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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Rangers Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (22-20-4-48) vs. New York Rangers (27-15-4-58)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Sunday, January 18, 12:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: NBC, Nationally Televised Broadcast
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh is 0-1-2 against the Rangers this season. Sunday will mark the first meeting between the two clubs in Pittsburgh. The teams finished the season series in New York with the Penguins going 0-1-2 at Madison Square Garden.
Note: The Penguins organization is encouraging fans to bring their “Terrible Towels” to the game in support of Pittsburgh sports pride. The Steelers host the NFL’s AFC Championship Game at 6:30 p.m. that evening.



Pens vs. Rangers 1/5
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. With all the uncertainty regarding who will and won't play for Pittsburgh, simple is the best option.

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 15-6-3 mark, 2.00 goals against average and .921 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.
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 58 points this season (one point ahead of Philadelphia). New York was the best team at the start of the season. They opened the campaign with five-straight wins and finished at 10-2-1 at the end of October. The Rangers have come back down the earth and hovered around the .500 mark since then. New York is 3-0-1 on its current five-game road trip, the final game being in Pittsburgh. The Rangers have 13 wins on the road this season - second most in the NHL (Detroit, 15).
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 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 putting up identical numbers at this season’s current juncture, ranking 24th 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 production. Zherdev has found new life in the Rangers uniform. The 23-year-old currently leads the team in points (38) and assists (26). Naslund has 28 points with 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. Both men had a slow start to the season but have exploded during the second half the current campaign. Drury has climbed all the way into second place in scoring for the Rangers with 31 points (15G-16A). His 15 goals lead the team and he netted two, including the overtime winner, against Chicago Friday. Gomez is currently third on the team with 30 points on eight goals and 22 assists. 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 24 points (7G-17A).
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 2.56 goals against average, tying for second best in the East. 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 this year. Redden has 17 points this year on two goals and 15 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 23 points (7G-16A). Dan Girardi emerged as a legitimate scoring threat early in the season with 15 points (3G- 12A) in his first 24 game. But since then he’s only tallied one assist in the last 22 contests. Marc Staal is staking his claim as a shutdown defenseman with a team-best plus-8 rating. Paul Mara is a physical force on the backend, compiling 61 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 has 23 wins while recording a 2.53 goals against average and .914 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.
Scott Gomez lifted the Stanley Cup as a 20-year-old rookie. Of course, he wasn’t just a fourth liner who saw limited ice time and rode the team’s success to championship title - quite the opposite. The Anchorage, Alaska native chipped in 19 goals and 51 assists for 70 points and was an integral part of that New Jersey Devils team - the organization that selected him with 27th-overall pick in 1998.

Gomez’s point production fluctuated during his tenure as a Devil - from a high of 84 points to a low of 48. But he's consistently hovered around the 70-point mark. Still, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound forward carved out a nice niche in New Jersey. That was until the divisional rival Rangers threw a hefty contract at the unrestricted free agent in 2007. Gomez signed on and has worn the blue and red the past two seasons.

While Gomez gets criticized for his lack of goal production (he’s only broken 20 goals in a season once in his career), he has established himself as one of the league’s top setup men. The gifted centerman has lightning speed and loves to carry the puck. If the Penguins use their recent trapping system, look for Gomez to take the puck from behind his own net, hit the neutral zone with speed and try to break the trap himself.
“It’s not about the Rangers. It’s about us. How we approach the game. How we play the game. From our standpoint, we want to go with the same philosophy. Play a good checking game and make sure we’re discipline. ”
- Michel Therrien
The Rangers are currently holding their own version of the “Dad’s Trip,” which is growing in popularity among NHL teams. The fathers of New York players, coaches and staff accompanied the team in Chicago on Friday and conclude the trip in Pittsburgh on Sunday. It’s the second year the Rangers have conducted the Dad’s Trip.

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