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Pittsburgh vs. NY Rangers Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins (36-22-2-74) vs. New York Rangers (26-27-7-59)
Where: Mellon Arena

When:
Friday, February 12, 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, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.

Season Series: Pittsburgh looks to improve to 5-0 against the Rangers in 2009-10 when they host them for the final time this year at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh has won the first four games by scores of: 3-2 (Oct. 2 in Pittsburgh); 8-3 (Nov. 28 in Pittsburgh); 5-2 (Nov. 30 in New York); and 4-2 (Jan. 25 in New York). Sidney Crosby leads all scorers in the series with 11 points (6G-5A). 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. Chris Conner recorded the first two-goal performance of his career, including the game-winner, on Jan. 25. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the winning goalie in all four games against the Rangers.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE RANGERS
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 a 2-8 record over their past 10 games has dropped their record one game under .500 (26-27-7) as they sit four points out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
NEW FACES
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.

Last week the Rangers sent a couple disappointing offseason additions, Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik, to the Calgary Flames in exchange for high-scoring center Olli Jokinen (See Player Spotlight below) and enforcer Brandon Prust, who ranks eighth in the league with 127 minutes in penalties.

Winger Donald Brashear was signed away from the Washington Capitals to serve as the Rangers’ new enforcer. New York claimed former Penguins winger Erik Christensen off waivers on Dec. 2 from the Anaheim Ducks. 
 
FORWARDS
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 2.52 goals per game, which ranks 22nd in the NHL, after ranking 28th and 25th the past two seasons, respectively.

Gaborik, whose status for Friday night is in doubt following a thigh laceration, has been among the top players in the NHL. The 27-year-old Slovak ranks sixth in the league with 69 points, while his 35 goals are fifth-best. Although the Penguins were able to hold him scoreless on Jan. 25, Gaborik leads the Rangers with five points (3G-2A) in the season series. Pittsburgh’s 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 44 points (12G-32A) in 53 games. The well-traveled Prospal, a seven-time 50-plus point scorer, has been the hottest Rangers forward with seven points (3G-4A) over his past five games.

Two Rangers, veteran playoff performer Chris Drury and up-and-coming Ryan Callahan, will represent Team USA next week 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 20 points (9G-11A) in 55 games. He has just one goal over his previous eight 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 second in the league with 228 hits while ranking fourth on the Rangers with 32 points (15G-17A) in 60 games.

Talented pivot Brandon Dubinsky continues to excel at both ends of the ice for the Rangers. He ranks fifth on the team with 30 points (12G-18A) despite missing 13 games with a broken wrist. Dubinsky also ranks second on the squad only to Gaborik with a plus-9 rating. Artem Anisimov, who has struggled for much of the past two months, did score twice against Pittsburgh on Jan. 25. For the season, the rookie winger has picked up 19 points (9G-10A) in 60 games. However, the 21-year-old has scored just those two goals over his past 25 games.

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 21 points (6G-15A) in 55 games to go with his 117 penalty minutes.
 
DEFENSEMEN
This season has marked a changing of the guard on the back line in New York as youngsters Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal have emerged as the Rangers’ top defenders. Staal, noted for his defensive ability his first two seasons, is having a career year offensively with 22 points (5G-17A) in 60 games, while averaging a team-high 22:50 minutes of ice time. Like his younger brother, Jordan, Marc uses his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage as one of the league’s top penalty killers.

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 26 points (6G-20A) in 60 games. Del Zotto has picked up just six points (1G-5A) over his past 28 games after picking up 20 points (5G-15A) in his first 32 contests. Del Zotto has one assist and has posted a minus-7 rating in four 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 11 points (4G-7A) and is a plus-3 in 55 games.

Veterans Michael Rozsival and Wade Redden have seen their ice time decrease thanks to the emergences of the younger blueliners. Rozsival, who scored 30-plus points in each of his first four seasons in New York, has picked up 14 points (1G-13A) in 60 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 nine points (1G-8A) in 53 games.
 
GOALTENDING
A stalwart between the pipes for the Rangers since arriving in North America following the lockout, Henrik Lundqvist has seen his numbers fall off a bit this season as the Rangers have struggled to score goals in front of him. New York’s lack of success offensively has meant a 1-7 record for Lundqvist over his past eight starts. In 52 games thus far, Lundqvist is 23-22-6 with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Lundqvist will be vying to lead Team Sweden to a second-consecutive gold medal when the Olympics begin in Vancouver next week.

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.

New York has rotated backups behind Lundqvist on a regular basis this season, with former Penguins’ draft pick Chad Johnson (no relation to the football player formerly known by the same name). Johnson has seen action in five games for the Rangers, posting a 1-2-1 record, 2.35 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: OLLI JOKINEN
New York hasn’t had much success against the Penguins at Mellon Arena over the past four seasons, but adding Penguins’ killer Olli Jokinen into the fold could help reverse that trend. In 39 career games against the Penguins Jokinen has picked up 31 points (16G-15A), the fourth-highest point total he has posted against any one team.

Jokinen, who was brought in to serve as a playmaking center for sniper Marian Gaborik, has six-straight 50-plus point campaigns on his resume. He is equally as dangerous shooting the puck as he is distributing it, with four 30-goal seasons on his resume. Jokinen has picked up three points (1G-2A) in four contests with New York.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
"Again, we generated some chances but we don't score. I am tired of talking about chances. We need to score."

- Rangers head coach John Tortorella talking about the Rangers’ lack of offense recently to NHL.com.

 
POINT OF INTEREST
20: The 20-goal difference between the Rangers’ top scorer, Marian Gaborik (35), and their second-best scorer, Ryan Callahan (15), is the largest differential in the NHL between a team’s top two scorers.
  
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Author: Jason Seidling

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