Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rangers at Penguins Pregame: Captain Returns

The Rangers will take the ice tomorrow coming off their most impressive game of the year, a 7-0 win against the Capitals, hoping that unlike previous huge momentum victories they can actually carry it over to the following game.  There will be lots of storylines in this one: Drury returns; first meeting since Crosby slew foot and Dubinsky calling him dirty; Crosby’s scoring streak certainly among the top ones.  Even with their loss to the Blue Jackets in their last road foray the Rangers bring a stellar 11-5 road mark to face the Pens who are 10-5-1 home mark and the fact the Rangers won their earlier trip to Pitt a month ago 3-2 in OT.  The Penguins did avenge that home loss by beating the Rangers in the Garden two weeks later 3-1, so this is a sort of early season rubber match.
Rangers (18-13-1) at Pittsburgh (21-9-2)
Key Opposing Player: Sidney Crosby (26-27-53)
Ruslan Fedotenko – Derek Stepan – Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky – Artem Anisimov – Ryan Callahan
Alex Frolov – Brian Boyle – Brandon Prust
Sean Avery – Chris Drury – Erik Christensen

Marc Staal – Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto – Michal Rozsival
Steve Eminger – Michael Sauer

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Scratches: Todd White (healthy), Matt Gilroy (healthy), Derek Boogaard (shoulder)

The Rangers enter the game coming off their best performance and getting back Chris Drury after his 29 game absence with his busted finger, so all seems to be headed in the right direction.  Normally this is the moment where as a Rangers follower you would get really nervous because this is where the team would kick itself in the face, but this team has a different type of personality to it, so maybe that will not be the case and they will show that in this one.

In re-introducing Drury back into the lineup he is going to start the game on the team’s fourth line and obviously do his share of penalty killing.  Coach John Tortorella has decided to leave his top three lines the same as they have been the previous few games as each of the lines has had differing amounts of results, but all have seemed to work well together.  The line that has picked their game up the most has been the line that carried the team earlier in the year Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan.  All three had struggled to varying degrees over the last stretch but have been much better the last few outings and they are critical to this team’s success.  Anisimov is the one who struggled the most, particularly on the offensive side, where he was just not engaging enough, but has been much better the last two games.  That line is likely to draw the assignment of being the forward line opposite Malkin and Crosby, so their defensively responsible play will be important, but the best way to shut the Penguins top guns down is bang them around in their own end.

On defense they will need another complete performance like they had against the Caps where all six played anywhere from good to excellent overall.  There were still a few lapses and against a team like Pittsburgh with their talent level you need to limit those as much as possible.  Marc Staal and Dan Girardi will likely be paired to draw the assignment of shutting down Crosby and they will need a performance similar to what they put on against Ovechkin and the Capitals on Sunday.  Staal has been even more of a workhorse than normal of late playing at least 25 minutes in each of the last six games.

In the net I would assume the King will play and he will have to play the same way he did the last time the Rangers visited the Penguins when he stole the game.  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 are not coming off their first loss after a 12 game winning streak and will be looking to get back on track in this one.  Crosby is now on a personal 19 game point scoring streak, while Malkin might have gotten going in the game against the Flyers scoring the teams only two goals on the evening.  Chris Kunitz availability is an unknown at this point and he has been a very big part of their recent run, so I am sure they would love to have him back after missing the game against Philly.  If their forwards were not enough always have to worry about Letang, Goligoski and Martin offensively and Orpik on the defensive side.  The loss against Philly was Marc-Andre Fleury’s first loss after 11 straight wins, but he is beatable as his obsession with playing the puck gets him in some trouble and the Rangers forecheck will look to take advantage of that.

Prediction: Penguins win 3-2