The New York Rangers skate into Pittsburgh tonight seeking a fifth consecutive win at the Penguins’ Consol Energy Center. Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Malkin will face-off in a battle of possible Hart Trophy finalists, while 30-goal James Neal will also provide a big threat to the first-placed Rangers alongside the NHL’s top scorer.
The Rangers are a perfect 4-0 at the Consol Energy Center since its opening in August 2010, a far cry from The Igloo’s seemingly endless run of Ranger losses. The Rangers were 3-1 winners in Pittsburgh on January 6, as Brad Richards, Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan cancelled out Ben Lovejoy’s opener.
Pittsburgh have remained competitive in the Atlantic Division despite the continued absence of captain Sidney Crosby, though recent results have been inconsistent. Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres capped a 4-4-1 stretch through the first part of February, and the Pens have perhaps tellingly allowed 19 goals in their last five games.
Carl Hagelin – Brad Richards – Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov – Derek Stepan – Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky – Brian Boyle – Brandon Prust
Mike Rupp – John Mitchell – Ruslan Fedotenko
Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto – Anton Stralman
Marc Staal – Steve Eminger
KEYS TO THE GAME
MINIMISE THE IMPACT OF #71 – It seems obvious to say, but the Penguins, at least at this time, largely live and die on the impact of Evgeni Malkin. The Russian has elevated his game dramatically after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign, and if the Rangers plan on skating away from Pittsburgh with two more points then they will need to neutralise his impact as much as possible. Not just Malkin either, but his sidekick James Neal too.
BE THE AGGRESSOR – Sure, it’s the Penguins, and they are a very dangerous hockey club. However, the goal-against stat that I mentioned earlier is telling of what teams can do when they take the game to Pittsburgh. You can always count on a guy like Ryan Callahan to hit anything that moves, but the Rangers collectively need to be the aggressors out there tonight. Wear the Penguins defense down and chances will come. It’s the kind of game where a guy like Carl Hagelin can thrive given the chance to stretch his legs.
SPECIAL TEAMS – The Rangers powerplay has looked much better in recent games, and against a side with the special teams personnel strength of Pittsburgh, it could be a deciding factor in a close game. It hasn’t been perfect by any means, but it’s certainly a far cry from the dismal efforts the Blueshirts were turning in earlier in the campaign. As always, the PK will be vital too, but that’s something we rarely need to worry about.
DEPTH, DEPTH, DEPTH – Often it’s a third/fourth line skater that pops up and proves the hero in games between these two sides. Mike Rupp for one, though at least he’ll be wearing a Rangers jersey tonight. The Rangers need their bottom-six to contribute, even if it isn’t on the scoresheet.
Check back for line-up updates and any additional news prior to face-off.