Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pregame: Rangers Look For Third Straight Over Marching Penguins 11/29/2010

In doing some site reviews I have come to the conclusion that between other stories on the site and all the other blogs with pregame thoughts that the pregame stories I have been doing have not been getting read.  In an effort to fix that issue on days when the Rangers have the day off before the game I am going to preview the following night’s game the night before.  So now let’s look at the matchup with the Penguins tomorrow at MSG.

Rangers (14-10-1) at Pittsburgh (15-8-2)
Key Opposing Player: Sidney Crosby (18-22-40)

The Rangers enter the game coming off two straight wins to end their three game trip and will return home to play the Penguins.  It is a very similar scenario to the last time they were going into a matchup with the Pens in that the Rangers had won two in a row and were looking now to prove they could do it against a higher quality opponent.  In the last meeting the Rangers had probably their biggest character game of the year as they overcame numerous bad calls and going from up 1-0 to down 2-1 in a matter of moments late in the game to force OT and win it in the extra action.  The key to that game was Henrik Lundqvist who stood on his head and stole the outcome making 37 saves, many of the spectacular variety.  On the offensive side of the game for the Rangers Brandon Dubinsky was the man as he created both goals with tremendous plays and passes setting up Marc Staal for the tying SHG and Ryan Callahan for the OT winner. As big as that win was it will mean nothing once they drop the puck to start this game.

The Rangers as I said have won two in a row to close their road trip, but the level at which they played will not cut it against the Penguins.  As of now there is no word on if Marian Gaborik will be back in the lineup, and the Rangers certainly could use him, but regardless the Rangers have shown this year they have to play a certain style to win.  When this team does not get in on the forecheck, cycle the puck and play physically they generate little to no offensive threats.  Brandon Dubinsky is going to have to play with that mentality he brought to the game at the end against the Pens where he just refused to let them lose and that they could not stop him.  When he plays with that mentality he can be an elite player, but he does not always have that mindset especially if Gaborik is in the lineup.  I expect Sean Avery to do some things in this one as he has played with more energy the last couple of games, I just worry that because these are the Penguins and they get every possible call that because he is Avery the Rangers will get twice as many calls against them.

On defense they will have to be much better than the 70 shots they have given up the last two nights because the offensive skill they are facing will be light years better.  Depending on how the Penguins set their lines the defense pairings will change for the Rangers.  When Malkin and Crosby are out there together you will see Marc Staal and Dan Girardi against them.  When they aren’t together the pairs will be split likely with Staal and Rozsival as one pair and I would think Eminger and Girardi as the other.  I cannot in good conscience think they stick Michael Del Zotto on the ice against either a Crosby or a Malkin line on purpose. 

In the net the King will have to remain on top his game as Henrik Lundqvist the last two has been tremendous and he will have to be that version, the same version he was against the Pens the last time if the Rangers will get the two points.  The key difference I see in Henrik the last two games is that he is staying taller in the net and it is allowing him to obviously cover more of it and be less susceptible to deflections.  Obviously rebound control will be critical against a team like Pittsburgh who loves to throw anything and everything at the net.

On the Penguin side of the ledger they have not lost a game since the Rangers beat them in OT, two weeks ago now, winning six straight and have not lost in regulation in their last nine outings (8-0-1).  The biggest turnaround for the Pens has been the reemergence of Marc-Andre Fleury who has stopped 227 of 241 shots for a .941 SV% in his last eight games while sporting a 1.74 GAA.  Crosby is also red hot with a 12 game point scoring streak, racking up 25 points; 12 goals and 13 assists.  Brooks Orpik is the unsung key to the Penguins as he shuts down the oppositions best offensive player and if Gaborik does go he will have a shadow in number 44.

To me this is a key game for the Rangers because while the record looks great at 14-10-1 they have not played well against the better teams in the league and really need to win this type of game to prove something.  A negative stat is the Rangers are 5-6-1 at home while the Pens have been an excellent 8-3-1 on the road.  To be a playoff team you have to beat good teams and you have to win at home and this night will provide the Rangers the chance for both

Prediction: Penguins win 3-2

*I will list lineups tomorrow once they are announced.