Hello darkness, my old friend. It's the Rangers....again. Except this time, it feels different. The Penguins feel different and the Rangers feel different. One year ago, heading into the playoffs, the Penguins nearly had to back into the tournament, and you could tell it was going to be a short series before it even started. The Penguins were outmatched and playing a defenseman short. The games were closer than the 5-game series showed, but it was still only a 5-game series.
Fast forward back to the current and the Penguins are on a roll. They won 14 of their 16 final games, and those all came with Evgeni Malkin sidelined with an upper-body injury. Other players have fallen to injury along the stretch and the Penguins keep humming along. The Rangers on the other hand are treading water, and they backed into the 3rd playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division thanks to the Islanders only gaining 1 point from their final 2 games.
Aside from the first game between the Penguins and Rangers this season, Pittsburgh had their number.
Season Series Highlights
|Feb. 10th, 2016||Rangers||Penguins||3-0|
|Mar. 3rd, 2016||Penguins||Rangers||4-1|
|Mar. 13th, 2016||Penguins||Rangers||5-3|
|Mar. 27th, 2016||Penguins||Rangers||3-2 (OT)|
The elephant in the room for New York is that Henrik Lundqvist turned the tide for his own team against the Penguins when he was a gigantic baby and pushed the net off of it's moorings.
You mad bro? pic.twitter.com/SzGIETehB5— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 4, 2016
The Penguins seemed to open the floodgates against the Rangers from that time on. Not a coincidence, in my opinion.
As far as breaking down metrics and statistics, I decided to go primarily with team statistics that will show how well a team has performed down the stretch (or how poorly, in the case of the Rangers) leading into the playoffs.
Cumulative Shot Attempts
This one is pretty simple. The Penguins and the Rangers were headed down similar mediocre paths. The Penguins fired Mike Johnston and promoted Mike Sullivan. Alain Vigneault and the Rangers continue to trot out Dan Girard and Tanner Glass for their regular shifts. (Data via War on Ice )
Goal Scoring Depth
The Penguins are a bit more top heavy than the Rangers in terms of goal scoring, but I think that is to be expected when your have Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel with the salaries and cap hits that they have. Rick Nash with 15 goals was a surprise, even considering the time he was spent injured this season. Matt Cullen eating up the same percentage of goals for the Penguins that Rick Nash and Kevin Hayes are eating up for the Rangers is amazing. (Data via War on Ice ).
Shot Attempts For
Pittsburgh's first 25 games were not very good, and they have been a slow build and ramping up at the right time of the year. The Rangers struggled early and have fallen off towards the end of the season. (Via Corsica)
For those who may not be familiar, PDO is a way to essentially measure how lucky a team is getting. It combines their shooting percentage and the save percentage the team is getting from the goalie. It can measure luck as well as explain a hot streak or cold streak.
The Penguins were never really riding very hot or very cold streaks, but the Rangers on the other hand, my word. They started the season on that crazy PDO bender and were stacking points until they came back to Earth. (Via Corsica)
Early in the season, the Penguins had a slew of problems, and one of the problems that was not making any of the other issues easy to solve is that the damn puck just wasn't going into the net. I'm not an expert on shot quality or any of that stuff, or if the system changes helped increase the shooting percentage, but for a while, many were saying 'the Penguins shooting percentage just needs to get back to average' and when it did, things started turning around for the Penguins. I think the shooting percentage coming back to normal helped with giving some of the players some confidence, honestly. Aside from the early spark for the Rangers, they've kinda floated around that same 8-10% range. (Via Corsica)
The Penguins started out high and have been a very slow yet minor decline. We have no clue who is going to be minding the net for Pittsburgh tomorrow night, so there's no sense in putting stock in that for now. The Rangers save percentage has been very volatile, which seems unique for them. (Via Corsica)
I don't think we are going to see too many people picking the Rangers to win the series, mainly based off of recent play. The Penguins are playing very well, the Rangers are not.
My optimistic prediction? Penguins in 5.
My more realistic prediction because nothing is ever easy? Penguins in 6.