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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Game Preview: at New York Rangers - March 27, 2016


Pittsburgh Penguins (41-25-8; Metro) at New York Rangers (42-24-8; 2nd Metro)
March 27, 2016 @ 7:30 PM - Madison Square Garden
TV: NBC Sports Network


If the season ended today, the Pittsburgh Penguins would be facing the New York Rangers in the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive season. The Rangers currently hold a 4 point advantage over the Pens in the Metro, but Pittsburgh has a chance to pull within 2 points of New York with a game in hand if they can pull out a regulation win tonight. It'll be the final meeting between the teams this season. After losing the first game 3-0, the Pens offense came alive in 4-1 and 5-3 victories against the Rangers, and Pittsburgh will look to enter a potential first round match-up against New York having won 3 straight.

Antti Raanta started in goal for the Rangers in last night's 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, leaving Henrik Lundqvist primed and ready to face the Penguins tonight. Lundqvist has proven to be a thorn in the side of the Penguins over the year, but they've managed to score on him during their last two games against New York, with Lundqvist posting a 4.24 GAA and 0.870 SV% during that time. Lundqvist hasn't had one of the best seasons of his career, but even an off year for the netminder is better than most of the goalies in the league. And the Rangers need the strong play of Lundqvist more than ever.

The Rangers are a bad possession team this year, and they're 21st in the league with just a 48.1 SACF% on the season, which is the worst among all the teams currently in the playoffs picture. They also easily have the highest PDO of any team in the league at 102.5 at even strength on the back of leading the league in both shooting percentage (9.1%) and save percentage (0.934). The type of luck the Rangers have had isn't sustainable, and while it currently has them 2nd in the Eastern Conference with 94 points, they haven't been able to separate from the pack in a way that the numbers might suggest they would.

And while they added Eric Staal at the trade deadline in an attempt to fortify their offense, it hasn't worked out for the Rangers in the early going. Staal struggled with Carolina, and through 13 games played with New York he's struggled more, posting only 1 goal and 2 assists to accompany a 44.3 CF% despite favorable zone starts. He's not the only stuggling, highly-paid Ranger, as Rick Nash has also been going through a difficult season. In 53 GP, Nash has only 14 goals and 21 assists, putting him on pace to score the fewest goals in a season during his career and among the worst point totals in a season as well.

Despite the high profile players struggling, the Rangers are still 5th in the NHL in scoring with 2.85 goals per game, and it's because of contributions throughout their lineup. Derick Brassard and Mats Zucarello lead the team with 57 points apiece at the top of the lineup, but Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, and Jesper Fast have all contributed double digit goals from the bottom 6. Keith Yandle ranks in the top 15 with 44 points, while Ryan McDonagh continues to be solid on the blue line with 32 points among his other many contribution. Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Rangers has been JT Miller, who in his 4th year in the league has broken out with 21 goals and 20 assists. He's also one of the few players on New York who has been able to be positive from a possession standpoint, posting a 50.7 SACF%, second to Chris Kreider among Ranger forwards.

Penguins: Chris Kunitz (upper body), Brian Dumoulin (upper body), Olli Maatta (lower body), Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Scott Wilson (undisclosed), Kevin Porter (ankle)

Rangers: Dylan McIlrath (knee)

Notes

- Sidney Crosby played in his 700th career game for the Penguins in yesterday's win against Detroit, and he joined some great company while doing so. With 930 career points, Crosby has the 5th most points at 700 games played, trailing only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Petr Stastny, and Bryan Trottier.

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