The Rangers are in Pittsburgh where they will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this season (:3 P.M. EST, ABC).
|5th||NHL Standing Rank||6th|
After suffering an opening night 4-1 defeat to the Washington Capitals, the Rangers returned the favor and defeated the Capitals 4-1. The Blueshirts got goals from Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere, Chris Kreider, and Barclay Goodrow. The lone Capitals goal came from Alex Ovechkin with just over a minute left to break Igor Shesterkin’s shutout. Shesterkin made 36 saves en route to his 25th win on the season.
Lafreniere was the first star with one goal and one assist. He also finished as a plus-three and was not on the ice for a goal against.
“He’s getting better at it,” said head coach Gerard Gallant on Lafreniere’s transition to right-wing. “He feels better at it.” The former first overall pick has played left wing for his entire career and has been working on learning the game from the right-wing. Thursday night, the 20-year-old showed some confidence including a no-look pass to Zibanejad for the opening goal.
The Blueshirts will now play on National television for the second straight game as they play their divisional foe from Pittsburgh. Saturday afternoon’s meeting will be the first between the two sides this season. The Rangers are second in the Metro Division by one point and have two games in hand over third-place Pittsburgh.
The biggest question fans have entering the game is who Gallant will start in the net? Shesterkin has been on an absolute tear recently but it is important to give him some rest and this weekend provides the perfect opportunity. The Rangers play back-to-back starting Saturday in Pittsburgh and ending on Sunday night against Vancouver. Gallant has often favored Alex Georgiev in the road matchup of back-to-backs this season. The opponent also doesn’t seem to sway Gallant’s decision as Georgiev has often played against divisional opponents in similar scenarios. The Rangers are 0-7-1 against playoff teams without Shesterkin in the net. Whoever starts in Pittsburgh, expect the other to start against Vancouver.
Filip Chytil missed Thursday’s game due to being under the weather. Gallant mixed up three of the lines and he found success with a fourth line consisting of Ryan Reaves, Kevin Rooney, and Goodrow. The trio often found themselves on the ice against the Capitals’ big guns and they were up for the challenge. If Chytil is ready to return, the Blueshirts may opt to leave this line together and Chytil could join Morgan Barron and Julien Gauthier. Barron had a strong game against the Capitals and could have played his way into the lineup over Greg McKegg. McKegg has had a steady season and has often been favored by Gallant over younger players.
The Penguins enter this game struggling as of late as losers in their last three. To make matters worse, Pittsburgh has conceded 14 goals over the course of their three-game losing skid.
Leading the Penguins in points is Jake Guentzel with 52 points in 47 games. Their dynamic duo up the middle of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both averaging over a point-per-game as they have both missed some time this year. Perhaps going under the radar this season is Evan Rodrigues who is having a career season. Rodrigues currently has 34 points in 53 games. The former Boston University forward has already broken his previous career-high point total which was 29.
Currently out with injury is Jason Zucker who is week-to-week after underdoing core muscle surgery. Zucker hasn’t returned skating and isn’t expected back until some point in March.
With the Penguins also playing back-to-back, the Penguins will have a choice to make in the net. Tristan Jarry is having one of his best seasons to date. Jarry has a .919 save percentage and a 2.38 goals-against average to go with three shutouts. Jarry was an all-star for the Metro Division. If Jarry doesn’t get the start then the Penguins will go with Casey DeSmith.
What to Watch
The decisions made by the two coaches made before the game could dictate the type of game that may play out. If both coaches go with their starting goaltenders, then a low-scoring game could be in play. If each team’s backup goaltenders get the start, then this could be a high-scoring game between the two sides. Or if they mix and match their starting and backup goaltenders then the team who went with their starter could be slightly favored. Expect a close game between the two sides.
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