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Pittsburgh vs. N.Y. Rangers Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (40-27-8-88) vs. New York Rangers (39-27-9-87)

Where: Mellon Arena
Saturday, March 28, 1:00 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: 
Pittsburgh is 2-1-2 against the Rangers this season. The Penguins won both previous meetings in Pittsburgh with a 3-0 shutout and 6-2 decision. The teams finished the season series in New York with the Penguins going 0-1-2 at Madison Square Garden.



  Pens vs. Rangers 1/28

Special Teams: The New York Rangers have the NHL’s best penalty killing mark with a kill rate of 87.7 percent but the second-worst power play with a 14.4 conversion rate. With New York’s stingy defense, this game could come down to which team plays better on special teams.

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 15-8-3 mark, 2.19 goals against average and .914 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 last year. Following the Rangers fall to the Penguins, 4-1, Sather rebuilt his lineup. Gone are Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Brendan Shanahan, Christian Backman and Ryan Hollweg. Added were Wade Redden, Marcus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev, Aaron Voros and Dmitri Kalinin.

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 came back down to earth and hovered around the .500 mark until the All-Star break. That’s when New York started to fall apart. The Rangers slipped in the playoff picture with a 2-7-3 stretch that led to the firing of head coach Tom Renney. No nonsense coach John Tortorella has replaced Renney and steered the club to an 8-4-2 record since taking over. New York also made a few trades to remake the roster (see New Faces) that have contributed to the team’s success. Still, the Rangers find themselves in the seventh spot in the tightly contested Eastern Conference and the postseason is not guaranteed.
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, Sean Avery (initially) 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, nothing is safe in the Big Apple and wasn’t long before Sather tinkered with his team.

Avery had a falling out with the Dallas Stars that led to his release. The Rangers claimed the agitator on waivers and he returned to his former team. Then the Rangers made two key pickups at the trade deadline. First, they traded Nigel Dawes, Kalinin and Petr Prucha to Phoenix for defenseman Derek Morris. Then, Sather landed forward Nik Antropov from Toronto for a second-round and conditional draft pick.
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’ offense has gotten worse this year, with 2.44 goals per game to rank dead last in the league. Sather brought in Zherdev, Naslund and Antropv to help bolster production.

Zherdev is currently in Tortorella’s doghouse despite leading the team in points (56). The 24-year-old is skating on the third line with youngsters Dubinsky and shootout specialist Fredrik Sjostrom. Dubinsky has been a regular contributor with 37 points and 28 assists while Sjostrom has chipped in 12 points.

Antropov and Naslund are sandwiching center Scott Gomez. Antropov is a big, talented winger that has compiled 55 points (26G-29A) on the campaign. He’s tallied five goals in 11 games since the Rangers acquired him. Naslund has 23 goals on the year and 43 points. Gomez is third on the team in scoring with 54 points and a team-best 38 assists.

Chris Drury is centering a line between Avery and Callahan. Drury has 50 points (19G-31A) while Callahan has 33 points. Avery has been limited to 34 games this season with his release and temporary limbo status. But in that short time Avery has 18 points and 94 penalty minutes.
While the offense may be struggling, the same can’t be said about the other end of the ice. New York is yielding 2.64 goals against, tied for 5th 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 but his lack of production has disappointed many Rangers fans. Redden has 25 points this year on three goals and 22 assists. Kalinin was part of the Derek Morris trade. Morris was one of the best defensive pickups at the deadline and should elevate his play now that he’s playing for a team that’s fighting for a playoff spot.

Former Penguin Michal Rozsival recorded his fourth-straight 30-plus point season with eight goals and 22 assists on the year and leads the Rangers blue line in scoring. He is currently sidelined with a knee injury. 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 three assists in the last 51 contests. Marc Staal has struggled lately. He was the team leader with a plus-9 rating but now is bottoming out at minus-(-9). But he was one of the team’s best shutdown defensemen earlier in the season. Paul Mara is a physical force on the backend, compiling 84 PIMs thus far. Rookie Mike Sauer, a 2005 second-round pick, made his NHL debut a few nights ago.
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 34 wins while recording a 2.47 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, and should get the nod against Pittsburgh. On the rare occasion that Lundqvist takes a break, Stephen Valiquette sees game action. He’s carved out a nice career as a backup in the league and has respectable numbers this year (5-5-2, 2.84 GAA, .907 SP).
Lundqvist is the rock upon which the Rangers’ defensive system is built and has carried New York this season. The Rangers have the worst-ranked offense in the NHL and Lundqvist’s stellar netminding has kept them in the playoff chase. If New York earns a postseason berth, it will be a result of Lundqvist carrying them there.

The Swede 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 to be the goaltender of the future. 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. In his career, he’s posted 138 wins, 2.32 GAA, .916 save percentage and 19 shutouts. He’s a big-game goaltender and proved it by backstopping his native Sweden to an Olympic gold medal.
“You do not want to turn him into a checker but he needs to show some commitment away from the puck. That is a big part of our team concept. The checkers need to score some goals and the goal scorers need to meet us halfway. I think he’s getting better at that. Sometimes you have to turn away, as a coach you have to turn away. You don’t want to inhibit them offensively.”
- Rangers coach John Tortorella on coaching Nikolai Zherdev, Yahoo! Sports
The Rangers have seven games remaining in the ‘08-09 season, all of which are against playoff teams: Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Carolina, Boston, Montreal and Philadelphia (twice).

Author: Sam Kasan

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