Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (10-6-1, 21 points, 4th place Metropolitan Division) @ New York Rangers (7-6-2, 16 points, 6th place Metro Division)
When: 7:30 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, NBC Sports if you’re in America but not in a local area
Opponent Track: After starting the season just 1-5-0, the Rangers have kicked it into gear since October 22nd, going 5-2-2 in their last nine games, including 2-0-1 in the last three. NYR has played two games less than Pittsburgh, so if they won both games in hand they could be just 1 point behind Pittsburgh in the standings.
Pens path ahead: The Pens get basically a second straight week of being in the New York area without having to play a lot, their next game after tonight isn’t until @NJD on Friday night. Then they have a quick turnaround to head back to the ‘Burgh to play Saturday night at home against Toronto.
Season Series: After this fairly early season matchup the two division rivals don’t see each other until....March 18th? Gee, that makes sense. They then play March 20th and once more on April 2nd to wrap up the matchups.
Recent history: It’s been good, unless you’re from Henrik Lundqvist’s petulant perspective, in which case flip the nets! Pittsburgh was 3-0-1 vs NYR last year, going 2-0-0 at Madison Square Garden where they outscored the Blueshirts by a combined 12-4 total. Overall they’ve been great lately in MSG, going 7-1-2 there in the last 10. The Pens are 8-2-2 overall in the last 12 PIT/NYR matchups (shoutout Pens PR with these stats).
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out our pals at Blueshirt Banter for the perspective from the other side
Tale of the Tape
—Some good shooting (led by Artemi Panarin’s 10 5v5 points) is masking some very real defensive deficiencies so far for the Rangers. They allow a ton of shots against and their goaltending has only been average so as a result they’re giving up a lot of goals. But a strong power play and conversions at ES has let them keep up offensively...So far.
—The Pens have killed off 14 straight penalties and have killed 20 of their last 21. In the last 11 games (from Oct 16-now) the Pens have a NHL best 92.3% PK, which really can’t be undersold in importance given that the power play remains mired in a huge slump and now will have to deal with being sans Crosby and Letang.
Player Stats at a Glance
—To what should be the surprise of no one, Artemi Panarin has hit the ground running after jumping to the Rangers as a high priced free agent, leading the team so far in goals and points.
—The Rangers’ anticipated youth movement has hit a bit of a snag. 2017 7th overall pick Lias Andersson has but one point on the season. 2018 9th overall pick Vitali Kratsov has returned to Russia after he got assigned to the AHL. 2019 2nd overall pick Kappo Kakko has been just fine for an 18-year old’s first month in the NHL but with just six points in 15 games, that’s not exactly like an Evgeni Malkin start.
—But a couple “older” young players have been making big strides. Tony DeAngelo was at a bit of a crossroads last year, occasionally even a healthy scratch at times. He’s by far the leading point scorer among the Blueshirts’ blueliners. The talented Pavel Buchnevich has broken out a bit as well this season after showing promise but not always getting the biggest of roles.
Possible Lines (based on Sunday game)
Jesper Fast - Ryan Strome - Artemi Panarin
Pavel Buchnevich - Filip Chytil - Chris Kreider
Kaapo Kakko - Brett Howden - Brendan Lemieux
Lias Andersson - Greg McKegg
Libor Hajek / Jacob Trouba
Brady Skjei / Tony DeAngelo
Ryan Lindgren / Adam Fox
Expected scratches: Mika Zibanejad (upper body injury), Marc Staal (ankle surgery) Micheal Haley (healthy)
Injured reserve: none
—The Lias Andersson situation is weird, he’s been in trade rumors (perhaps even to Edmonton) and has been buried with very low minutes. The Rangers’ fans aren’t happy (but when are they ever?)
—Filip Chytil is another young gun who started slow and started the season in the AHL. But since being promoted to the NHL in the wake of Zibanejad’s injury, Chytil has stepped up. Zibanejad is day-to-day, and they badly need him back but it seems unlikely, barring a change, that he’ll be back in time for tonight.
A very young defense
As you may have noted, there are plenty of new names on the Rangers, especially on the defense where Ryan Lindgren has stepped in and stepped up with familiar face Marc Staal out. From Rick Carpiniello at The Athletic:
So whether the Rangers are being territorially dominated as they were in Carolina on Thursday (a win) or just haphazardly trading chances as they did against Florida on Sunday (a 6-5 shootout loss), there are little rays of positivity.
One of them is the continued development of the three 21-year-old defensemen, none of whom looks the least bit out of place.
And with Marc Staal now sidelined for several weeks after surgery to treat an infection in his ankle from a long-ago shot block, the opportunity has grown, especially for left defenseman Ryan Lindgren.
Lindgren, who debuted briefly last season, who had a terrific training camp, and who was finally recalled from Hartford on Oct. 28, is a regular now, at least until Staal comes back. But more likely permanently.
“It’s definitely an opportunity I want to take,” Lindgren said after opening the scoring with his first NHL goal Sunday. “Obviously, I feel bad for Staalsie. I’m hoping for a speedy recovery. But, yeah, it’s definitely a time for me to come in and show what I can do and stick in the lineup.”
Lindgren’s not here to score goals. He’s here to prevent them. He brings a lot more Dan Girardi than Brian Leetch, and a lot more of what the Rangers have lacked for a while and what they desperately need. Defense on defense. He defends, old-school style, as does Libor Hajek, another 21-year-old playing in the first pair. And he looks so much more comfortable this time around.
“I do (feel much more comfortable),” Lindgren said. “I definitely do, compared to last year especially. As each game goes by I’m getting more comfortable with (Adam Fox). I’m getting just more comfortable playing with everyone. I’m feeling better and better each game.”
As mentioned, shots in the NYR/CAR game last Thursday was 47-18 in favor of Carolina. But goals were 3-2 NYR (plus one more tacked on with an empty net). Hockey can be like that, but chances are this should be an opportunity for the Pens to again dominant the game’s shot share. Even without Crosby and Letang.
And now for the Pens..
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Potential Lines (Based on Monday practice)
Dominik Simon - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Alex Galchenyuk - Jared McCann - Jake Guentzel
Dominik Kahun - Nick Bjugstad - Sam Lafferty
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Brian Dumoulin/ John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson / Juuso Riikola
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy)
Injured: Patric Hornqvist (lower body, IR), Sidney Crosby (lower body), Kris Letang (lower body injury)
—No Crosby or Letang, oh boy here we go. Luckily with the way Malkin (and Rust, and McCann) have been playing, the team might be OK against an under-manned Ranger team. But they probably won’t be for too many nights.
Malkin’s time to shine
Per Pens PR:
After returning from an 11-game absence on November 2, Evgeni Malkin is starting to hit his stride. Malkin currently has points in three-consecutive games (1G-4A), and has figured in on four of Pittsburgh’s last five goals.
Malkin has found success over the course of his career against the Rangers, having recorded 58 points (28G-30A) in 57 career games. He has two goals, four assists, six points and is plus-5 in his last three visits to Madison Square Garden.
[Tuesday’s] game marks the first time this season that Malkin has suited up for a game without his captain Sidney Crosby, who was injured in Saturday’s game against Chicago. In 120 career games without Crosby, Malkin has 66 goals, 94 points and 160 points.