The Pens, 8-0-1 in their last nine games, are back in Pitt tonight to take on the New York Rangers in what will be the fifth match-up of the season. Heading into tonight's game, the Rangers lead the series with a dominating 3-1 lead.
The last time these two met up, the Rangers no doubt dominated in a 4-0 shutout victory. The Pens were unable to get any action whatsoever in the Rangers' zone and Dany Sabourin was on his last leg as the Pens' starter.
I venture to day that tonight will be an entirely different game.
Ty Conklin has yet to lose a regulation game. The recent overtime loss to Atlanta on Saturday put his season record at 9-0-1 with two shutouts.
Seeing as how the Pens were scoreless in their last effort against the Rangers AND how it was the first and only time thus far they were shutout, let's rewind one more game to the November 17 overtime loss.
Pitt fired out of the gate early to take a 2-0 lead. If you've been following the Pens all season, then you may recall their incompetence in controlling and maintaining a two goal lead. (See also: Colorado on November 1, Islanders on November 3 and ultimately the Rangers on November 8). Needless to say, this didn't bode well for the Pens. From having the lead 2-0 at the end of the first, the Pens were down 3-2 heading into the third period. Ultimately Sykora would net the tying goal to send it into overtime. It would be good for just a point though as Rangers defenseman Jason Strudwick put the nail in the coffin on a shot past Fleury to not only score his first goal of the season but also seal the win for the Rangers.
Again, and I don't mean to sound like this is ignorance speaking, but that was then and this is now. Fleury was in net then - Conklin is in net now. The Pens took seven penalties that game - the Pens have taken a combined seven penalties in their last three games. They've been playing a much more disciplined game and it certainly shows.
How have the Rangers been playing lately? I'll allow Cityhockeyfever from Cup Crazy's NHL Blog to explain.
Prior to last night [1-12-08], the Rangers had lost 12 of their last 17 (since December 3rd) and fallen out of the top 8 in the East. Henrik at times during that stretch had been very un-King Kenrik-like with a handful of soft goals or even bad goals given up to the opposition. At one point, his goals-against-average was around 1.6, I think and now it's at least 2.3. The deciding goal he allowed in Calgary on January 2nd was one that really has stuck in my mind.
The goal he describes can be seen here at the 5:10 mark.
Penguins vs Rangers tonight at 7:00. Live thread to come.