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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Rangers Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (19-16-4-42) at New York Rangers (23-14-3-49)

Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Monday, January 5, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: Versus Network
Season Series: Pittsburgh is 0-0-2 against the Rangers. The Penguins are 0-0-2 at Madison Square Garden, losing both contests in a shootout after losing a lead in the third period. Monday's game will be the team's last in New York this season.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Kennedy-Crosby-Dupuis
Fedotenko-Malkin-Sykora
Talbot-Staal-Cooke
Wallace-Jeffrey-Satan

Defense
Orpik-Whitney
Gill-Goligoski
Scuderi-Letang
(Eaton-Boucher)

Netminder
Fleury


Pens vs. Rangers 12/3
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Basics: The Penguins are looking to break out of their month-long slump. Sometimes the best cure is to go back to the basics, which is to forget about making the perfect pass or the great outlet push. Instead, Pittsburgh should opt to shoot at every opportunity and cycle the puck along the boards. Keep things simple and then build off of that.

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 14-6-3 mark, 2.09 goals against average and .918 save percentage. Lundqvist is very stingy in the net and will frustrate the Penguins at times. The game will depend upon the Penguins getting the best of King Henrik.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE RANGERS
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 are in a neck-and-neck battle atop the Atlantic Division with 49 points this season (one point behind Philadelphia). 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 to earth and hovered around the .500 mark since then. New York is currently in a minor slump with only one win in its past five games (1-3-1).
 
NEW FACES
The Rangers are no strangers to throwing money at players in free agency. However, Sather opted to target younger players instead of aging, pricy veterans. The Rangers chose 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.
 
FORWARDS
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 putting up identical numbers at this season’s current juncture, ranking 25th in the league with 2.50 goals per game. Sather brought in Zherdev and Naslund to help bolster production. They can’t be blamed for the lack of scoring. Zherdev has found new life in the Rangers uniform. The 23-year-old currently leads the team in points (35) and assists (23). Naslund is second on the team with 27 points and has a team-high 14 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 25 points 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 fifth on the team with 22 points (5G-17A).
 
DEFENSEMEN
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 2.70 goals against per game, 10th 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. Redden has 16 points this year on two goals and 14 assists. Kalinin spent the last seven seasons with Buffalo, but is coming off of knee and shoulder injuries.

Former Penguin Michal Rozsival is on pace to record his fourth-straight 30-plus point season. He leads the Rangers blue line with 18 points (6G-12A). Dan Girardi is emerging as a legitimate scoring threat. He’s netted 16 points (3G-13A) but has only recorded one assist in the past month. Marc Staal is staking his claim as a shutdown defenseman with a blue line-best plus-6 rating. Paul Mara is a physical force on the backend, compiling 59 PIMs thus far.
 
GOALTENDING
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 has 19 wins - most in the Eastern Conference - while recording a 2.67 goals against average and .908 save percentage. He was unbeatable in the early part of the year (2.07 GAA and .925 save percentage) but hasn’t been as sharp recently. Still, Lundqvist is a premiere netminder in the league. He rarely takes a night 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.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: NIKOLAI ZHERDEV
Zherdev was a tremendous talent with incredible potential when the Columbus Blue Jackets made him the fourth-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The Ukraine native had size, speed, stick handling skills and a natural goal scorer’s touch. The Eastern winger looked like an inevitable star when he scored 27 goals in his second season at the tender age of 20. However, Zherdev never panned out the way Columbus had hoped. He followed that successful campaign with his worst season as a pro with only 10 goals and 32 points in 71 games. Zherdev bounced back with 26 goals and 61 points last season, but was constantly in head coach Ken Hitchcock’s doghouse for his defensive play - or lack there of - and fell out of favor with teammates and fans.

New York gave Zherdev a fresh start after trading for him in the offseason. He has rewarded the Rangers by being their best performer so far this season. Zherdev’s 35 points and 23 assists lead the team and he has bought into Renney’s defensive-first system. The 24-year-old winger has notched a goal in both games against Pittsburgh this year, including a score with less than 10 seconds left in regulation to transform an apparent loss into a shootout win.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“I don’t think we like that team very much. The first two games at the start of the year were hard to lose. We know we can beat that team. We played really solid games at the start of the year. We’ll try to do the same thing and try to get out of there with a win.”
- Max Talbot
 
STAT PACK
The Penguins haven’t won a game at Madison Square Garden in the regular season since a 4-3 shootout victory Mar 1, 2007. In the past seven games in the Garden, Pittsburgh is 0-4-3.
 

Author: Sam Kasan

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