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GAME DAY: Rangers Host Pens on Veterans Night

Georgiev in for Blueshirts, Crosby Out for Pittsburgh

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. PENGUINS, 7:30 p.m.
Veterans Night, Presented by Budweiser
Madison Square Garden
NBCSN, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
Both the Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins will look to continue their winning ways when the Metropolitan Division rivals lock horns for the first time this season, though not a lot has come easy for either team of late.

And it will be strength versus strength anytime the visitors go shorthanded, the Penguins' third-ranked penalty-kill facing a Ranger power play that has been red-hot for the last week.

Something's gotta give at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night - a night when the Garden will give its thanks to the men and women who have served, and who continue to serve, this nation in uniform.

On Veterans Night at MSG, the Rangers will host a Metro Division foe for the first time this season, both teams taking different paths to 4-1-1 records over their last six games. The Blueshirts followed Thursday night's 45-save clinic in Carolina from Henrik Lundqvist by earning a point in Sunday's wild 6-5 shootout defeat to Florida; the injury-laden Penguins in their last three games have faced deficits of 2-0, 3-0 and 3-0 - and come back to win two of the three.

Both teams will play Tuesday night's game without their top centers. The Penguins finally got Evgeni Malkin back two Saturdays ago after he lost a month to a lower-body injury - but then this past Saturday saw Sidney Crosby leave a game in the third period after he fell, then blocked a shot off his foot. Crosby won't play on Tuesday night, making him the seventh different Pittsburgh forward to miss time already this season.

Crosby, Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist, all with lower-body injuries, all will sit out Tuesday night's game - three major hits to a Pittsburgh power play that has gone an astonishing 11 straight games without scoring.

Mika Zibanejad's upper-body injury, meanwhile, will keep him out for the seventh straight game and for at least the next two after that: David Quinn said on Monday that Zibanejad would not travel with the Rangers to Florida for games Thursday against the Lightning and Saturday against the Panthers. After that the Rangers have three days off before the Capitals come to town.

But the Blueshirts have won four of their six games without the No. 1 center and have points in five of the six, of which Ryan Strome said on Monday, "I honestly think it speaks more to our team character in our group rather than any individual guy." Strome himself has points in nine of his last 10 games; his linemate Artemi Panarin has 12 points during an eight-game point streak.

The Rangers have scored 14 goals in their last three games - from 11 different scorers.

"Guys have elevated their game," Quinn said. Without Zibanejad, "It's an opportunity for people to step up and take a little bit more ownership of the role that they're capable of doing. Obviously we've got some great goaltending throughout the stretch, and we've been opportunistic on power plays. And we played some good teams too, we've played some really good teams in the stretch where we've gotten points out of five of the last six.

"That being said, I'm dying for him to come back."

Quinn will have Alexandar Georgiev back in goal Tuesday night after Lundqvist made 110 saves in starting the last three in a row. Georgiev has seen more of the Penguins than any other team in his career, the last time coming on April 6, when his 36 saves in Pittsburgh sent a game to overtime, where Strome won it to close out the 2018-19 season.

Strome is among the group of Rangers who have scored power-play goals in each of the last four games. The Blueshirts are 5-for-9 on man-advantages in the last three games, and have climbed to sixth in the League for the season, at 24.1 percent.

"There's ebbs and flows of power plays throughout a season. Sometimes you can't explain why you're not scoring and sometimes you can't explain why you are," Quinn said. "As productive as we've been, I think there's an element of improvement there that we need to have -- I think our entries have to be a lot better.

"But we have been opportunistic. I'll take the goals more than the picture."

The Penguins have not scored a power-play goal in a month, empty in their last 26 chances dating to Oct. 13. And even their last two wins were no pretty picture, either. On Saturday on home ice they spotted the Blackhawks a two-goal lead before rallying for a shootout win, coming two days after they trailed 3-0 in the third period Brooklyn to an Islander team that had won 10 straight games; Pittsburgh rallied to win that one in overtime. And in the game before that, they trailed in Boston by 3-0 before scoring the next four goals, only the allow the final three in a 6-4 loss.

Brian Rust was in the middle of all those rallies. After missing the season's first 11 games with an upper-body injury, Rust -- described by his coach, Mike Sullivan, as "a dog on a bone with the puck" - has five goals in six games. His linemate, Malkin, has six points (2-4--6) in his own six games this season.

Matt Murray will start for Pittsburgh, looking for his seventh win in eight career games against the Blueshirts.


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 72 Chytil - 89 Buchnevich
48 Lemieux - 21 Howden - 24 Kakko
14 McKegg - 28 Andersson - 42 Smith

25 Hajek - 8 Trouba
76 Skjei - 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox

40 Georgiev
30 Lundqvist

PENGUINS
18 Galchenyuk - 19 McCann - 59 Guentzel
12 Simon - 71 Malkin - 17 Rust
24 Kahun - 27 Bjugstad - 37 Lafferty
46 Aston-Reese - 53 Blueger - 13 Tanev

8 Dumoulin - 6 Marino
28 Pettersson - 4 Schultz
3 Johnson - 50 Riikola

30 Murray
35 Jarry


NUMBERS GAME

This is the Rangers' first matchup with the Penguins this season. The teams don't play again until March 18 at the Garden, at which point three of the Blueshirts' last 10 games will be against Pittsburgh.

The Rangers have scored the first goal in five straight games, and in 11 of 15 games this season; the Penguins have allowed the first goal in four straight.

Artemi Panarin, the Rangers' leader in goals (eight) and points (18), has points in eight straight games, one shy of matching his career-long streak.

Strome, Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko each has scored three times in the last six games.

The Penguins, who have not scored a power-play goal since Oct. 13 (0-for-26), also have not allowed a power-play goal since Oct. 23 - six straight games, and 14 straight penalties killed overall.

Pittsburgh has averaged 4.14 goals in its seven road games, second to Washington's 4.2.

The Pens are 3-0 vs. the Metropolitan Division.

Matt Murray is tied for the NHL lead with nine wins. He is 6-0-1 in his career against the Rangers, with a 2.53 GAA and .912 save percentage. 


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ryan Strome (points in nine of his last 10 games) had scored twice in 15 games against Pittsburgh until he became a Ranger last season, after which he scored in three of the teams' four games, including the April 6 overtime winner.

Jake Guentzel, the Penguins' leader with eight goals, had 2-3--5 in four games against the Rangers last season, including his 40th of the year in the regular-season finale.

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