PENGUINS (20-8-0, 40 pts)- RANGERS (13-11-2, 28 pts) PREVIEW
The preseason favorites New York Rangers enter’s today’s afternoon tilt in Pittsburgh outside of the top-8 in the Eastern Conference. John Tortorella’s club hasn’t been able to match the hype coming into the season after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and acquiring star winger Rick Nash in a deal that saw the Rangers not give up any of their core players.
Nash has done his part, but the Rangers continue to lack any kind of consistency, losing three of their last four games after a four game winning streak (2/27 – 3/8).
The Rangers are kind of like the Flyers in that they entered the season relying on some young players in the top-9 to play big roles and those young players haven’t met expectations. Chris Kreider was pegged for a top-9 role and looked like a potential star last post-season, but Kreider quickly had his confidence shaken this season and is now playing in the American Hockey League. Second line center Derek Stepan has been okay with 7 goals and 18 points, and the same for Carl Hagelin, but neither player has taken that next big step the Rangers were counting on..
Other than Nash, there hasn’t been any game breakers upfront which has been an issue. Marian Gaborik has been plagued by up and down play with 8 goals in 26 games after a 40 goal season, and is playing out of place by Tortorella on the third line. What’s been evident this season is that the Rangers lack a No. 1 center as Brad Richards is clearly showing he’s no longer a No. 1 type center in what is starting to look like a nightmare contract for the Rangers.
The Rangers issues offensively, ranking 23rd in the NHL in goals per game, can also be pointed at a struggling power play. Despite the talent they have upfront, the Rangers continue to greatly underachieve on the power play where they rank 23rd in the NHL at 15.5%. Last season New York was able to get away with a poor power play, also ranking 23rd at 15.7%. This season they haven’t been so lucky.
Despite the Rangers being flawed team, there’s a sense that they are still just a few moves away, adding some grit to replace the loss of Prust and Dubinsky, in addition to another top-4 defenseman, of possibly being the Los Angeles Kings of last season and turning their game on down the stretch and evolving into a top contender.
While the Penguins look to extend their winning streak to eight games, the Penguins have also won six straight against the Rangers.
*Goaltender Marc Andre Fleury will get the start in goal. Tomas Vokoun is 2-0 against the Rangers this season, but the coaching staff wants Fleury to get some action against the Rangers in the event of a potential playoff matchup. Fleury has posted a 1.25 GAA in his last four games vs the Rangers.
*Henrik Lundqvist starts for the Rangers. Lundqvist has lost four straight starts against the Penguins, posting a 3.49 GAA during that span but Lundqvist is 5-1-0 with a 1.66 GAA in his last six starts at Pittsburgh.
*The Penguins 7-0-0 in March, have averaged 4.6 goals per game during that span.
*I will update the Penguins lineup after warmups.
updated 12:50 pm – Mark Eaton is back in the lineup. Deryk Engelland, Robert Bortuzzo and Evgeni Malkin.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be heavily represented today again at the Consol Energy Center.
Team President John Davidson and assistant GM Chris MacFarland are listed on today’s seating chart. Just a few weeks ago, the Blue Jackets had three members of the front office in attendance which sparked rumors of a potential Jack Johnson to Pittsburgh trade that has been debunked.
Keep in mind that the Penguins and Blue Jackets scout each other often throughout the years and with the Blue Jackets moving to the Penguins and Rangers division next season, Columbus new management team is going to be doing a lot of scouting around here as they look to develop their team to play an Eastern Conference style.
Three other notable teams in attendance today are the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks.
Notes: The Carolina Hurricanes have claimed Adam Hall.