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Pittsburgh vs. NY Rangers Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (32-20-1-65) vs. New York Rangers (24-21-7-55)
Where: Madison Square Garden

Monday, January 25, 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9

Season Series:
The Penguins and Rangers meet for the fourth of six meetings in 2009-10. The Penguins have captured each of the first three contests: 3-2 (Oct. 2 in Pittsburgh); 8-3 (Nov. 28 in Pittsburgh) and 5-2 (Nov. 30 in New York). Sidney Crosby has tormented the Rangers in the first three games with nine points (6G-3A). Crosby picked up his fourth career hat trick and added two helpers against the Rangers on Nov. 28. Mike Rupp notched his first career hat trick on Nov. 30 at Madison Square Garden and Crosby chipped in two goals and an assist. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the winning goalie in all three games against the Rangers. Marian Gaborik leads the Rangers with five points (3G-2A) against the Penguins.



Last Meeting: Nov. 30, 2009
  PIT 5 - NYR 2 
Game Highlights
AP Recap

Special Teams: Pittsburgh is looking to sweep their 4th Annual “Dad’s Trip” thanks to solid special teams play in a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday. The Penguins scored twice on the power play and have gone 6-for-17 (35 percent) on the man-advantage over their past three games. Pittsburgh also killed off eight of nine Philadelphia power plays. Their improved power-play unit faces a stiff challenge thanks to the Rangers’ fifth-ranked penalty kill (85-percent success rate).

Malkin-Fedotenko Line:
Sidney Crosby has torched the Rangers with nine points (6G-3A) in the first three games between the teams. It’s a safe bet to assume New York head coach John Tortorella will do everything he can to devise a game plan to limit Crosby. If that’s the case expect another big performance from the second line featuring Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko. Each has four assists over the past two games. Fedotenko has returned to being the down-low presence he was in the 2009 postseason over his past few weeks.
Much like the Penguins, the Rangers picked up steam late last season following a coaching change. Former Stanley Cup-winner John Tortorella was hired to replace the departed Tom Renney. He led the Rangers to a 12-7-2 finish and the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff field. The Rangers went up 3-games-to-1 against the Washington Capitals in the first round before the Capitals came back to take the series in seven games. Through the first eight games of the season the Rangers were neck-and-neck with the Penguins for best record in the NHL at 7-1, but they have played sub-.500 hockey since. New York has been shut out in back-to-back games and in four of their past seven contests.

New York once again remade their roster in the offseason, trading or not re-signing forwards Nikolai Zherdev, Nik Antropov, Scott Gomez and Blair Betts, while former Penguin Markus Naslund announced his retirement. The Rangers hope Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal, Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins can mesh with returning centers Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky to give the team an offensive to complement all-world netminder Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers defense, each adept at moving the puck, should benefit from a full season under Tortorella, whose up-tempo, puck-possession system is similar to the one employed by the Penguins under Dan Bylsma.
As usual, the Rangers were big spenders during the offseason. Their marquee move was signing former Minnesota Wild star Marian Gaborik. The Slovak winger played in only 17 games for the Wild a season ago, but registered 13 goals and 23 points in those contests. Joining the Rangers after his contract was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning is veteran Vaclav Prospal. Last season Prospal contributed 19 goals and 26 assists for the Lightning.

Ales Kotalik, a big winger with solid finishing skills, joins the Rangers after splitting last season with the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers. Winger Christopher Higgins was acquired from the Montreal Canadians via the blockbuster trade which sent center Scott Gomez to Montreal. Higgins is a three-time 20-plus goal scorer who registered a career-high 27 tallies two seasons ago. Winger Donald Brashear was signed away from the Washington Capitals to serve as the Rangers’ new enforcer.  Both Kotalik and Brashear have been healthy scratches in each of the Rangers’ last five games. New York claimed former Penguins winger Erik Christensen off waivers on Dec. 2 from the Anaheim Ducks. 
New York once again made an offseason splash in an effort to improve their offensive attack. Despite the contributions the Rangers have gotten from two of those acquisitions, Marian Gaborik and Vaclav Prospal, New York has once again struggled to score goals. They average 2.56 goals per game, which ranks 24th in the NHL, after ranking 28th and 25th the past two seasons, respectively.

On many nights Gaborik has been the New York offense. The 27-year-old Slovak ranks fifth in the league with 61 points while his 29 goals are sixth-best. Gaborik has factored in on 45.9 percent of the Rangers’ goals. The Penguins defense must be aware when he is on the ice because he has a penchant for creating breakaway opportunities with his world-class speed. Prospal’s playmaking skills have been the perfect complement to Gaborik’s talents. He ranks second only to Gaborik with 36 points (9G-27) in 45 games. The well-traveled Prospal is a seven-time 50-plus point scorer.

Two Rangers, veteran playoff performer Chris Drury and up-and-coming Ryan Callahan, will represent Team USA at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. Drury, the Rangers 33-year-old captain, has had a disappointing season in the Big Apple with just 19 points (8G-11A) in 47 games. Callahan, who is already an alternate captain for the Rangers at 24, should provide the Americans with a gritty third-line presence at the Olympics. He ranks third in the league with 182 hits while ranking fourth on the Rangers with 27 points (12G-15A) in 52 games.

Talented pivot Brandon Dubinsky has centered Gaborik and Prospal since returning from a broken wrist which sidelined him for 13 contests. Dubinsky leads the Rangers with a plus-12 rating while his 28 points (11G-17A) in 39 games ranks third on the team. Although Dubinsky is working on a second-consecutive career year, head coach John Tortorella recently said the third-year center still has to work on improving his consistency. Artem Anisimov, who picked up 15 points (7G-8A) in his first 35 games, has now gone 17 consecutive games without a point. His early season production helped compensate for less-than-stellar starts from Drury and Christopher Higgins.

Sean Avery did not work out in Dallas last season, but provided the Rangers with a spark after coming back to New York at the trade deadline. This season Avery has 19 points (5G-14A) in 47 games to go with his team-leading 109 penalty minutes. Offseason signee Ales Kotalik started hot but has been a healthy scratch the past five games after picking up just four points (2G-2A) over his previous 19 games. Kotalik has picked up 22 points (8G-14A) in 44 games but his minus-16 rating is the lowest on the team.
This season has marked a changing of the guard on the back line in New York as youngsters Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have emerged as the Rangers top defenders. Girardi, a two-way defenseman who can quarterback the power play or sees minutes on the penalty kill, ranks second only to Staal in average ice time (21:06) among Rangers defenseman. Although his overall play has improved, his numbers have not. Girardi has picked up only 14 points (5G-9A) and is a minus-10 in 52 games. Staal, noted for his defensive ability his first two seasons, is having a career year offensively with 18 points (5G-13A) in 52 games. Like his younger brother, Jordan, Marc uses his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage as one of the league’s top penalty killers.

Rookie Michael Del Zotto, the NHL’s rookie of the month for October, has cooled off considerably since his blazing start but still ranks second among first-year blueliners with 24 points (6G-18A) in 52 games. Del Zotto has picked up only four points (1G-3A) over his past 20 games after picking up 20 points (5G-15A) in his first 32 contests. Del Zotto has one assist and has posted a minus-6 rating in three games against the Penguins. Twenty-five-year-old Matt Gilroy continues to be a nice story for the Rangers after signing with the team as a free agent last April following a highly-successful four-year career at Boston University where he took home the Hobey Baker Award as a senior in 2008-09. Gilroy has picked up nine points (4G-5A) and is plus-5 in 47 games.

Veterans Michael Rozsival and Wade Redden have seen their ice time decrease thanks to the emergences of the other four. Both have begun playing better, although neither has contributed enough offensively. Rozsival, who scored 30-plus points in each of his first four seasons in New York, has picked up 14 points (1G-13A) in 52 games this season. Redden, who has taken a lot of heat from both fans and the media during his year-and-a-half with the Rangers, has notched eight points (1G-7A) in 45 games. Redden did not dress for the home-and-home series against the Penguins in late November.
Henrik Lundqvist continues to be the Rangers best player on a nightly basis despite being pulled during the Rangers’ 6-0 loss to Montreal on Saturday night, which figures to make him that much tougher for the Penguins to beat on Monday. The workhorse backstop has appeared in 70-plus games three straight seasons, including 70 a season ago when he won a career-high 38 games while posting a record of 38-25-7. Lundqvist has posted win totals of 30, 37, 37 and 38 his first four seasons.

The 27-year-old Swede is posting some of the best numbers of his career even though the Rangers’ performance in front of him over the past three months has been sporadic. Lundqvist has a 22-17-6 record, 2.32 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. He has posted such numbers despite facing 1,320 shots, the fourth-highest total in the league. In addition to backstopping the Rangers, Lundqvist is also expected to be the go-to-guy for Team Sweden in the Vancouver Olympics. The 2009 NHL All-Star won five of his six decisions during the 2006 Games while leading his country to a gold medal.

New York has struggled to find an adequate backup this season to ease the pressure on Lundqvist. Rookie Matt Zaba, 26, is currently filling the role. Zaba stopped 14 of the 16 shots he faced in his NHL debut against the Canadiens on Saturday in relief of Lundqvist.
Former Penguin Erik Christensen’s career was at a crossroads when the Anaheim Ducks waived him in early December. He had been held scoreless in nine games with the Ducks and had picked up just 11 goals in 83 games with the Atlanta Thrashers and Anaheim since the Penguins shipped him to the Peach State in the blockbuster deal which netted Pascal Dupuis and Marian Hossa on Feb. 27, 2008.

Christensen has thrived in New York, picking up eight points (3G-5A) in 21 games. He has spent recent games flanking Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan on the second line. As Penguins fans remember, Christensen possesses an overpowering wrist shot and a great pair of hands – especially in the shootout. Christensen spent 143 games in a Penguins sweater, picking up 33 goals and 33 assists.
A rarity at this point in the season, New York has no injuries to report.
"It's fine if you get beat. It's fine if you compete and get beat, but to play this way . . . that's not what it's like to be a Ranger."
- Rangers forward Sean Avery expressing his frustration to the New York Post following the Rangers’ 6-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

0: New York is one of two teams (Toronto is the other) who have yet to win a game this season when they trail their opposition after two periods (0-16-2).
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Author: Jason Seidling

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