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Insider Only Penguins – Rangers X’s & O’s: Gap has been closed

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The Gap has closed.

The Penguins earned their third straight victory of the season over the Rangers Sunday night with a 3-2 overtime win. Pittsburgh has not only removed the mental block that they can’t beat the Rangers, the Penguins have proven over the last month that they’ve closed the gap, with or without Evgeni Malkin, and that a Rangers – Penguins likely first round series is setting up what should be a 50/50 series.

New York’s ability to keep the Penguins to the outside was Pittsburgh’s biggest problem in matching up against the Rangers in the past. That has started to change.

What the Penguins have shown in the last three meetings is their approach of pushing the puck up quickly and maybe the most important element, making the Rangers try to play a game of foot races. It has changed the complexion of how these two teams now matchup with each other.

Sunday night’s game was about as even of a game as your’re going to see.

Big picture when looking at another playoff series between the two clubs, the game also showed things the Penguins do very well that the Rangers struggle with and vice versa.

For New York, they continue to put a strong focus on attacking the Penguins with cross-ice and hard dump-in’s on the forecheck.

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It’s an area some of the Rangers bigger and stronger forwards like Rick Nash and Chris Krieder give Pittsburgh problems in their ability to win battles, leading to established zone time and high danger scoring chances off the cycle.

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What also stood out was Eric Staal as the third line center could be a handful to contain over a seven game series with his size and strength down low and the net-front area.

However, when the Penguins can beat the Rangers initial wave on the forecheck, Pittsburgh springing two forwards full speed out of the d-zone got the Rangers on their heels and they were vulnerable with the Penguins being able to attack through the neutral zone and offensive zone with speed.

The top two lines were extremely effective, especially Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin, both in different ways.

Kessel from the standpoint of pushing the Rangers D back and creating individual scoring chances with speed. He was coming with such power and speed, the Rangers had to give him time and space that had Kessel getting to the inside much easier than he’s done all season.

Hagelin caused the Rangers fits with his ability to create foot races for the puck. Some of it is obviously the individual speed these two players possess but the systematic change of how much higher and earlier the Penguins forwards now leave the zone, plays a big part.

Aside from Ryan McDonagh and Keith Yandle, the Rangers group of defenseman have a slow first couple steps.

The Penguins on their top-3 lines have at least one player on each line that has great speed to push the opposition back, (Crosby, Hagelin and Rust.) and that’s a big key to putting New York’s group of d-men on their heels. It’s also beneficial that the system in place no longer handcuffs all five players on leaving the defensive zone at the same time.

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About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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