RANGERS RECORD: 3-3-0; PENGUINS RECORD: 3-3-0
THEME: Rally around cally
PLUS: Michael Del Zotto has been instrumental in the Rangers last two wins. The 22-year-old blueliner has four points (two goals, two assists) and a handsome plus-five rating.
MINUS: Mental mistakes hurt; especially too many men on the ice penalties in each of the last two games. Enemy power plays exploited each with goals.
EVEN: After a shaky start to the season Henrik Lundqvist has regained his Vezina Trophy form.
CHALLENGE: Pitt has won five straight games against New York, dating back to last season. The Blueshirts' will need a complete game against a team seeking to rebound from a 4-1 loss to the Islanders in Pittsburgh. Extending the winning streak to three will be a test of the Rangers ability to prevail without captain Ryan Callahan in the lineup.
THREE KEYS TO STOPPING THE PENGUINS:
1. GOALTENDING: All signs indicate that Lundqvist will make his seventh consecutive start. In the Blueshirts home opener he was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 shots. The King had' better be on his game.
2. PUCK POSSESSION: In the first four games the Rangers were forced to defend rather than attack because they didn't have the puck. Against a skilled Pitt lineup, the Blueshirts must own as much of the rubber as possible.
3. REPLACING RYAN: With Callahan out, other players will have to step up and we know that this is the classic hockey cliche.
THREE MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
1. PENGUINS POWER PLAY VS. RANGERS PENALTY KILL: Pitt's man advantage arithmetic is a solid 22 percent. Rangers penalty kill is middle of the pack 80 percent efficient.
2. RANGERS TOP DEFENSIVE PAIRS VS. PITT'S TOP CENTERS: We're back to the obvious STOP CROSBY! STOP MALKIN! signs. Last time Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi were on Malkin and Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal faced Sid. From here it appears to balance out but we'll find out soon enough.
3. JAMES NEAL vs. MARIAN GABORICK: Each wingman scored forty goals last year and they've shown no regression symptoms so far. Gaborik has five goals in six games and Neal four in six. Don't be surprised to see a bust-out from either end.
MAVEN'S RAVIN': The microscope is on each team for different reasons. Pitt was projected to have a Cup-winning team this year but so far has looked just average; putrid against the Islanders. The Rangers last two wins were against suffering sextets. Beating Pitt would certify this club as ready even without Captain Callahan!