NHL Preview from The Sports Network|
Friday, January 3rd
(All times Eastern)
New York Rangers (20-19-2) at Pittsburgh Penguins (29-12-1), 7 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Rangers have seemed to turn the corner
lately with wins in four of their last five games. Another victory in Friday's
road game against the Pittsburgh Penguins would go a long way towards
confirming that notion.
The Rangers went 4-1-0 over their last five games in the month of December
after suffering through a poor 2-5-2 start to the month. New York also is
2-1-0 so far on a five-game road trip, but the real test comes in tonight's
battle against the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins at CONSOL Energy
With 59 points, Pittsburgh is tops in the Metropolitan Division and is 17
points in front of the division-rival Rangers. The Penguins and Rangers have
split two meetings in New York City this season, but Pittsburgh has taken nine
of 11 overall in the series and four straight matchups on its home ice.
The Pens also are one of the best home teams in the NHL this season, going
17-3-0 so far in the Steel City. New York, meanwhile, has a solid 12-9-0 road
The Rangers last played on Tuesday in Florida and won that New Year's Eve game
over the Panthers in a shootout. Dan Girardi scored the tying goal late in
regulation, and Brad Richards won it with the lone goal in the shootout, as
New York rallied past Florida, 2-1, at BB&T Center.
Henrik Lundqvist made 21 stops in regulation and three more in the game's
final segment for New York. It was the second straight win for Lundqvist, who
had struggled to a 1-4-2 record during a seven-start stretch from Dec. 7-20.
"He was big for us tonight," said Girardi of Lundqvist. "He made the big saves
when he had to. When we needed him he was there, and that's why we've got him
back there. He's a pretty big clutch player for us."
Lundqvist expects to get the call in net again on Friday. He is 24-18-7 with a
2.40 goals against average in 49 career games -- all starts -- against the
In addition to fighting their less-than-stellar recent history against the
Pens, the Rangers may have to contend with a healthier Pittsburgh team
tonight. Both star forward Evgeni Malkin and top defenseman Kris Letang could
make their returns for the Penguins in Friday's divisional clash. Malkin has
missed the last eight games with a lower-body injury, while Letang has sat out
nine in a row due to an elbow injury that required minor surgery.
Both players practiced on Thursday and are considered questionable for
Malkin has 41 points (9 goals, 32 assists) in 32 games this season, while
Letang has notched six goals and five assists in just 24 games on the blue
Considering their top-billing status in the East and Metro Division, the
injuries to Malkin and Letang hasn't hurt the stacked Penguins all that much
in the standings. However, one or both of the players could have made a
difference in Tuesday's 2-1 road loss against the New Jersey Devils.
Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder both scored and picked up an assist on the
other's goal to lead the Devils to the close regulation win over Pittsburgh.
The win improved New Jersey's home record against the Penguins since the start
of the 2008-09 season to 13-3-0.
Marc-Andre Fleury turned away 28 shots for Pittsburgh, which suffered just its
third loss in its last 17 games. Matt Niskanen scored the lone goal in the
"They got an early goal, we had a turnover that they put in our net and got
the lead," noted Pens head coach Dan Bylsma. "For the most part that was how
the game went all night long. We couldn't get more than a goal. You're not
going to win many against this team when you do that."
Friday's tilt is the first of two straight on home ice for the Pens, who will
host Winnipeg in their next games on Sunday.
01/03 10:37:47 ET