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Game Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Rangers 10/17/17

The Penguins hit the road to meet, surprisingly, the worst team in the East so far in this young season

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (3-2-1) @ New York Rangers (1-5-0)

When: 7:00 PM Eastern, locally televised on AT&T Sports Net

Recent History: The Pens won last year’s season series with a 3-2-0 record which seems even better considering one NYR win was Game 82 when both teams were resting all key players for the playoffs. Pittsburgh took the wood to New York with 6-1 and 7-2 wins on 11/23 and 12/20 respectively to show what the 2016 playoffs made clear in the difference in quality between the two teams.

Old friends Somewhat a rarity, NYR doesn’t have any players in the NHL or AHL with ties to the Pens organization. Carl Hagelin was a member of the Rangers.

Did you know: Since entering the league, Sidney Crosby has dropped 78 points (29g+48a) in 59 games against the Rangers in the regular season, by far the most in the league. Next closest Ranger nemesis? Evgeni Malkin with 49 points in 50 games.

Opponent focus

SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter

Last time out: Like the Pens, the Rangers have been off since Saturday night. Unlike the Pens, the Rangers were big fat losers on Saturday dropping a 3-2 decision at home to the surprising Devils.

Star of the show: Mika Zibanejad is one of the few bright spots of the early season for NYR with 5 goals (but 0 assists) in the first six games, but the star of Broadway is the same man for the Blueshirts that it’s been for the last decade, it’s Henrik Lundqvist. “The King” is now 35 and coming off his worst NHL season ever last year and needs to bounce back if NYR is to make any noise. With a .914 save% in an early sample, things aren’t all his fault, but it remains to be seen if he can still steal games consistently like earlier in his career.

Expected lines

Rick Nash - Mika Zibanejad - Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider - David Desharnais - JT Miller

Jimmy Vesey - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast

Michael Grabner - Paul Carey - Pavel Buchnevich

Ryan McDonagh / Anthony DeAngelo

Brady Skjei / Brendan Smith

Nick Holden / Kevin Shattenkirk

—The Rangers change lines a lot, so we’ll see if these hold or for how long. In a lot of ways, this team looks like the Pens except they don’t have an 87 or a 71. They’re strong on the wings, a bit weaker down the middle.

—Their defense has some good names, but the talent is spread now. Shattenkirk is basically a Justin Schultz type who will put up impressive offense and see solid possession, but he’s never been (and likely never will be) a true first pairing guy to take the toughest of assignments. It’s interesting to see the talented but volatile DeAngelo get a shot with the steady McDonagh. Skjei/Smith is a classic shutdown type of pairing.


The old guard of the Metro

Since establishment of the new NHL divisions for the 2013-14 season, the Pens and Rangers are the most accomplished teams in the Metropolitan, with each team “winning” the Metro playoff bracket twice (NYR in ‘14 and ‘15, Pens in ‘16 and ‘17). As such, they’ve clashed often in the playoffs with the new divisional-heavy alignment. After meeting in the playoffs in 2014, 2015 and 2016, a 4th straight PIT/NYR meeting was narrowly avoided in 2017 when the Rangers fell in six games in the second round to Ottawa. In fact, these two teams have represented the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals 3 of the last 4 seasons, with it almost being 4/4 had NYR not lost in G7 of the 2015 ECF to Tampa.

Are the winds of change coming? The Pens are just 3-2-1, not terrible but sleep-walking so far through their early schedule. New York, has cause for much more concern with just 2 points in the first six games of the season. In many ways the Pens are fine (on a 95 point pace, without showing urgency yet) but another bad week or two and the Rangers might be wondering what happened to their season later in the year.

You’re trash, Rick Nash

Rick Nash has but a single goal and no assists in this, the start of a contract year. That’s probably a little misleading since he does have 25 shots on goal, a ton for early in the year and that shouldn’t last forever but it’s certainly not the start to look for. He’s had some success in his career against Pittsburgh over the years (14 goals + 9 assists in 28 games) so maybe this could be a chance for him to turn it around.

Make hay while the sun shines

The Penguins have health and a few days off, and when going to play a 1-5 team, that’s a game you probably hope to win considering the dreaded back-to-back Florida trip is coming up this weekend (where Pittsburgh traditionally doesn’t do well, let alone this season in awful b-2-b games).