Who: New York Rangers (33-13-5, 71 points, 2nd place Metropolitan Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (31-14-8, 70 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 3:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: ABC/ESPN+
Opponent Track: The Rangers faced an important divisional contest on Thursday when the Capitals visited Madison Square Garden— and emerged with a 4-1 victory, giving New York a 7-2-1 record over its last nine games and lifting it past slumping Pittsburgh to second in the Metropolitan Division.
Pens Path Ahead: The Penguins have a tough stretch ahead: after a back-to-back weekend against the Rangers and Blue Jackets, they’re up against some of the toughest opponents in the NHL with another back-to-back set against Tampa Bay and Carolina on Thursday, March 3, and Friday, March 4, before facing the powerful Panthers on March 8.
Hidden Stat: Since Mike Sullivan joined the Penguins in December 2015, no team has scored more against the Rangers than Pittsburgh (101 goals.)
Trivia Question: With 41 points (11-30—41) in 55 games against New York, Kris Letang leads all active defenseman in production against the Rangers. Who are the next four active defenseman leading in points against New York? (Hint: think Islanders, Capitals, Devils, Lightning.)
Season Series: This is the first time the Penguins and the Rangers are meeting since April 2021, when the Penguins won 5-2 at Madison Square Garden (Pittsburgh took the 2021 season series in the COVID-19 bubble, 6-2-0.) The Penguins will face the Rangers twice more in March (on the road March 25, at home March 29) and one more time in April (on the road, April 7.)
From Bryan Rust, via NHL.com:
“We obviously haven’t seen them this year, but it’s a team we’re very familiar with. It’s a very fast, skilled, up-tempo team. Their goaltending is phenomenal. They have some really good players. I think we got to just try and be to up to the task.
“This is a team that’s high in the standings for a reason, and we’re fighting with them for positioning. I think this game’s gonna be a good test, and we need to be ready for that.”
SBN Counterpart Blog: Blueshirt Banter
The Rangers’ 2020 first overall pick is heating up
After a relatively slow start to his career, Alexis Lafrenière is heating up; he scored three goals in his last six games, and was a large part of the Rangers’ important division win on Thursday. Head coach Gerard Gallant recently moved him to the right wing, rather than his habitual left, on the Rangers’ top line.
From Vincent Mercogliano at lohud.com:
It was his third in the last six games, all of which have been played on the top line with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. That trio has been the Rangers’ best of late, with Lafrenière responding well to the challenge of shifting away from his natural left-wing position.
“Sometimes I go on the left and Kreids has to tell me,” Lafrenière said with a smile. “But other than that, I think it’s pretty good. I think I can make plays on my backhand. I have to get better at that, but by playing every night on the right side, it’s good for me.”
Gallant on Lafrenière’s recent improvement:
“He’s played better hockey the last 20 games, for sure. I really like the way he plays. He competes hard, and he wasn’t getting the goals he wanted, but tonight was a big game for him.”
Wednesday Practice Lines
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Alexis Lafrenière
Artemi Panarin - Ryan Strome - Dryden Hunt
Barclay Goodrow - Kevin Rooney - Ryan Reaves
Greg McKegg - Morgan Barron - Julien Gauthier
Ryan Lindgren / Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller / Jacob Trouba
Zachary Jones / Braden Schneider
Goalies: Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev
Scratches: Filip Chytil, Libor Hajek, Patrik Nemeth
COVID Protocol: none
IR: Kaapo Kakko (upper body, week-to-week), Samuel Blais (ACL, long term)
—Former Penguins great Greg McKegg is back: McKegg, who skated with Pittsburgh for 26 games in 2017-18, has averaged over 11 minutes per game in 31 contests with the Rangers this season.
—After Alexandar Georgiev took over the Rangers’ crease in December with Igor Shesterkin injured, Shesterkin has returned as New York’s No. 1 goaltender. After his success against the Capitals on Thursday, it seems likely he will be called up against the Penguins.
And now for the Pens..
Friday Practice Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Danton Heinen - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn - Jeff Carter - Evan Rodrigues
Kasper Bjorkqvist - Brian Boyle - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mark Friedman - Pierre-Olivier Joseph / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Kasper Bjorkqvist, Zach Aston-Reese (potential)
COVID Protocol: none
IR: Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Louis Domingue, Teddy Blueger (week-to-week, broken jaw), Mike Matheson (week-to-week, upper body)
—For the first time since November 13, the Penguins are going without one of their top six defensemen: Mike Matheson is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury, and both Mark Friedman and Pierre-Olivier Joseph have been recalled from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Friedman skated alongside Ruhwedel during Friday’s practice.
—Another noteworthy report from Friday’s practice: Kasper Bjorkqvist replaced Zach Aston-Reese on the fourth line. Bjorkqvist played six NHL games in January and registered a goal against San Jose on January 2; Aston-Reese has one goal in 45 games this season, which came against the Canucks on November 24.
Milestone and streak watch
- Sidney Crosby is on a two-game point streak (1-1—2); Evgeni Malkin has points in four straight (2-3—5).
Trivia answer: The four defenseman behind Letang in points against the Rangers are: the Islanders’ Zdeno Chara (39 points in 83 games), the Capitals’ John Carlson (34 in 46), the Devils’ P.K. Subban (24 in 37) and the Lightning’s Victor Hedman (21 in 32.)