Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (39-16-10, 88 points, 2nd place Metropolitan Division) @ New York Rangers (40-19-5, 85 points, 3rd place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, MSG+ in the NYC area, NHL Network in non-local areas in America, an alphabet variety across Canada (SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS)
Opponent Track: The Rangers have been seemingly raising or lowering their game to the competition in their last four games (2-2-0). They have lost to non-playoff teams NYI and NJD (7-4 in their previous game on Tuesday). Yet last weekend the Rangers won both ends of a dual road back-to-back against very strong opponents in Tampa (2-1) on Friday and against Carolina (2-0) last Saturday. Since March 8th, NYR is only 4-4-0 in their last eight games.
Pens Path Ahead: Pittsburgh’s yo-yo schedule continues with a game on Sunday at the weird 5:00pm start time at PPG Paints Arena against the Detroit Red Wings. Then the Pens/Rangers have another go at in on Tuesday, in Pittsburgh.
Hidden Stat: Our pals at Pens PR brings us this: the Penguins are 9-3-2 in their last 14 games in Madison Square Garden, dating back to Mar. 13, 2016.
Season Series: As mentioned above, this next few days will see PIT/NYR Game #2 (tonight) and Game #3 (Tuesday Mar. 29) of the regular season, with the scheduled finale on April 7th back in Manhattan. Pittsburgh took the first game, a 1-0 home win about a month ago on Feb. 26th. Evgeni Malkin scored a third period power play goal as the game’s only flashing red light for either team on that day. Tristan Jarry stopped all 27 shots he saw in to record a shutout.
SBN Counterpart Blog: Check out Blueshirt Banter for the latest news and notes about those Blueshirts.
—Igor Shesterkin has only been pulled from games for performance three times this season, and two of those instances have been in the last two weeks (Mar 10 vs St. Louis and last game against NJD). After the Pens game on 2/26 (where he stopped 25/26 in the loss), Shesterkin is 5-3-0, with a .913 save% and 3.01 GAA which is a little more human than his early season start.
—Andrew Copp sure dove into his first game nicely with the Blueshirts, recording a pair of assists in his debut on Tuesday after being traded on Monday.
—So uhh, Alexis Lafreniere, huh? The former first overall pick hasn’t made a tremendous sophomore season leap this year. In calendar 2022 he does have 13 points (6G+7A) in 30 games after recording just nine points in the 32 games played in 2021 this season. He’s still very young, having just turned 20 last October, but the bar is set so high for the top picks that it feels like he hasn’t gotten to the expected level of play just yet.
Thursday Practice Lines
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanjed - Frank Vatrano
Artemi Panarin - Ryan Strome - Andrew Copp
Alexis Lafreniere - Filip Chytil - Barclay Goodrow
Tyler Motte - Johnny Brodzinski - Dryden Hunt
Ryan Lindgren/ Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller / Jacob Trouba
Patrik Nemeth/ Justin Braun
Goalies: Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev
Scratches: Julien Gauthier, Greg McKegg, Ryan Reaves, Braden Schneider, Libor Hajek
IR: Kaapo Kakko, Sammy Blais, Kevin Rooney
—Goodbye trade deadline and the 23-player maximum limit. With all the additions made, the Rangers are now boasting a thick lineup and still well under the overall salary cap due to the savings banked earlier in the season. That deadline added what should be two top-six forwards and two other depth players in a nice haul to help round out their depth.
—It’ll be interesting to see if the Rangers throw Shesterkin right back out there after getting pulled last game to try and get on track, or if they give Georgiev the start instead. Georgiev is only .895 save% with a 3.22 GAA in the last month, but he did just make a 44-save shutout of Carolina on Sunday.
Advanced stats matchup
Excelling on power plays, penalty kill and goaltending have been the keys to success for the Rangers, who have struggled at the 5v5 process (but also gotten bailed out by goaltending). Up front the hope will have to be players like Copp, Vatrano and Kakko when he returns from injury will add to keeping the puck out of their end and putting more pressure on the opposition.
If this does end up being a first round series, the styles clash already writes itself as such an intriguing matchup. Can the Pens find their finishing touch (against the best goalie this season)? Can the Rangers register enough offense?
And now for the Pens..
Wednesday Night Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Evan Rodrigues - Jeff Carter - Kasperi Kapanen
Brian Boyle - Teddy Blueger - Radim Zohorna
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Chad Ruhwedel
Goalies: Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Brock McGinn (week-to-week, upper body)
IR: Jason Zucker (week-to-week, core surgery), Nathan Beaulieu
—The Pens did not practice yesterday as they traveled to NYC.
—The Rakell placement has been fun to watch, with him kicking around the first line a bit last game. It always seems like when a player is acquired and even the team says they were brought in with the idea of being a “Crosby winger” (like Neal, Iginla, Kessel, Kapanen), they don’t always end up there for one reason or another. Rakell was thought to be a Malkin winger, but is his future with the first line? The Pens have enough time in the next 17 games in the regular season to figure out how and where they want utilize the new player.
The Big 2
As frequent divisional foes, Crosby and Malkin have really put a hurting on the Rangers over the years. The Pens PR department broke down all the scoring:
Sidney Crosby has historically been successful against the New York Rangers. In 76 career games versus the Rangers, Crosby has registered 36 goals, 61 assists and 97 points. Crosby’s points-per-game average (1.28) against the Rangers is tied for ninth-best in NHL history (min. 25 GP), and no active player has more points versus New York than him:
Player GP PTS
Sidney Crosby 76 97
Evgeni Malkin 65 66
Alex Ovechkin 68 64
Claude Giroux 65 58
Nicklas Backstrom 58 49
Milestone and streak watch
Pack a lunch, we got ourselves a long one today…
- Evgeni Malkin is two goals away from tying Jaromir Jagr (439) for third place on the Penguins’ all-time scoring leaderboard.
- After a career-long six game point-less streak, Malkin has gone the other way now with goals in three straight games, and obviously is now working on a three-game point streak (3G+1A).
- Malkin has 695 career assists, with one more he will tie Sergei Fedorov for the most NHL assists ever for a Russian player.
- Since Malkin entered the NHL (2006-07), the Pens have won 40+ games in a season 13 times. Today, they sit at 39 wins looking to get to 14. Next highest in the league in this time is San Jose (12).
- With two points against Buffalo, Sidney Crosby tied Brett Hull for 24th place in the NHL’s all-time scoring sheet (1,391 points). Next up on Sid’s list is Luc Robitaille (1,394).
- Crosby is riding a current three game multi-point streak with 3G+4A in his last three games.
- Crosby is also now four points away from extending his NHL record “most consecutive seasons with at least a point/games played rate”, which he has accomplished in all of his 16 seasons to date.
- That impending 17th career point/game season will tie Crosby with Gordie Howe for second all-time in NHL history. Wayne Gretzky is first at 19. Not bad company to be in for the modern day .
- Evan Rodrigues will play in career game #300 tonight.
- Per the Pens PR department, how about this nugget: Jake Guentzel (152) is one goal shy of tying Joe Mullen (153) for the second-most goals among an American-born Penguin players. (Still has a ways to go to get to first place Kevin Stevens, 260 goals).
- Kris Letang (635) is one point away from tying Rick Kehoe for fifth place in the franchise’s all-time scoring list.