Both the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to extend their respective winning streaks to three games when the two Atlantic Division rivals collide at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday for the premiere matchup of the night (7:30 p.m. EST, MSG/Versus). The Blueshirts are in the midst of a 9-2-0 run, while the Pens had a stretch when they reeled off five victories in a row but have been back and forth with wins for the month of November.
Against a formidable team like Pittsburgh, which is sitting atop the NHL leaderboard with a 14-6-4 record and 32 points, New York has an early-season chance to show they belong in the discussion with the top-tier teams in the league. The Rangers, who have played four less games and have five less points, have lost two games in November and would like to end the month on a high note at a place that has been very kind to them. New York is 6-1-1 at home, and Pittsburgh has had similar dominance, thus they're a near-.500 team on the road (6-5-2)
Sidney Crosby has played four of 24 games this season for the Penguins, which makes their early success that much more impressive and makes them much more dangerous now -- as a 3-0-1 record would show He already has two goals and eight points. Winger James Neal leads the team with 13 goals and 23 points, while defenseman Kris Letang leads the team with 16 assists. They're a team that can strike from anywhere in the lineup, and one that has both puck-moving defensemen and shutdown ones. There's a reason this squad is considered a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup, and the Rangers have a chance to prove that they should be mentioned in the same breath as well.
The Rangers' success over the past two games can be attributed to four, balanced lines creating offense, and a higher energy level than they had in the previous two losses. It's nice to have your secondary players fill in the holes, but games against elite teams require contributions from your own superstars. Marian Gaborik has had a great year -- leading the team in goals (10) and points (17) -- but he has just one goal in the last six games. At some point, your money player has to step up and this would be an opportune time to do it. Brad Richards (eight goals, 16 points) has four points in his last five games, but these are the games that you earn your paycheck in and it would be huge for New York if this was a game that he earned his money's worth in. Henrik Lundqvist (2.05 goals-against average, .935 save percentage) also is not forgotten in a game like this against a team with so many weapons.
The Rangers will not be able to "out-skill" the Penguins, so they're going to have to continue their heavy forechecking/hitting/cycling style, and not be afraid to throw bodies around to make the Penguins more uncomfortable. On paper at least, this figures to be one of the better duels to date. The Blueshirts were 4-1-1 against the Pens last season.