Pittsburgh Penguins (32-20-1)
65 points – 4th Eastern Conference
New York Rangers (24-21-7)
55 points – 7th Eastern Conference
Get on a Roll
The Penguins’ next three games come against the division-rival Rangers, a Senators team that has won six straight, and end with a Cup Finals rematch against the Detroit Red Wings. Capitalizing on the tough win against Philly starts with playing another defensively sound game Monday at New York.
The Rangers have yet to defeat the Penguins in three chances this season, and the Pens can move their division record to 10-6 with a win tonight at Madison Square Garden.
October 2, 2009. Mellon Arena
3-2 Penguins Win
Goals: Malkin, Crosby, Letang
November 28, 2009. Mellon Arena
8-3 Penguins Win
Goals: Crosby (3), Malkin, Talbot, Eaton, Dupuis, Kennedy
November 30, 2009. Madison Square Garden
5-2 Penguins Win
Goals: Rupp (3), Crosby (2)
The Pens haven’t won three straight in over a month, and are 6-4 in their last ten. New York is 4-4-2 in their last ten contests.
Thursday, the Penguins went 0-2 on the penalty kill en route to a 6-3 loss to Washington, whose power play is ranked first in the league. Sunday, the Pens killed 8 of 9 Flyers’ power plays. Philadelphia has the league’s third-ranked power play.
The Rangers are even worse offenders of inconsistency. A three game losing streak from January 12-16 saw the Rangers scored only once, followed by two wins by a combined 14 goals scored to 4 allowed. Since then, the Rangers have been shut out in two straight games and allowed 8 goals in that span.
Marian Gaborik has been the Rangers’ only consistent offensive threat this season, and will be the player to watch all night. Gaborik leads the team in goals, assists and overall points (29-32-61), and is second on the team in plus-minus (plus-9).
Gaborik is a factor in the league scoring race as well, fifth in the league in overall points and sixth with 29 goals scored.
Gaborik has 3 goals, 2 assists and an even plus-minus in three games against Pittsburgh.
Special teams play has been the key to the Penguins’ last three games and its importance will be continually magnified as the playoffs loom.
The Penguins are 4-15 on the power play against a Rangers team who sports the league’s 5th-ranked penalty kill.
The Penguins have scored 6 power play goals in their last 3 games, but still find the unit ranked 26th in the league. The Pens have played excellent 5-on-5 with the Rangers this season, but will almost certainly want to see some consistent success from the power play.
If the Rangers find themselves on the man-advantage tonight, it will a meeting of the 12th ranked power play (18.9%) against the 12th ranked penalty kill (82.4%).
Sergei Gonchar’s point-position slap shot seems to be the Penguins’ best threat on the man-advantage. Gonchar figured in on both goals in Sunday’s game at Philadelphia. Both markers came on the power play.
Always the focal point, Marc-Andre Fleury will make his first start in five games tonight. Henrik Lundqvist is the expected starter for New York.
Lundqvist is 22-17-6 on the season with a 2.32 GAA and .923 SV%. The franchise goaltender was pulled in his last start, stopping 11 of 15 shots.
For the Pens, Fleury is 25-14-1, with a 2.60 GAA and .908 SV%. Fleury had won 3 of 4 before breaking his finger against Edmonton.
The injury bug isn’t swarming the Pens like it did early in the season (nearly half the team spent time on the shelf), but it is creeping up again.
Chris Kunitz remains sidelined as he recovers from abdominal surgery. Max Talbot will miss tonight’s game, his third straight, and Nick Johnson will get more time on a line with Malkin.
Alex Goligoski is out for tonight’s game with an upper-body injury. Goligoski will be replaced by Martin Skoula, who gets his first start in nine games.
Bill Guerin will also miss the New York game, though the extent and nature of his injury are up in the air. The Pens cannot afford to lose Guerin for any significant time. Guerin has been the Penguins’ only consistent winger all season (16 goals, 19 assists).
How Guerin’s absence will affect the power play tonight is another question. Look for Staal to possibly spend some time on the top unit. The team toyed with playing Staal on a line with Malkin earlier this year.
Chris Conner was recalled from Wilkes Barre/Scranton and will replace Guerin in the lineup tonight.
The Rangers have no significant injuries to report.
Keys to Victory
The Penguins played one of their best defensive games against the Flyers Sunday. Philadelphia came into the game scoring four or more goals in 10 of 16 games and third on the power play, but were held to only one goal on the day and 1-9 on the man-advantage.
Fleury should be at game speed relatively quickly, but a sound defensive game against an offensively sour Rangers squad will be key.
If defense doesn’t do it, the opening goal might. The Rangers have the look of a fragile team, having been shut out for six straight periods. Getting the opening goal early in the first could take the home crowd out of the game and perhaps plant more doubt in the mind of an up-and-down New York team.