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Game Preview- Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Rangers

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Everything you need to know ahead of another NBC Rivalry night for the Pens and Rangers game!

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Aaaand down the stretch they come! The NHL regular season has an end-date in sight of less than a month as the Penguins have 12 more games left as they race to try and beat Washington and Philadelphia for the Metropolitan Division title. Naturally, and unfortunately, the Pens have the toughest schedule in terms of rest still to come with 4 games (including tomorrow) of being tired and playing a rested team.

But, let’s remember this isn’t a death sentence- Sunday’s game Pittsburgh was on the back-end of a b-2-b situation and Dallas was a rested team. And what happened? The Pens had arguably their finest defensive game of the season, surrendering only 18 total shots against (and just 12 at 5v5) and allowing only one goal, in a tough 3-on-5 situation. So “tired” doesn’t necessarily mean “doomed”. Even though it sure doesn’t help.

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Basics

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (40-26-4) @ New York Rangers (31-32-7)

When: 8:00 PM ET

SBN Friends: Blue Shirt Banter

How to Watch: For the second week in a row, the Pens are on the road on rivalry night. After again whoopin’ that Flyer ass last week, this game in New York will be nationally seen on NBC Sports, for Rivalry Wednesday, thus the later than normal start time.

Previous Meetings: Pittsburgh is up 2-1 on the season series (though NYR has a 1-1-1 record). First the Pens won 5-4 in overtime way back on October 17th in Pittsburgh with Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin connecting for an OT goal at MSG (pictured above).

December 5th saw the Rangers win in Pittsburgh 4-3, despite the Pens leading in shots 44-29. Backup Ondrej Pavelec recorded the win. One of those tough luck PDO nights that were haunting the Pens earlier in the year.

The Pens won the third matchup 5-2, also in Pittsburgh. Shots were 47-28 Pens who lit Henrik Lundqvist up.

Tonight’s game is the final one of the season series.

First, the good guys

It looks as if the Pens will welcome Bryan Rust back after a one week absence from injury. Interestingly enough, from the outset they’re going to keep Sid and the Kids together, as well as Geno and the Swedish BFF’s. If Rust looks good and can get it going with Derick Brassard and Phil Kessel we just may be looking at some playoff lines settling in here.

No word on the goalie but after a win against Dallas, I would think it should be Casey DeSmith in the net. Until Matt Murray comes back the Pens might as well just take it a game at a time and play the goalie who is playing well, then go to the other one when there’s a bad performance or a back-to-back to get the other guy in. DeSmith was fine last time out.

Opposition Focus

The rebuild, retool, whatever you want to call it is ON for the New York Rangers. Since the last time these two teams played exactly 2 months ago on Jan 14th, NYR has traded 4 players who were in the lineup that night (Rick Nash, J.T. Miller Nick Holden, Michael Grabner) and waived another (sending disappointing veteran Brendan Smith to the AHL). And that doesn’t even include the trade of team captain Ryan McDonagh who missed the last Pens/Rangers game due to injury!

New faces include Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov and Rob O’Gara but the true return for all the vets traded away will be if future draft picks and prospects pan out into NHL caliber players.

This New York team will be quite foreign to the Pittsburgh fans, used to seeing the familiar names and faces that we saw in the playoffs yearly from 2014-16. That won’t be the same tonight. Henrik Lundqvist is being spared the game tonight, an someone named Alexandar Georgiev will be in net. The 22-year old Georgiev does have a .930 save% in five NHL games this season, including a 41-save win over Carolina on Monday night in the last NYR game.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is injured and also not expected to play tonight as NYR limps down the stretch and really just tries to move on until next year. But, as mentioned above, they did just beat Carolina 6-3 two nights ago so this isn’t a team that has totally and completely mailed in their season, and being at home they will have several young players looking to make a name for themselves, including Jimmy Vesey who scored a hat trick last game.

Expected lines

Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Jesper Fast

Spooner - Kevin Hayes - Mats Zuccarello

Vesey - Namestnikov - Pavel Buchnevich

Cody McLeod - David Desharnais - Paul Carey

Brady Skjei - Tony DeAngelo*

Marc Staal - Neal Pionk

O’Gara - John Gilmour

Injuries: Shattenkirk, Pavalec, Steve Kampfer

*DeAngelo left the Carolina game with a leg injury and status for this game is yet unknown.

—Odd team setup. Getting guys like Spooner and Namestnikov are weird for a rebuild since they will help the team from being too bad this year and likely worsen the draft pick. And once the younger core of players turns into NHLers, they won’t be in their primes. One would think it almost better to bottom out completely (ala the Toronto method) and start fresh but this method looks more a retool than a rebuild.

—All things considered though, not too bad of a lineup up front, that top-9 probably isn’t playoff caliber but it’s actually not bad. Zuccarello and Buchnevich are good players and it always seems like guys like Hayes and Vesey are pesky enough to pitch in every now and then.

—Defensively, though, woof. They have 2 established NHLers right now and one of them (Staal) isn’t really that good and probably wouldn’t/shouldn’t be in the league if not for his contract (a no movement clause and three years remaining after this season at $5.7 million per). The return of Shattenkirk will help but there’s a lot of work to be done here for NY. The flop of free agent Smith (who buried in minors still counts $3.3 million against the cap) really hurts.

—Add in a lingering seven-figure buyout for Dan Girardi until 2023 and that’s a lot of wasted money on three bad decisions that will bring cap pain for years and years to come. Next year, for instance if no changes are made the Rangers will be paying $12.6 million on the cap for Staal+Smith (buried) + Girardi (bought out). Gotta be one of the worst cap situations in league history right there.

Keys to the Game

#1 Test the new goalie

Georgiev will be an unknown quantity for Penguins shooters. The undrafted Bulgarian played in Finland before coming over to North America this year. He played an impressive game on Monday but only has 5 NHL games under his belt. Can he repeat it again? No one really probably knows until we see one way or another.

Pittsburgh has put a ton of shots on NYR this season and as mentioned above, the defense really shouldn’t be too challenging to generate chances on based on the personnel they have versus the Pens skill. Just because a new goalie hasn’t done it doesn’t mean he can’t but we will find out a lot tonight about what kind of skill this young player has. Coming into it, you have to like the Pens odds to probably score 3-4-5 goals in this one, but those pucks aren’t going to jump in the net on their own.

#2 Make hay while the sun shines

With all the b-2-b’s, you have to win a game on the road while rested against the last place team. Won’t be easy but in a tight division chase it just has to be done if the Pens want to hold serve with teams like the Caps and Philly down the stretch. No game in this league is an automatic W these days but this is one a playoff team should have.

#3 Geno watch

Kucherov notched three assists last night and on Monday Ovechkin scored two goals and Laine scored one himself. Evgeni Malkin has some work to do to keep up with all in the respective races for the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. This time of year everyone is keeping half an eye on the performances of others and tonight would seem to be another chance for Malkin to keep his brilliant 2018 rolling on in a place he loves playing in New York.