Vigneault indicated that he still sees the Penguins as the best team in the NHL. "We're certainly using tonight as a measuring stick," he said. "They won the Cup last year. They were the best in the League. They haven't had a lot of changes. … At the start of the season I think a lot of people were talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins. I'm not sure where the experts had the New York Rangers, but we're right there and we've got another big game tonight. We're looking forward to the competition."


Penguins projected lineup

Carl Hagelin -- Sidney Crosby -- Conor Sheary

Jake Guentzel -- Evgeni Malkin -- Phil Kessel

Scott Wilson -- Nick Bonino -- Bryan Rust

Tom Kuhnhackl -- Matt Cullen -- Eric Fehr

Olli Maatta -- Kris Letang

Brian Dumoulin -- Trevor Daley

Ian Cole -- Justin Schultz

Matt Murray

Marc-Andre Fleury

Scratched: Steve Oleksy, Tom Sestito

Injured: Chris Kunitz (lower body), Patric Hornqvist (concussion)


Rangers projected lineup

Chris Kreider -- Kevin Hayes -- Mats Zuccarello

Michael Grabner -- Derek Stepan -- Rick Nash

Jimmy Vesey -- Brandon Pirri -- J.T. Miller

Oscar Lindberg -- Josh Jooris -- Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh -- Dan Girardi

Marc Staal -- Nick Holden

Brady Skjei -- Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Matt Puempel, Adam Clendening

Injured: Pavel Buchnevich (back), Mika Zibanejad (broken left fibula)


Status report

The Penguins switched their top two defense pairs at practice Tuesday, moving Maatta up to play with Letang and dropping Dumoulin down to play with Daley. Sullivan said he's looking for consistency from the top four. "It just may change the dynamic a little bit that may help one or two of the players involved," he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. … Puempel skated with the Rangers on Wednesday for the first time since being picked up on waivers from the Ottawa Senators on Monday. He will be a healthy scratch, but that didn't suppress his enthusiasm. "So excited to be here," Puempel said. "So grateful for the opportunity. I can't stop smiling." Lundqvist will play after Antti Raanta won in Pittsburgh; he'll be making his 60th regular-season appearance against the Penguins, his most against any opponent. He is 29-21-9 with a 2.42 GAA, .916 save percentage and four shutouts.


Who's hot

Guentzel scored two goals in his first NHL game on Monday. Kessel assisted on each, giving him four assists in the past three games and seven in the past seven. … Grabner has five goals in the past six games and is tied with Crosby for the League lead with 12. He had 17 goals in the past two seasons combined. Hayes has 15 points in his past 12 games, including a goal and an assist against the Penguins on Monday.

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