The New York Rangers lead the Eastern Conference by nine points, but each game they do something even more impressive than the next. Against the Blue Jackets, the Rangers bounced back after a loss to the Blackhawks, with one of their stingiest defensive efforts. They'll need to carry that along when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins and all their firepower Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. EST at CONSOL Energy Center (MSG). The Rangers are 5-0-0 since the arena opened.
The Pens have the sixth best offense in the league, led by the NHL's leading point-getter, Evgeni Malkin. The center has 32 goals, second in the league, and 71 points, three above second place. He's lethal and without a concerted group effort, is hard to keep in check. The task for every team facing the Penguins is containing him. New York needs to be physical and take away his space on the ice -- goals easier said than done.
The Pens are 4-4-1 in February and are coming off a dispiriting 6-2 defeat by the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Not only are they chomping at the bit to get back to winning hockey, they're looking to do so against their Atlantic Division rivals. Pittsburgh has 71 points, 10 fewer than New York.
The key to the Rangers' success of late has been the play of their young contributors and their team defense/goaltending. Artem Anisimov has awoken in Februrary, with four of his 11 goals and seven of his 29 points coming this month. Derek Stepan has been steady as well with 12 goals and 38 points. Probably their most improved player this year, Michael Del Zotto has 32 points and a plus-28 rating. His offensive aptitude is off the charts, and his defensive game has grown drastically. The Rangers still need more from rumored trade bait, Brandon Dubinsky, who has only 25 points.
New York is 2-1 versus the Penguins this season, with the loss coming on home ice. The Rangers are 19-7-3 on the road, while Pittsburgh is 17-8-2 on the road. Expect this one to be an enjoyable, emotionally charged contest.