Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3-1, 9 points, 4th place in the Eastern Division) @ New York Rangers (2-4-1, 5 points, 8th place Eastern Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, MSG in NYC
Opponent Track: Since we last saw the Rangers on Sunday, they have played two games, both on the road and both in Buffalo on Tuesday (3-2 loss) and Thursday (3-2 OT win). 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere scored his first career NHL goal in the overtime session on Thursday.
Pens path ahead: Tonight and Monday the Pens are in New York, but the schedule ticks up when they play New Jersey on Tuesday and Thursday at home, before flying out to Long Island for a game next Saturday. Yep, that’s five games between now and the end of next Saturday night. Just what an injury-weary team needs.
Season Series: The Pens beat the Rangers 4-3 in the shootout last Friday night with Kris Letang notching the deciding goal. Last Sunday, Pittsburgh defeated NYR 3-2 when Jake Guentzel scored a goal late in the third period to give the Pens the W. The Pens and Rangers meet up again on Monday night but then PIT/NYR don’t play 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 have dominated the Rangers as of late, going 6-0-3 vs. the Blueshirts in the last nine games. Expand it out further and Pittsburgh is 10-2-3 against NYR in the last 15 contests between the two teams.
Hidden stat: The Rangers have played five straight one-goal games, and only have a 1-3-1 record to show in them. This includes going 0-1-1 against the Pens last weekend.
SBN Team Counterpart: It’s some Blueshirt Banter time to learn the latest and greatest about the Rangers.
Player Stats at a Glance
—Remember the awkward collision after the whistle that took out Evan Rodrigues for a “longer term”? On the other end of it was Filip Chytil, who also will be out 4-6 weeks as a result. Tough breaks all around on that one.
—I remember from last week’s previews that Mika Zibanejad was a little banged up after getting injured prior to the Pens’ games. Well, he’s got zero points in his last three games and who knows if something is still continue to bug or limit him, but his production is down big time from what it was last year.
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Pavel Buchnevich
Artemi Panarin - Ryan Strome - Phil Di Giuseppe
Alexis Lafreniere - Brett Howden - Kaapo Kakko
Brendan Lemieux - Colin Blackwell - Kevin Rooney
Ryan Lindgren / Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller / Jacob Trouba
Brendan Smith / Tony DeAngelo
Possible starting goalie: Igor Shesterkin
—Shesterkin played in both games against the Pens on the weekend, giving up three goals a piece in each contest. But he also got the win in Buffalo.
Scratches: Filip Chytil (injured), Julien Gauthier, Jack Johnson (day-to-day)
—Sadly our old pal Jack Johnson missed Thursday night’s game with a minor groin strain and is day-to-day (though the coach said he believed it to be shorter term). Rub some dirt on it and get out there boy!
He said it
27-year old Colin Blackwell got called up from the taxi squad for the second Pens/NYR game last Sunday. He scored a goal in the game and added two assists this week against Buffalo, one in each game against the Sabres. Make good things happen and you’ll get rewarded: Blackwell has seen his icetime tick up each and every game — from 8:43 in his debut against the Pens to 13:53 on Tuesday against Buffalo up to 15:53 on Thursday against Buffalo.
Surprisingly enough, it was Blackwell who got the tap on the shoulder to go out for the third OT shift of the game. He responded by making a great play to set up Lafreniere for the GWG. Not bad for a former seventh round pick of the Sharks in 2011 who hasn’t made the biggest impact so far.
From the NY Post:
“We’d gotten four goals in the two previous games and [Blackwell] was a guy that created two of them,” David Quinn said of the winger who primarily played on the right with Panarin and Ryan Strome. “He had a good night tonight.
“You have to let the eye test determine who plays hockey, not where they were drafted, not their résumé. We needed a win tonight. This kid deserves to be out there. That’s why he was out there. He’s got seven points in his last seven NHL games and what happens in this game is that we get so caught up in where people are drafted and hype about people.
“But I don’t give two craps about that right now,” the coach said. “We want to win hockey games and he was the best option. How did it work out?”
Can’t argue with the results. Methinks I detect what could be a growing player crush by the head coach of the Rangers on this smallish fourth liner Blackwell, who to his credit is earning everything coming his way right now.
And now for the Pens..
Player stats at a glance
—Yep, of all the stats that are out there, these are definitely some of them.
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Jared McCann - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Drew O’Connor- Mark Jankowski - Colton Sceviour
P.O Joseph / Kris Letang
John Marino / Cody Ceci
Kevin Czuczman / Chad Ruhwedel
Scratches: Sam Lafferty,
Expected starting goalie: ?
IR: Zach Aston-Reese, Mike Matheson, Juuso Riikola, Marcus Pettersson, Evan Rodrigues
Taxi Squad: Alex D’Orio, Maxime Lagace, Anthony Angello, Frederick Gaudreau, Will Reilly, Yannick Weber
—Can the newcomer Weber get into the lineup, without even a practice with his new team? Maybe not, so we might have to live in a world where the Czuczman situation continues for another game.
3 keys to the game:
- Do any of the sleeping stars wake up? Chris Kreider and Zibanejad each have two points on the season. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang each have three points. A good night on the power play can send both of these figures up in a hurry. But will it be both? Neither? One or the other? Malkin usually plays well in the Big Apple, scoring 7G+10A in his last 13 games in Madison Square Garden. When mired in a slump, it seems like it will never end, but these big guns won’t be quiet forever!
- No early goals against (Chris Farley voice) FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! (/Chris Farley voice). This has been a key to the game before, but it’s important so it will be again. The Pens have given up by far an NHL high 14 goals in the first period. By comparison, they’ve only given up 15 goals in the 2nd+3rd periods COMBINED. Falling in an early hole at the NHL level is to be avoided at all costs, especially as teams round into game shapes and get more comfortable in their defensive systems. The Pens have been trailing at the end of the first period in 7 games this season. 6 times they’ve been behind after two periods. They’ve only played 8 games so far. This is just absurd. Be it staying out of the box, getting a save or two, playing defense, staying out of the zone, the team desperately needs to not play from behind on the scoreboard, because that presents too much pressure and stress and is clearly hurting them in games. Simple, but effective. And right now it’s killing them before they even get a chance to get going.
- Powerplay struggles..again. The Rangers have the 26th ranked PK in the league at just 70.8%. That could be just what the doctor ordered for a Pens’ team that went 0/9 with the power play in Boston this week. The Pens went 1 for 2 in the two games against NYR last weekend, but got zero power plays at all for Sunday’s game. So working hard to draw some penalties and finding a way to get back on track and give a cushion to an under-manned defense and goaltending situation that’s trying to make their way would sound lovely, wouldn’t it? Let’s see if it happens.