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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Rangers Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


 THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (23-21-4-50) vs. New York Rangers (29-16-4-62)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Wednesday, January 28, 7:30 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 1-1-2 against the Rangers this season. The Penguins won the previous meeting between the two clubs in Pittsburgh with a 3-0 shutout. The teams finished the season series in New York with the Penguins going 0-1-2 at Madison Square Garden.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Dupuis-Crosby-Malkin
Minard-Staal-Sykora
Kennedy-Talbot-Satan
Godard-Thomas-Bissonnette

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

Netminder
Fleury


Pens vs. Rangers 1/18
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Special Teams: The New York Rangers have the NHL’s best penalty killing mark with a kill rate of 87.9 percent. Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily need to score goals with the man-advantage to win, but with the Rangers’ stingy defense, it would greatly enhance its chances.   

Blooming Flower
: Crosby and Malkin aren’t the only two players that can carry this team. Marc-Andre Fleury has proven in the past that he can “stand on his head” and will the Penguins to victory. Fleury has been sharp in the past couple of games and shut out the Rangers in the teams’ previous meeting. He will need to be strong in goal for the Penguins to have a chance.
 
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 for the top spot in the Atlantic Division with 62 points this season - one point behind New Jersey (63) but three ahead of Philadelphia (59). 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 to earth and hovered around the .500 mark since then. New York is riding a hot streak into Mellon Arena with only one regulation loss in its past seven contests (5-1-1) - that one loss is a 3-0 blanking at the hands of Pittsburgh in Mellon Arena.
 
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 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.
 
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 (tied) in the league with a 2.49 goals per game. Sather brought in Zherdev and Naslund to help bolster production. Zherdev has found new life in the Rangers uniform. The 24-year-old currently leads the team in points (40) and assists (28). Naslund has 32 points with a team-high (tied) 15 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 slow starts to the season but have exploded during the second half of the current campaign. Gomez has climbed all the way into second place in scoring for the Rangers with 34 points (10G-24A). Drury has 31 points and a team-best (tied) 15 goals. The emergence of Brandon Dubinsky has been a pleasant surprise. The 22-year-old YoungStars selection is looking to build on his 40-point rookie campaign. He is fifth (tied) on the team with 25 points (7G-18A).
 
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 2.55 goals against average, tying for 6th 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 this year. Redden has 17 points this year on two goals and 15 assists. Kalinin spent the last seven seasons with Buffalo and appears fully recovered from offseason 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 25 points (7G-18A). 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 25 contests. Marc Staal is staking his claim as a shutdown defenseman with a team-best plus-7 rating. Paul Mara is a physical force on the backend, compiling 65 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, the All-Star has 24 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.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: MARC STAAL
Marc Staal was the second installment of the Staal family lore. The Rangers grabbed the Thunder Bay native with their first-round pick (12th overall) in the 2005 draft. After two seasons in the minors, Staal cracked the New York lineup last year and appeared in 80 games. The rookie tallied two goals and eight assists for 10 points. Staal has followed that up with an exceptional sophomore campaign. He’s notched a goal and six assists for seven points and a team-best plus-7 rating on the current campaign.

Even more impressive is how the recently turned 22-year old has developed into the best defensive defenseman for the Rangers. He uses his 6-foot-4, 204-pound frame well and has exceptional speed for a big guy. He is extremely poised under pressure for his age and is averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game. Staal was an impressive scorer in Juniors and could developed into a scoring threat - making him dangerous at both ends of the rink.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“This is a team, first of all, that plays really well defensively. They don’t give you much. Every time that you play against a goalie like Lundqvist, he can steal games. They play a solid, defensive system. It’s tough to manage any type of scoring chances. We have to make sure we’re solid defensively and capitalize on our chances. ”
- Penguins head coach Michel Therrien
 
POINT OF INTEREST
9-2-2: Henrik Lundqvist’s record when he records 30 saves in a game.
 

Author: Sam Kasan

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