It is a mental battle with bigger implications between the Pittsburgh Penguins (39-16-10) and New York Rangers (40-19-5) as much as it is a single game battle for points to establish second place in the Metro Division. On Wednesday, the Penguins earned a point despite a lackluster performance against the Buffalo Sabres. The point put the Penguins three points ahead of New York.
The teams face off at Madison Square Garden Friday night. The puck drops just after 7 p.m.
New York trails but three points but has one game in hand on the Penguins.
“Of course (it means a little more). They’re one of the top teams in the league, and now they’re playing really well. (It is) potentially a first-round matchup and home-ice advantage is important,” Kris Letang said. “I’m pretty sure it will be a pretty good atmosphere, especially at MSG and a lot of emotion probably.”
The Penguins have five wins in their last seven games and points in six. On Tuesday, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang scored against Buffalo. Rickard Rakell played his second game with the Penguins without a point but played several shifts on the top line with Sidney Crosby as head coach Mike Sullivan experimented with the Penguins lines.
Rakell played the left wing beside Jeff Carter, then right wing beside Crosby.
Friday morning, Rakell skated on Evgeni Malkin’s left.
New York lost big to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, 7-4. Jack Hughes scored two, and P.K. Subban also scored. New York has been trading sideways over their last eight games, 4-4-0. Af the trade deadline on Monday, New York acquired Flyers defenseman Justin Braun, Winnipeg middle-six forwards Andrew Copp and gambled on depth forwards Frank Vatrano and Tyler Motte.
Tonight will be the Rangers’ second game since acquiring the haul at the trade deadline.
Like the Penguins, the Rangers prefer a speed game with skill. However, the Rangers are more of a perimeter team than the Penguins. However, goalie Igor Shesterkin is a Vezina Trophy favorite. Even when New York gives up scoring chances, Shesterkin keeps his team in the game.
The Penguins will put No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry in net. Shesterkin will go for the Rangers. Sheterkin still has a .936 save percentage. Jarry outdueled Shesterkin, and the Penguins won 1-0 in the teams’ last meeting on Feb. 26.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Line
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Rickard Rakell||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jason Zucker||Jeff Carter||Danton Heinen|
|Brock McGinn||Teddy Blueger||Evan Rodrigues|
|Mike Matheson||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Mark Friedman||Chad Ruhwedel|
Expected Rangers Lines, per PuckPedia.com:
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
*The Penguins have points in 14 of their last 16 games versus New York (11-2-3) and is 15-4-3 in their last 22 games versus the Rangers.
*The Penguins are 9-3-2 in their last 14 games in New York, dating back to Mar. 13, 2016.
*Eight of the Penguins’ next nine games will come against opponents in a playoff position, including three matchups with the Rangers in the next seven games.
*Since the All-Star Break (Feb. 7), no defenseman has more takeaways than Kris Letang (21).
*Since 2006-07, the Penguins are the only club to record a 40-win season on 13 separate occasions and are on the brink of their 14th such campaign. In that time, no team has more wins than the Penguins (721).
*Sidney Crosby has multiple points in three straight games and six times in the last 10 games.
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T Sportsnet, NHL Network; Radio: 105.9 The X