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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Rangers Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (5-2-1-11) vs. New York Rangers (7-2-1-15)

Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Saturday, October 25, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*Check HD schedule and television


Balanced Production: PIttsburgh got goals from the top three lines Thursday against the Hurricanes. The New York Rangers play a tight-checking, defensive style that will attempt to smother and frustrate the Penguins top scorers. Pittsburgh will need to mount a balanced attack from the top line to the bottom line.

Patience: The Rangers can frustrate a lot of talented, offensive teams with their disciplined defense. Pittsburgh can't allow themselves to become frustrated or they'll be losing half the battle.

Get into a Flow: The Penguins played a great up-tempo game against the Hurricanes. The Rangers will try to limit that type of game for a tighter checking game. But New York has a few talented players that prefer an offensive style. Pittsburgh can push the issue and force the Rangers to play right into its hands. If the game becomes an offensive show, that favors Pittsburgh. 
General manager Glen Sather was not happy with his team’s second consecutive second-round exit from the postseason. Following the Rangers fall to the Penguins, 4-1, Sather rebuilt his lineup. Gone are Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Sean Avery, Brendan Shanahan, Christian Backman and Ryan Hollweg. Added are Wade Redden, Marcus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev, Aaron Voros and Dmitri Kalinin.

The Rangers can sympathize with the Penguins' early season jet lag. New York opened the current campaign in Prague, Czech Republic, against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers swept the European series and won their first five games but have lost three of their last five. They currently sit at 7-2-1 and atop the Atlantic Division.
With all the money spent on free agents last season, the Rangers still lacked firepower. The team netted 2.50 goals per game, ranking 25th in the NHL. The Rangers let one of the best scorers in NHL history walk away with Jagr. Though his production declined the last three seasons, it was still a risky move by Slather. To replace him, Sather brought in Zherdev and Naslund. Zherdev has tremendous upside and is only 23 years old. Last year was his best season as a pro, finishing with career highs in games played (82), goals (26), assists (35) and points (61). He had a reputation as a one-way player but he tops the team with a plus-7 rating. Naslund’s production has declined in the last four campaigns, but he still produced 25 goals and 30 assists for 55 points last year.

Scott Gomez and Chris Drury are entering their second year with the Rangers and will be counted on to shoulder more leadership responsibilities. The Rangers paid them a lot of money to produce and they expect big thrings from that investment. The emergence of Brandon Dubinsky has been a pleasant surprise. The 22-year-old is looking to build on his 40-point rookie campaign. He currently leads the team in points (4+6=10).
Head coach Tom Renney instilled a discipline, defense-first approach. As a result, the Rangers yielded the fourth fewest number of goals in the league at 2.32 goals per game. Michal Rozsival and Marc Staal return to protect the Rangers blue line. Rozsival had two-plus 30-point seasons sandwiched around a 40-point campaign (10G-30A). Staal is looking to improve on his plus-10 rating from his rookie season. Paul Mara is a physical presence and Dan Girardi is another young player to stick with the Rangers.

Sather brought in two defensemen in the offseason with Redden and Kalinin. Redden was the cornerstone to the Ottawa Senators defense for 11 seasons and may have been the best free agent signing in the league. During his Ottawa stay, he’s compiled a plus-161 rating and four 40-plus point seasons. Kalinin spent the last seven seasons with Buffalo as a solid defender, but is coming off of knee and shoulder injuries.
The biggest reason the Rangers defense ranked so highly last season had to do with the man between the pipes. Henrik Lundqvist has been a Vezina-nominee in his three NHL seasons. He notched two straight seasons with 37 wins and led the league with 10 shutouts. He boasts a career record of 108-60-0 with a 2.27 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. Lundqvist doesn’t take many nights off, playing in 70 and 72 games the last two seasons. On the rare occasion that he does, Stephen Valiquette sees action. He’s carved out a nice career as a backup in the league.
The Rangers are no strangers to throwing money at players in free agency. However, Sather opted to target younger players instead of the aging, pricy veterans. The Rangers dump salaries of older players like Jagr, Straka, Avery and Shanahan, replacing them with youngsters like Zherdev and Voros, and allowing players in their system to mature (Ryan Callahan, Dubinsky, Staal). For once, the Rangers are going with a youth-oriented approach. Of course, if New York has another second-round exit then Sather may overhaul the team again.
It’s only his second season in New York, yet Renney dubbed him to be the team’s captain. He’s proven to be a clutch player in Colorado, Calgary and Buffalo, and the pressure on him to produce in the playoffs will be greater now. He notched a career-best 37 goals in his final season in Buffalo and cashed in with a big free agent contract with the Rangers. However, Drury’s goal production dipped to 25 last season and the team is expecting much more from the veteran this year.
“We struggled over the course of the season last year with the Rangers, especially in New York. When we started the playoffs it was a different story. Hopefully, we’ll pick up the same way that we did in the playoffs last year.”
- Michel Therrien on the Rangers
0-3-1: Pittsburgh's record at Madison Square Garden last season.


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