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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Rangers Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (14-6-3-31) at New York Rangers (17-8-2-36)

Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Wednesday, December 3, 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.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh is 0-0-1 against the Rangers. The Penguins are 0-0-1 at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers won a shootout against Pittsburgh Oct. 25 after tying the game in the final minute of regulation.



Max Talbot Previews The Game
  Pens vs. Rangers 10/25
Dethrone the King: Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the NHL. He’s had success against the Penguins in his career, with a 13-6-3 mark, 2.10 goals against average and .917 save percentage. Lundqvist is very stingy in the net and will frustrate the Penguins at times. However, the game will depend upon the Penguins getting the best of King Henrik.

Special Teams: The New York Rangers have the NHL’s best penalty killing mark with a kill rate of 89.5 percent. Pittsburgh’s power play has scored only two power-play goals in its past six games. Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily need to score goals with the man-advantage to win, but with the Rangers’ tough defense, it would greatly enhance its chances. 
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 currently sit atop the Atlantic Division with 36 points this season. New York started the season with five-straight wins and finished at 10-2-1 at the end of October. The Rangers have come back down the earth in November, but they have won three of their past four games heading into their showdown with the Penguins.
The Rangers are no strangers to throwing money at players in free agency. However, Sather opted to target younger players instead of aging, pricey veterans. The Rangers opted to 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, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal). Of course, if New York has another second-round exit then Sather may overhaul the team again.
With all the money spent on free agents last season, the Rangers were lacking in firepower. The team netted 2.50 goals per game, ranking 25th in the NHL. However, the Rangers are actually worse at this season’s current juncture, ranking 26th in the league with 2.44 goals per game. Sather brought in Zherdev and Naslund to help bolster production. They can’t be blamed for the lack of production. Zherdev has found new life in a Rangers uniform. The 24-year-old currently leads the team in points (23), assists (15) and a plus-8 rating. Naslund is second on the team with 20 points and has a team-high nine goals.

Scott Gomez and Chris Drury are entering their second year with the Rangers and will be counted on to shoulder more leadership responsibilities. So far this season the duo has netted a disappointing point total with 14 each. 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 is currently third on the team with 16 points (5G-11A).
While the offense may be struggling, the same can’t be said about the other end of the ice. Tom Renney instilled a discipline, defense-first approach as head coach. New York is yielding 2.37 goals against average, third best in the NHL. Sather brought in two defensemen in the offseason, Redden and Kalinin. Redden was the cornerstone to the Ottawa Senators defense for 11 seasons and may have been the most underrated offseason signing. Kalinin spent the last seven seasons with Buffalo, but is coming off of knee and shoulder injuries.

Dan Girardi is emerging as a legitimate scoring threat from the blue line. He leads all Rangers defensemen with 15 points (3G-12A). Michal Rozsival is on pace to record his fourth-straight 30-plus point season. Staal is staking his claim as a shutdown defenseman with a blue line-best plus-5 rating. Paul Mara is a physical force on the backend, compiling 47 PIMs thus far.
The biggest reason the Rangers defense ranks so high has to do with the man between the pipes. Henrik Lundqvist has been a Vezina-nominee every season since entering the league. He’s notched two straight seasons with 37 wins and led the league with 10 shutouts last year. This season, Lundqvist leads all goaltenders with 15 wins while recording a 2.17 goals against average and .925 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.
Only 27 games into the season and Lundqvist is generating some much deserved MVP buzz. He is the rock upon which Renney’s defensive system is built and has carried the Rangers to an early division lead. Lundqvist was an after thought to the organization after being selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft (205th overall). In fact, the team chose Michigan goalkeeper Al Montoya sixth overall in the 2004 draft. However, Lundqvist would not be denied his claim as King Henrik. He stole the top job in his rookie season (2005-06) and hasn’t looked back since. Lundqvist became the franchise goaltender and is one of the best at his position in the league. He’s a big-game goaltender and proved it by backstopping his native Sweden to an Olympic gold medal.
“They’re the team ahead of you and you always push to catch the team ahead of you. They play hard at MSG and we’re going to have to go out and play one of the best games of the year.”
- Matt Cooke on the Rangers
Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winning goal for the Penguins in all three of its victories over the Rangers last season.

Author: Sam Kasan

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