Game Preview: at New York Rangers - March 13, 2016


Pittsburgh Penguins (35-24-8; 4th Metro) at New York Rangers (39-22-7; 2nd Metro)
March 13, 2016 @ 12:30 PM - Madison Square Garden
TV: NBC


The Penguins did what they needed to do in the previous outing against the New York Rangers, scoring 3 goals in 1:39 to take a much needed 2 points at the expense of their division rival. And while it's still improbable that the Pittsburgh catches New York in the standings, with 2 games left against the Rangers and a game in hand, the Pens have the opportunity to dent the 7 point cushion the Rangers enjoy in the standings and make things interesting. Of course, the injury to Evgeni Malkin makes that opportunity a pipe dream, but it's still a possibility if they can rally around his injury and go on a tear. They'll need to start by winning tonight's game in regulation to pick up the 4 point swing in the standings, and it certainly helps that the Pens will face a Rangers team fresh off an overtime loss to Detroit yesterday. It'll be the 3rd of 4 meetings this season with the teams splitting a pair of games in Pittsburgh already.

Henrik Lundqvist's actions in the previous meeting against the Penguins dominated the story lines coming out of the game. Angered by a perceived missed call when defenseman Ryan McDonagh collided with the Rangers goaltender, Lundqvist turned around and shoved the net off its moorings on the next Pittsburgh rush. Despite the unsportsmanlike nature, Lundqvist only received a 2 minute delay of game minor on the play and was not fined by the NHL for his actions. He ended up leaving the game early because of neck spasms, but not before being lit up by the Penguin offense to finish the 2nd period. He missed the next 3 contests before returning last night to start against the Detroit Red Wings. It was a slow start to the season for Lundqvist, but he's rebounded from that to post a  2.31 GAA and 0.923 SV% - numbers that are in line with his career production.

Rangers' captain Ryan McDonagh has played a big role for New York on the blueline. He's averaging 22:33 per game, more than 2 minutes more than anyone else on the team, while facing some of the toughest competition on the team night in and night out with a 43.9 ZSO%. Despite it all, McDonagh still has an on-ice goal for percentage of 59.5%, and he ranks 2nd among Ranger defensemen with 31 points in 62 games, behind only Keith Yandle with 39 points. Yandle was rumored to be on the trading block as the deadline approached, given that he's in a contract year and the Rangers likely don't have the cap space to bring him back. The Rangers paid a big price to get Yandle at the deadline last season, giving up Anthony Duclair, a 2016 1st round pick, and a 2015 2nd round pick among other considerations. But in the end, he brought to much to the table for New York to trade him away in the middle of a playoff race.

While the Rangers are strong in their own zone, their strong in the other team's zone as well, ranking 7th in the league with 2.81 goals per game. Mats Zuccarello (53 pts) and Derick Brassard (24 goals) pace the team in point and goals, respectively, and the Rangers have 5 players who have already hit the 15 goal mark on the season. Surprisingly enough, Rick Nash is not one of those players. He's missed 22 games due to injury on the season, but his 12 goals and 21 assists in 46 games played gives him one of the lowest point per game totals (0.72 pts/gm) of his career. Given that he was even worse two seasons ago (0.60 pts/gm) and the physical style in which he plays, it's safe to wonder how many more years Nash will be able to hold up. The Rangers hope he'll make it at least another couple years, as his $7.8 million AAV contract runs through the 2017-18 season.

Injuries

Penguins: Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Scott Wilson (undisclosed), Kevin Porter (ankle), Ben Lovejoy (upper body), Beau Bennett (undisclosed)

Rangers: Tanner Glass (upper body), Derick Brassard (flu), Dylan McIlrath (knee)

Notes

- The official prognosis on the Evgeni Malkin injury is that he'll miss 6-8 weeks - a time frame that would cause him to miss the start of the playoffs if his recovery goes to schedule, assuming the Penguins are able to make the postseason with a tough stretch run without the star center.

- In the wake of the Malkin injury and Scott Wilson's uncertainty after the game against Columbus, the Penguins have recalled Conor Sheary and Dominik Simon from Wilkes-Barre while also re-assigning Tom Sestito back to their AHL club.
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