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What To Watch For: Pens vs. Rangers

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (23-17-4) vs. RANGERS (29-11-4)

WHEN: Jan. 19, 2012 - 7:00 pm  |  WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

The New York Rangers weren’t happy with their effort in a 4-1 loss to the Canadiens on Sunday, a performance that led head coach John Tortorella to say they looked not like professional hockey players, but more like a “bantam” team.

With the setback in Montreal, the Rangers entered their Tuesday game against Nashville having lost two of their last three tilts. But the Blueshirts refused to let one bad game snowball into more, producing a 4-0 victory to give them 12 wins in their last 15 games.

With the win, the Rangers continue to sit atop the NHL standings with 62 points. Their 29-11-4 record is the team’s best start in 40 years, when the 1971-72 Blueshirts began the season with a 29-7-7 record, and is the third-best start in franchise history. They’ve also won seven of their last nine at Madison Square Garden and have a 14-4-2 overall record in the building, where they’ll host the Penguins Thursday.

The Blueshirts continue to lean on All-Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who produced his fourth shutout and 20th win of the season against the Predators after admitting he was “disappointed” in his effort at the Bell Centre. Lundqvist is stringing together perhaps his best season yet, as he ranks in the top three among NHL netminders in both save percentage (T—2nd, .937) and goals-against average (3rd, 1.90). And when Lundqvist needs a rest, the Rangers have an incredibly capable backup in Martin Biron, who’s 9-2 in his 11 starts this season.

Apart from their magnificent goaltending and gritty defense, one of the primary strengths of this Blueshirts squad is their balanced scoring. They’re getting contributions from their first line to their fourth, combos that Tortorella continues to tinker with – never one to shy away from flipping players mid-game in a lineup that Brian Boyle called “interchangeable.” He did that with a few of his combos on Tuesday, but chose to leave the line of Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik intact. The trio possesses explosive speed on the flanks with Hagelin and Gaborik and has excellent playmaking up the middle with Stepan. Hagelin has seven points in his last 11 games, Stepan has six points in his last seven and Gaborik is tied for fifth in the league with 23 goals.

In addition, fourth-line center John Mitchell has goals in two straight games while Dan Girardi, Mike Rupp, Boyle and Stepan have been the other scorers in New York’s last two wins – a balance that’s been crucial to their success, especially when players like Brad Richards are pointless in their last five outings.


Hagelin tallied an assist on Dan Giradi’s goal on Tuesday, his seventh point in the last 11 games – giving him three goals and four helpers over that span. And not only did the Rangers rookie get on the scoresheet, but the feisty forward dogged the puck all over the ice and got three quality scoring chances in the first. Hagelin’s impressive play earned him a recent promotion as left wing on a line with center Derek Stepan and right wing Marian Gaborik. The 23-year-old Swede, who finished a four-year career at the University of Michigan last year, is a handful with his explosive speed and tenacity.

Deryk Engelland has quietly been a steady defensive presence for the Pens this season, especially with the injuries that struck Pittsburgh’s blue line over the first half of the season. He also provides an edge to the Penguins lineup with his physical toughness and willingness to drop the gloves if necessary, something that will be needed against an abrasive Rangers squad that leads the league in hits and tends to crawl under their opponent’s skin.

Three Rangers were selected for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game – Lundqvist, Gaborik and Giradi. It’s the first time since the 1996-97 season the Rangers had three players selected for the All-Star Game (Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch). Head Coach John Tortorella also clinched an All-Star berth, becoming the first Rangers coach in franchise history to coach in the All-Star Game.

New York has posted four winning streaks of five games or longer this season, which is the most in the league, and marks the first time in franchise history the Rangers have done so through the team’s opening 40 games.

Talk about responding: the Rangers have lost two straight regulation games only twice this season and not since Dec. 13-15. Their 0-1-2 start to the season and 1-2-1 stretch from Oct. 22-29 are their worst skids of the season.

Head coach Dan Bylsma said that defenseman Kris Letang will play against the Rangers after missing the last 21 games with a concussion and broken nose sustained Nov. 26 vs. Montreal.

Bylsma also said that Arron Asham, who will miss his second straight game, is dealing with an illness and concussion-like symptoms.

For the Rangers, forward Brandon Dubinsky returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing the last three games with a sore right shoulder. Ruslan Fedotenko also played after sitting out Sunday’s contest with back spasms.

F Arron Asham, illness/concussion-like symptoms (1)
F Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (17)
D Simon Despres, Grade 1 MCL (4)
F Jordan Staal, knee (6)

D Steve Eminger, shoulder (14)
D Michael Sauer, concussion (20)
D Jeff Woywitka, foot (8)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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