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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Rangers

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (33-21-5) vs. RANGERS (38-14-5)
WHEN: Feb. 21, 2012 - 7:00 pm  |  WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center

WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

The New York Rangers have separated themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference as they have built a nine-point cushion between them and second-place Boston. The Blueshirts have won five of their last six and nine of their last 12 for a 9-2-1 record over that span.

The Rangers have been incredibly consistent this season, as they haven’t lost more than two straight games in regulation in a row at any point – their worst stretch was when they went 0-1-2 to start the season. They’re an aggressive team that comes at their opponents in waves with a whole horde of effective players.

Their offense is a total team effort. And while the Rangers’ star players like Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik are all playing well, it’s been the New York’s talented youngsters that have been especially shining lately.

Derek Stepan scored the overtime winner in the team’s last game, a 3-2 win over Columbus on Sunday, to give the 21-year-old seven points in his last eight games. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto, also 21 years old, assisted on the goal (and showcased his exceptional on-ice vision) to give him six helpers in as many games. Forward Artem Anisimov, 23, also scored in the contest to give him four goals and seven points in his last eight outings while rookie Carl Hagelin, 23, got an assist to give him 10 points in his last 14 games.

But while they want to pressure the puck as much as possible, the Rangers start with a sound defensive structure anchored by Henrik Lundqvist, who continues to prove with his play why he’s the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. Lundqvist is 8-1 in his last nine starts, with three shutouts, a stingy 1.20 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage during that span. Overall, the Rangers have the NHL’s No. 2 defense that’s averaging under two goals per game (1.96).


After enduring a tough stretch where he went pointless for 17 straight games from Dec. 23-Feb. 1, Anisimov has responded by posting four goals and seven points in the eight games since and has seen an increase of ice time skating on a line in the top six with Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik. His confidence is growing, so watch for this sizeable winger Tuesday as he’s got seven goals in 15 career games against Pittsburgh.

The Rangers did everything they could to get under Malkin’s skin and goad him into retaliation the last time these two teams met, and he did an admirable job of keeping his cool and staying focused on the task at hand. The Penguins will need that again from Malkin against the Blueshirts, especially coming off the team's performance on Sunday in Buffalo – which needless to say, they were not happy with. Malkin, the NHL's leading scorer, is the engine that drives this team’s offense, and they’ll need him to put it in gear and dominate like only he can on Tuesday to lead the Penguins to a much-needed division win.

The Penguins are looking to break a six-game home winless streak against the Rangers (0-2-2) dating back to their last win in Pittsburgh against the Blueshirts on Nov. 28, 2009 (8-3). New York is unbeaten at CONSOL Energy Center.

On the flip side, Pittsburgh is 6-2 in its last eight visits to Madison Square Garden.

Pittsburgh is 6-1 in its last seven home games. They have scored four or more goals in five of the seven contests.

Center Jordan Staal tallied against at Buffalo on Sunday, giving him goals in three straight games entering tonight, tied for his longest goal-scoring streak of the season (Dec. 23-29). It was also his fourth power-play goal of the year, tying his career high in that category (2006-07). In five games since returning from a knee injury, Staal has scored four goals and six points.

If Staal is able to notch his 20th goal of the season tonight, he would join Evgeni Malkin (32 goals) and James Neal (30 goals) to give Pittsburgh a trio of 20-goal scorers. They would become just the seventh NHL team this season to have three 20-goal scorers.

Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Matt Cooke and Brooks Orpik were all absent from practice on Monday, and head coach Dan Bylsma said they were given maintenance days.

"We had maintenance days for several players that didn't go on the ice today in varying degress of bumps and bruises," Bylsma said. "We'll see what our lineup is (Tuesday)."

The Penguins did recall forward Eric Tangradi on Monday. Tangradi, 23, has appeared in 12 NHL games this season with Pittsburgh, going scoreless with 12 penalty minutes. In parts of three seasons with the Penguins, Tangradi has amassed career totals of 28 games played, one goal, two assists and three points.

UPDATE: Bylsma said following Tuesday's morning skate that that Orpik (upper-body injury) and Johnson (illness) will not be in the lineup tonight against the Rangers.

"Brent Johnson is not feeling well," Bylsma said. "We called up Brad Thiessen to back up tonight. It will be on a short-term basis.

"Brooks Orpik is not going to play tonight with an upper-body injury. The rest of the lineup will be game time. ... At this time we think it's a short term (injury). It doesn't seem to be a huge problem."

Ben Lovejoy will go into the lineup in place of Orpik.

In addition, Tyler Kennedy has a high-ankle sprain and is approximately 4-6 weeks for recovery. Kennedy sustained the injury late in the third period of Pittsburgh's game against New Jersey on Feb. 5, and on Monday, the Penguins placed him on injured reserve retroactive to that date. He can be removed at any time.

C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (32)
F Tyler Kennedy, high ankle sprain (6)

F Ruslan Fedotenko, undisclosed (5)
D Michael Sauer, concussion (33)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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