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Rangers begin grueling stretch against the Penguins: Jesper Fast a game-time decision

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers vs penguins game 1 netfront scramble 4-16

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

After a fantastic February where the Rangers (37-20-6) posted a 10-3-1 record and tied the franchise record for wins in February, they begin the month of March with a grueling three game stretch against Division Rivals, starting with the Pittsburgh Penguins (32-22-8) at the CONSOL Energy Center.

This three game stretch starts out against the Penguins, immediately followed by a road game against the Capitals on Friday night. The Blueshirts will get a day off before they take on the Islanders at MSG. Considering all three teams are in the playoffs, and the Penguins and Islanders are not that far behind in the standings, it’s a very important stretch for the Rangers.

The Rangers come into this game playing very well, winning three in a row, five of the last six, and 10 of the last 13 games. On top of that, they added Eric Staal to their forward group without giving up any roster players, making them an even more versatile and dangerous team. This will be Staal’s first taste of the Ranger rivalry games, and he’ll be leaned on heavily.

This is the second of four games between the Rangers and Penguins this season, and the teams will play three times in the next 24 days. Back on February 10th, New York shut out the Penguins in Pittsburgh 3-0, fueled by the play of the bottom six and Henrik Lundqvist’s 34 saves. The Rangers have won three of the last four regular season games at the CONSOL Energy Center, and four straight playoff games there.

The Penguins will go with Marc-Andre Fleury in net for the game tonight as he looks to build on his success as of late. He’s won two straight and four of the last five games, including allowing just one goal in the last two games on 58 shots against. Fleury is 26-14-6 with a .922 save percentage and a 2.34 GAA.

The Rangers traded Carl Hagelin to the Western Conference, not expecting to face him that often each season. But after struggling with the Anaheim Ducks, he was traded back to the Metropolitan Division, and now plays on the rival Penguins. Hags has been much more effective donning the black and gold, tallying 11 point (3-8-11) in 18 games, with four points (2-2-4) in the last five games. He’s struggling a bit with consistency, but his style of play fits perfectly alongside guys like Crosby and Malkin.

After dealing with some very serious injuries over the past few years, it’s really nice to see Kris Letang enjoy a mostly healthy season, playing in 52 of the team’s 62 games this season. He’s one of the best offensive and two way defenseman in the league, and he’s third on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 48 points. He’s been playing extremely well since December 31st, scoring 32 points in his last 25 games and eight (2-6-8) in his last seven games.

After getting Monday night off in favor of Antti Raanta, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the Rangers tonight a day after his 34th birthday. Hank has allowed two goals or fewer in 17 of his last 24 starts, including 15 of his last 20 appearances. In those games, he’s 14-5-1 with a 1.93 GAA and a .931 save percentage, as well as two shutouts. He’s allowed two goals or less in eight of the last 10 starts, including one goal or fewer in five of the last eight games (8-2-0, 1.69 GAA, .939 SV%, 2 SO). Lundqvist also leads the NHL in even strength save percentage (.941).

Derek Stepan may be the most underappreciated Ranger considering all he does for the team and how much better they are with him in the lineup. Stepan has recorded nine points (5-4-9) in the last 10 games, and the Rangers are 21-2-2 in games where he scores a point.

After getting a full practice in as well as participating in the morning skate today, I think Eric Staal will be much more effective and comfortable tonight. Playing his first game in a new uniform on Monday without a practice, with everything else that is involved in a big move, his first game had to have been stressful, and he still played pretty well. Staal has a great skillset that will really help the Rangers moving forward. He will center a line with Oscar Lindberg and Kevin Hayes, and I have a feeling he will score a goal tonight.

Around the trade deadline, all the talk surrounding the Rangers was about Eric Staal. However, they made a big decision in choosing not to trade Keith Yandle, one of the premier puck-moving defensemen in the NHL. Instead of trading him for assets, Jeff Gorton decided to go “all-in” and keep Yandle, who also really wanted to stay here. Yandle has seven points in the last 10 games and has been playing his best over the past month or so, excelling in the absence of Ryan McDonagh. He leads the team with 31 assists and is third on the team in scoring with 35 points. He is the first Rangers defenseman since Brian Leetch in 2000-01 to record 30 assists and 20 even-strength assists.

As for the lineup, Jesper Fast was initially expected to miss the game today and not travel to Pittsburgh. But he did travel and took part in the morning skate. It seems more likely that he will play, but if he isn’t good to go, expect an emergency call-up from Hartford.

The Rangers and the Penguins will face off at the CONSOL Energy Center at 7 PM. The game will be broadcasted on MSG Network.

EXPECTED LINEUP

JT Miller-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Viktor Stalberg

Oscar Lindberg-Eric Staal-Kevin Hayes

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle-Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on March 3, 2016, in Game Recaps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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