What to Watch For: Pens vs. Rangers
Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 8:30 PM / Features
By Brooks Bratten
PENGUINS (1-0-0) vs. RANGERS (0-1-0)
WHEN: January 20, 2013 - 7:00 pm | WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS | LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM
The New York Rangers gave up some quality pieces to land an even bigger one this past July. The Rick Nash saga ended on Broadway, as the Blueshirts acquired the scoring winger from Columbus in exchange for forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, defenseman Tim Erixon and a first-round draft pick. The reigning Atlantic Division Champions are looking to build on a 109-point performance in 2011-12 and hope that the acquisition of Nash will take them to the next level.
During training camp, Nash slotted in on the right wing next to playmaking center Brad Richards (with young speedster Carl Hagelin completing the line). Nash never had an elite center during his nine seasons in Columbus and still scored at least 30 goals in seven of those campaigns, reaching 40 twice. It's intriguing to think of what he's capable of working with an elite talent like Richards. Certainly the most important offseason transaction for the Rangers was landing Nash, but he wasn’t the only player movement in the Big Apple. Gritty winger Brandon Prust got a large raise in Montreal, while forwards Ruslan Fedotenko and John Mitchell also moved on. Also gone are defensemen Jeff Woywitka and John Scott.
General manager Glen Sather did as much as he could to replace those that departed, by signing forwards Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, Micheal Haley and former Penguin Arron Asham. Pyatt had nine goals and 19 points through 73 contests last season in Phoenix. He has been playing with big-bodied center Brian Boyle and talented sophomore Chris Kreider. A veteran center, Halpern no longer produces as many points, but is excellent on faceoffs and could be key in winning draws for the Rangers.
Goal-scoring winger Marian Gaborik led the team with 41 markers last season. Gaborik, 30, registered 76 points total, skating in all 82 games for the Rangers. The Slovakian native will continue to put up good numbers, and may feel less pressure with the addition of Nash. Captain Ryan Callahan will also be looked upon to provide offense for the Blueshirts on a line with Gaborik in addition to bringing a physical presence.
Michael Del Zotto is the biggest offensive threat on the back end in New York, while Marc Staal plays a solid, shutdown role. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh round out the top four on a reliable defensive corps for the Rangers.
One of the best in the league at his position, Henrik Lundqvist returns for his eighth season in New York. The Swedish netminder has won 35 or more games in each of the past six seasons, and is looking to continue that pace after coming off of a Vezina Trophy-winning campaign in 2011-12.
RANGERS: RICK NASH
Skating outside of Columbus for the first time in his 10-year career, Nash will be under intense scrutiny in the pressure-packed New York market. The two-time 40-goal-scorer has seen his point totals decline in three straight seasons, even though he has remained healthy throughout most of his career. Nash won’t necessarily be expected to carry the team on his back, but the pressure to perform on a winning club is something that the 30-year-old hasn’t yet experienced in the NHL.
PENGUINS: BRANDON SUTTER
Sutter was thoroughly impressive in his first game as a Penguin. The center absolutely dominated in the faceoff circle at crucial times on Saturday in Philadelphia. In the first period, he cleanly won a draw back in the offensive zone on a power play to set up the Penguins' first goal in their 3-1 win. But where Sutter perhaps shined the most was in his defensive zone, as he was responsible and aware of where he needed to be and what his assignment was at all times. However, he's also showed that he has some speed and skill moving around defenders, so look for him to make an impact all over the ice.
Veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun gets the call tonight in his first start as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Vokoun comes to the Penguins from the Washington Capitals, where he posted a 25-17-2 record – his ninth-straight season notching 20 or more wins. This will be Vokoun’s first start since March 29, 2011 against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden, when he left the game early due to a groin injury.
Vokoun, who has ranked in the top five in the NHL in save percentage five of the previous seven years, owns a 10-7-2 career record against the NY Rangers. In his last four starts against New York, Vokoun has posted a 3-1 record while allowing just five goals overall. In those four games, Vokoun has posted a 1.26 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each bring scoring streaks into tonight’s game against the Rangers. Crosby has an overall 13-game point streak against New York that dates back to Jan. 28, 2009. In those 13 games, Crosby has average two points per game with 26 points (10G-16A).
The Penguins have posted an overall record of 9-2-2 against the Rangers during Crosby’s streak. Crosby also brings a six-game point streak at Madison Square Garden into tonight. Crosby has 11 points (2G-9A) in those six games. Malkin has a four-game goal/point streak against the Rangers. Malkin has tallied multiple points in three of those four games and has seven points overall (5G-2A).
D Michael Sauer, concussion
Author: Brooks Bratten