It’s five games and counting until the playoffs begin as the Rangers host the Penguins tonight at The Garden.
It’s the fourth of five meetings between the clubs, with the final game of the regular season for both teams on the docket a week from Sunday at The Garden. Both teams have qualified for the postseason, with the seeding and opponent yet to be determined.
A year ago, the Rangers met a healthy Pittsburgh squad three times team down the stretch and lost them all. It sure became a precursor of what was to occur as the Blueshirts were eliminated in five games by Pittsburgh in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Staying healthy has been the issue this season for Pittsburgh as they have accumulated 243-man games lost due to injury. They will play without five of their top players tonight due to injury. Despite the injury issues, the Pens have been one of the NHL’s top teams largely due to the MVP-type season from Sidney Crosby. The Penguins captain sets the standard for this banged-up, but still dangerous, opponent.
Alain Vigneault is looking for his team to play a full 60-minute game, taking it one shift at a time and playing the right way. It is very hard to disagree with the head coach’s assessment since his team’s play has been inconsistent for some time now. This is the time of the season when teams need to be closer to the top of their game. The Blueshirts have five regular season games left to figure it out.
3 KEYS TO RANGERS-PENGUINS
1. Limit D-Zone Time
Recently, the longer the Rangers have played in their own end the more trouble they’ve gotten themselves into. Rather than regroup, a chase for the puck seems to prevail. Rarely do good things happen when you chase the puck in your own end for a long period of time.
2. Neutral Zone Speed
The Rangers’ team speed comes off the wings. That speed is led by Michael Grabner and Chris Kreider, but by no means is the speed specific to just those two players. Advancing the puck through the neutral zone into that speed backs off defenders and creates chances.
3. Work PIT D
The Penguins will be without their top-three defenders in Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley. The Rangers must get the puck deep and force a less-mobile set of defensemen to move to defend.
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