Rangers vs Penguins preview: Battle for second place

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) fight for the puck. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) fight for the puck. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
New York Rangers
New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) fight for the puck. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Penguins are hosting the New York Rangers today at 3pm ET. The Rangers look to further their lead in the Metropolitan Division.

It will be a big game for the Rangers as they take on the Penguins for the first time this season. These two teams switched places in the Metropolitan Division when the Blueshirts beat the Washington Capitals and the Pens lost to the New Jersey Devils.

Where the Rangers stand

The Rangers are only one point up on the Penguins, three behind the Carolina Hurricanes. The Penguins have played two games more than the Rangers.

The Rangers have won two straight and are 4-0-1 for the month of February. Their limited game play during this month has been due to the All-Star break and the Winter Olympics.

The key players to watch for the Rangers are the usual suspects. Mika Zibanejad, who has six points in his last five games, three of them goals. He is red hot with 15 goals in his last 23 games.

Also, Artemi Panarin has four assists and two goals in his last five games. In his last 13 games, he has four goals and 19 points.

These are the Rangers’ two top forwards, the players helping out the most on offense. The four even strength goals on Thursday was an exception.

Of course, you can’t count out Chris Kreider who is third in the NHL in goals with 34.

On defense, Ryan Lindgren has a +3 rating, the best plus/minus over the last five games.

The Penguins

The Penguins lost to the New Jersey Devils Thursday night by a score of 6-1. This loss was their  third in a row, which is why they dropped to third in the division. They’ve stumbled after a long stretch when they lost one regulation game in 14, giving them a 10-1-3 record during that span.

The Penguins have struggled and look to bounce back.

Sidney Crosby is someone to watch, but that never comes as a surprise. He has not slowed down, even at 34-years-old. He has six points in his last five games. He has 24 points in his last 16 games, 10 of them goals.

Jake Guentzel leads the team with 25 goals, while Kris Letang has 47 points in 49 games.

Evgeni Malkin is one of their key players, having 18 points since his return to the rink after knee surgery in June. He made his season debut on January 11 and has been a force since. He has 18 points, seven of them goals, in 17 games.

What to look for

The starting goalies for the Rangers and Penguins are expected to be Igor Shesterkin and Tristan Jarry.

Shesterkin has a 25-5-3 record and leads the NHL with a 1.98 goals against average (GAA) and a .940 save percentage. Jarry is 25-11-6 with a 2.38 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Both goalies have three shutouts, although Jarry has struggled lately.

In his last three starts, Jarry allowed 13 goals and was pulled from the Devils game. This is a big red flag for the Pens as this is an issue that needs to be fixed and fast.

Another point worth noting is whether or not Gerard Gallant will use the new line of Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves, and Kevin Rooney against the Pen’s top lines. He did it against the Capitals, pretty brilliantly, so why not do it again with the Pens?

The Rangers are expecting a one-way ticket to the playoffs. The only question will be where their placement would be in the division. This is what they are playing for.

Three keys to winning

Special teams plays a vital role in a team’s ability to win or lose. The Rangers are fourth in the league in power play percentage at 26.21% where the Pens are 12th. However, the Pens are third in penalty kill and the Rangers are seventh.

Five-on-five is another essential key to success. The Rangers have done a poor job with scoring five-on-five goals.  Nobody should be too excited because of their success in Thursday’s game. This game was deceiving because it is not normal for the Rangers to score even-strength goals.

Scoring first is another important key to winning. The Rangers are 20-3-2 and the Pens are 22-3-1 when scoring first. Being the first team to score helps build momentum and this is why these teams are successful.

It has been four months since the Rangers and the Penguins played against each other.  Saturday afternoon will be their first. It’s about time! Who is going to win? Will it be the surging Rangers? Or will it be the struggling Penguins? Hopefully there will be a “W” for the Rangers

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