When: Tuesday, November 29, 7:30 p.m.
Opponent: vs. Pittsburgh (14-6-4)
TV: MSG, Versus
UPDATE: Henrik Lundvist will start again for New York. Defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Kris Letang are out for Pittsburgh. (5:22 p.m.)
UPDATE: Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net for Pittsburgh. (12:26 p.m.)
UPDATE: ESPN New York's Katie Strang reports that Marc Staal has begun skating on his own. Staal hasn't started skating with his teammates yet, but this is the best sign yet that Staal will play this season. (11:44 a.m.)
EARLIER: A week ago, skeptics of New York’s early season success could
point to a string of cupcake opponents that buoyed the Rangers during their
seven-game winning streak. But consecutive
victories over the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers - two consensus
Stanley Cup Contenders – this weekend forced many to start believing the
Rangers are for real.
The Blueshirts (6-1-1 at home) sit in sixth place in the
Eastern Conference, but that’s not indicative of the team’s true place in the
standings. With San Jose's loss last night there's not a team in the league that has picked up points at a rate equal to New York this season.
The Rangers’ next opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins (6-5-2
on the road), looms just five points ahead and currently leads the Eastern
New York has four games in hand on the Penguins, so it might
be fair to say that at the quarter mark the Rangers have kept pace and perhaps
outperformed the NHL’s current points leader.
Of course, that may change in a hurry now that Pittsburgh
has Sidney Crosby back in the lineup. The
Kid was concussed in early January 2011 and finally returned to action a week
Crosby scored in just his third shift against the New York
Islanders in his first game back and went on to tally two goals and two assists
in his season debut. Now four games into
his return, Crosby is settling in and has already racked up two goals and six
Pittsburgh was arguably the league’s best team before Crosby
returned, but the Penguins have gone 3-0-1 since their captain re-joined them
and right now it’s hard to argue that the Penguins are the early Cup favorite.
Folks around the hockey world have already begun to take
notice of the Blueshirts, but a victory over Crosby and the Penguins could
force many more to acknowledge that New York is indeed among the league’s
To accomplish that, New York must contain Crosby, Evgeni
Malkin and the rest of Pittsburgh’s sixth-ranked offense.
Shutting them down entirely may be an impossible task even
for Henrik Lundqvist and New York’s stalwart shutdown defensive pair of Dan
Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, which means that the Rangers will require a strong
Consistent offensive production has been New York’s biggest
bugaboo at the 20-game mark. The Rangers
exploded for six goals on Friday, but have managed just three goals in the
three games surrounding their shellacking of the Capitals.
The Blueshirts do have power play goals in consecutive games
for just the third time this season, so perhaps a timely man advantage goal
could be enough to swing the tide.
But though Pittsburgh is better known for its dynamic
offense, the Penguins aren’t handing out scoring chances to their
opponents. Marc-Andre Fleury has been
magnificent in the early going and is a key reason the Penguins rank eighth in
goals against and second on the penalty kill.
The Rangers have their work cut out for them and expecting
the team to sweep a three-game set against Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
may be unreasonable. But if the
Blueshirts want to be mentioned among the game’s elite, here’s their chance.
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