Who: New York Rangers (1-2-0, 3 points, 7th place Eastern Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (2-2-0, 4 points, 5th place in the Eastern Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, MSG+ in the greater New York area, nationally the game is on NHL Network in America and SNE, SNP and TVAS in Canada, which I assume makes more sense to the Canadians than to me
Opponent Track: The Rangers enter the night 1-2, they were shutout 4-0 in their first game of the season against the Islanders, then bounced back and shut the Islanders out 5-0 to return the favor in the rematch. That was followed up with a 4-3 loss to New Jersey for the most recent game on Tuesday. NYR stays in Pittsburgh for the weekend, playing the Pens again on Sunday night before departing to go to Buffalo for two games next week.
Pens path ahead: After the Friday/Sunday games with NYR, the Pens will also be leaving Pittsburgh. First they ship off to Boston (a house of horrors lately for Pittsburgh) for games on Tuesday/Thursday, then the Penguins scoot down to NYC to play these same Rangers again next weekend in Madison Square Garden next Saturday (January 30th) and the following Monday (February 1st).
Season Series: As mentioned above 4 out of 8 (half for you math whizzes) of the PIT/NYR season series happens in the next 11 days, so get ready for a healthy dose of the Rangers. After that Feb. 1st game, the teams don’t meet again until March 7+9, back in the Burgh and then the season series is scheduled to be completed on April 6+8 in NYC.
Recent History: The Pens and Rangers only played once in 2019-20, believe it or not, a Pittsburgh OTL in November 2019 was the last time these two rivals locked horns. That’s well over a year ago now. Pittsburgh has done well lately against NYR, they have points in seven-straight games versus NYR (4-0-3), and the Pens are 8-2-3 overall in its last 13 games versus the Rangers.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out the banter over at Blueshirt Banter to learn more about the boys in blue
Player Stats at a Glance
—This is a really young Rangers team. There are only two players over the age of 30, and both are lower-end defensemen (Jack Johnson and Brendan Smith). Eight players have dressed for a game already who are 22-years old or younger. By contrast, Pittsburgh actively sought to make themselves younger this off-season, and they did but still have five players 30+ in the lineup, and none younger than 23 (yet). The oldest player in this game will be Evgeni Malkin at the ripe age of 34.
—Artemi Panarin, predictably, is the star player to contain. NYR has eight goals on the season and he has points on four of them. He’s a big part of their offensive engine. His linemate in Pavel Buchnevich also has two goals, so for the early part the offense has been largely riding on the top line. Buchnevich, now in his fifth NHL season, could be in-line for something of a star turn this season coming off a previous career-high of 46 points in 68 games last season.
—Highly touted youngsters Alexis Lafreniere (No. 1 overall pick in 2020) and Kaapo Kakko (No. 2 overall in 2019) have gotten off to slow starts in the very infancy of the season. Both are one assist behind goalie Casey DeSmith.
Artemi Panarin - Ryan Strome - Pavel Buchnevich
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Alexis Lafreniere
Phil Di Guiseppe - Filip Chytil - Kaapo Kakko
Brendan Lemieux - Brett Howden - Julien Gauthier
Ryan Lindgren / Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller / Jacob Trouba
Jack Johnson / Anthony DeAngelo
Expected starting goalie: Igor Shesterkin
Scratches: Kevin Rooney, Brendan Smith
Taxi Squad: Libor Hajek, Keith Kinkaid, Anthony Bitetto, Colin Blackwell
—Zibanejad went down hard in the last game and didn’t practice yesterday, but per coach David Quinn is expected to play tonight. Tony DeAngelo is also set to draw back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the last two games
He said it
"I think he's very mature for his age. The speed he plays at and the way he sees the ice - I really like what I see from him."— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 21, 2021
Mika on what Alexis could bring to the table alongside him and Kreider: pic.twitter.com/W15D7HMvhi
Now, the part you’re all here for
What’s the first PIT/NYR game without welcoming back Jack Johnson? As in, it will be very welcome to watch the Pens get to benefit from playing the skating disaster known as old JJ.
So far, Johnson’s stint with the Rangers hasn’t exactly been great. He trended on twitter the other night, and it wasn’t for positive reasons
Oh. pic.twitter.com/z3fnrgZVI1— Angie (@acarducci) January 20, 2021
The best thing about Jack Johnson is that the story never changes, just the setting. You can literally set your watch to it:
Step 1: Newly acquiring coach or GM sticks up for Jack, despite mountain of evidence that says he stinks and many bad things happen while he’s on the ice, mostly due to his own limitations and mistakes. “I think he’s got a really bad rap,” coach David Quinn said on January 14th. “statistically people wanna harp on him, but we believe he’s going to be a help for us on that blue line in a lot of ways”. Unbelievably and hilariously, this comment was eight days ago.
Step 2: Johnson plays, he stinks and many bad things happen while he’s on the ice, mostly due to his own limitations and mistakes. Fans go crazy not realizing why decision makers can’t understand why this is continuing, yet it continues nonetheless. (We are here now)
Step 3: Team sticks by JJ endlessly, despite the fact his performance is the worst on their team and among worst in entire league (We are also here right now — Johnson’s 5v5 xGF% and Scoring Chance% are the worst among NYR defenders in the brief but totally predictable sample size). 8 days ago the coach believed in him, that can’t wear away over night, he’ll settle in soon!
Step 4: Team experiences no playoff success with Jack Johnson on their team and trades, buys him out or lets him walk into free agency quietly.
Step 5: Another NHL team inexplicably thinks JJ will help them, signs him, and goes straight back to Step 1. Loop repeats.
Of course, it’s fun now for Pens’ fans but JJ will remain as a lasting buyout scar for six years of a cap penalty, so it’s not really all fun and games. But at least he will be playing for the other team, and over the next two games way more good things will happen for the Penguins with Jack Johnson on the ice for the first time in a while.
And now for the Pens..
Player stats at a glance
—I always include for the other team, so why not the Pens? This might be solely to preserve an image for posterity to show that DeSmith has more assists and as many points as Evgeni Malkin four games into the season.
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Kasperi Kapanen
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Mark Jankowski - Brandon Tanev
Evan Rodrigues - Teddy Blueger - Colton Sceviour
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
John Marino / Chad Ruhwedel
Pierre-Olivier Joseph / Cody Ceci
Expected starting goalie: ?
IR: Zach Aston-Reese, Mike Matheson. Juuso Riikola, Marcus Pettersson
Taxi Squad: Alex D’Orio, Maxime Lagace, Sam Lafferty. Drew O’Connor, Kevin Czucman
—The defense could be shuffled around a bit, depending on what the team opts to do in order to replace the two new injuries to the group.
—With all the attention on the defense, Kapanen has moved up to the first line in an important development. Kapanen was very impressive in his first game, but understandably given questions about his timing, conditioning and in an effort to manage and bring him along slowly he was mostly on the fourth line. Now after a few more days, he’s ramping up and going to be in a spot to hopefully make a real positive difference for the Pens. It’s an exciting turn of events.
He said it...
Dumoulin on Joseph: "He's very smooth. Plays well both ways, offensive and defensive. Moves the puck really well. He's a good skater. He's got a great reach. He's a guy that fits our mold. I think he's going to do well."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 21, 2021
Joseph ready if called upon: https://t.co/SpZMOfuWHR pic.twitter.com/DuSnAWnRI6
Welcome to the National, kid!
3 keys to the game:
- Whose bad defense hurts more? The Pens have been wide open and not getting a ton of saves. Their defensive depth chart is now in shambles at the bottom of the lineup. The Rangers are no better; Trouba has struggled and the team is dressing Jack Johnson and Tony DeAngelo together. What holds up? What breaks down?
- Seeking a good start, for once. Pittsburgh has surrendered an NHL high 10 goals against in the 1st periods of games this season. In this league, a poor start is usually a kiss of death to seal a team’s fate. Pittsburgh needs to at least keep it even after 20 minutes. The Rangers have only 2 GF in the first periods, so this matchup shouldn’t be very daunting.
- Floodgates for Geno? Evgeni Malkin got his first goal last game, on the power play, now it’s time to see more from the second line. This should be a matchup that is very favorable for Pittsburgh being as NYR isn’t a very deep defensive team.