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Miller, Brassard look to stay hot against Hagelin and the Penguins

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers vs penguins game 1 faceoff 4-16

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

For the first time since the Rangers (30-18-5) eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins (27-18-7) in Game 5 of the opening round of the playoffs, these two bitter rivals will face off once again. Despite playing every other team in the Metropolitan Division, this is the first game between New York and Pittsburgh in this regular season.

The Rangers are currently riding a three game win streak, the first time they’ve won that many consecutive games since the middle of November. Things are starting to look up; more possession, more shots on goal, better defensive play, and less mistakes. That’s given the Rangers six wins in their last eight, and something to build off of.

The Penguins are also coming into tonight’s game playing extremely well. Under former Rangers assistant coach and now current head coach Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh has greatly improved their play, finding the right line combinations, scoring more and winning more. The Penguins have won six of their last seven games, outscoring opponents 23-14 in those games.

As stated earlier, this is the first game this season between the two teams. In last year’s playoff matchup, the Rangers won both games at the CONSOL Energy Center. This year, they’ve really struggled on the road, posting a 10-13-3 record away from Madison Square Garden. The Penguins have won their last six home games, and have not lost in regulation in Pittsburgh since December 19th, going 8-0-2 in that span.

Fortunately for the Rangers, they will not have to face Evgeni Malkin, who is out this week with an undisclosed injury. Unfortunately, they have to face Sidney Crosby at the worst possible time. After being held without a point in the first five games and scoring just once in 11 games, he’s been on fire. Crosby has scored goals in seven consecutive games, finding the back of the net 10 times. He has a point streak of 11 games, with 22 points (12-10-22) in those game. On top of that, he has seven points (3-4-7) in the last two games, and 12 points (7-5-12) in the last four games, giving him a grand total of 53 points (24-29-53) to become the team’s leading scorer.

The man who scored the overtime goal in Game 5 to beat the Penguins is now playing for them against his former team. Carl Hagelin was traded to Pittsburgh after a rough start in Anaheim, with just 12 points in the first 43 games, Hags has fit in perfectly into Pittsburgh’s lineup, and he’s totaled six points in nine games there, including his first goal in the last game. His speed could be a serious problem for the Rangers, and he’s a player to watch out for.

Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start as he continues his late-career resurgence. After some mediocre years, he turned things around last season, playing exceptionally well against the Rangers in the playoffs. This year he’s 21-12-5 along with a .920 save percentage and a 2.42 GAA.

Henrik Lundqvist has played a lot this season. Tonight will be his ninth straight start despite starting 21 of the last 22 games. The plan is to get Raanta more starts soon with six sets of back-to-backs coming up, but Lundqvist will likely be in tonight. He was fantastic on Monday against the Devils, making 27 saves on 28 shots, allowing two goals or less in each of his last three starts. Lundqvist is 26-14-4 with a .921 save percentage and a 2.37 GAA.

Surprisingly, the Rangers new-look top line has flourished in the absence of Rick Nash. JT Miller and Derick Brassard have most of the headlines, but even Jesper Fast has played extremely well, with five assists in the last four games. This line has combined for 20 points in the past five games, and will be counted on again tonight.

JT Miller can’t stop scoring. He found the back of the net again against the Devils, giving him nine goals in the last nine games, and a total of 17 this season. Derick Brassard has also been scoring more consistently, with nine points (3-6-9) in the past five games. In his career, he has 16 points in 14 regular season games against Pittsburgh, and dominated in the playoff series last year, scoring three goals and four points in the five games. His 40 points lead the team and he’s tied for the team lead in goals with 18.

Mats Zuccarello also has 18 goals this season, but has been a bit quiet in the goal department lately, scoring twice in the past 15 games. However, he’s quietly been playing very well lately, with four assists in the last three games. I have a feeling that he will play well tonight, so he’s my player to watch.

Keith Yandle led all Rangers in ice time against the Devils, skating for a total of 25:19. The team looked great and functioned well when he was on the ice. He has three points (1-2-3) in the past five games, and I think he’ll pick up another assist tonight. Especially since he’ll be playing a lot again.

Rick Nash will sit out again tonight, marking his seventh straight game he missed with a bone bruise, an injury that’s starting to look more and more serious despite no new updates. Ryan McDonagh also will sit out again with his concussion, so the defense will be the same.

The Rangers need to start scoring on the power play, as they currently sit in a 2-49 funk after going 0-5 against the Devils on Monday. Pittsburgh’s power play is 10th in the league (20%) so Vigneault needs to make sure that the penalty kill is effective.

The Rangers and the Penguins will face off at the CONSOL Energy Center at 8 PM. The game will be broadcasted on NBCSN.

EXPECTED LINES

JT Miller-Derick Brassard-Jesper Fast

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Oscar Lindberg-Kevin Hayes-Viktor Stalberg

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Daniel Paille

Keith Yandle-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Kevin Klein

Dan Boyle-Dylan McIlrath

Henrik Lundqvist

 

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Posted on February 10, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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