New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins Series Preview
By Jordan Laroche
It’s been 1,820 days since the New York Rangers have played a playoff game, and in that time they’ve gone through two head coaches, a quick rebuild, two lottery picks and franchise icon, Henrik Lundqvist, retiring. Rangers fans have been waiting patiently as this team looks poised to be a cup contender for the next few years. The core of this team is still young and it will be exciting to see them grow and develop through the playoffs.
And in the other corner, we have the Pittsburgh Penguins who will be no light opponent for this Rangers team. Built around two of the biggest names in Hockey, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have won two Stanley Cups in the last decade and bring a lot of playoff experience to this series. On paper this is a very close matchup, both teams have brilliant offenses with two of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season going head-to-head.
There is only one player on the Rangers who was around the last time this team was in the playoffs, Chris Kreider. He finished third in the NHL in goals with 52 smashing his career high 28 goals which he got in 2018-2019 and 2016-2017. The Rangers have a strong top-six group that can compete with anyone in the league, in addition to Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, the Rangers made two key additions to the group by adding Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp at the trade deadline.
Copp has turned his season around since joining the Rangers, he had 35 points in 56 games with the Winnipeg Jets, but since joining the Rangers he has been producing at over a point per game. With 18 points in 16 games, Copp has flourished on the wing with two adept playmakers in Ryan Strome and Panarin. The Rangers had a hard time finding a permanent solution to the second line wing trying out a revolving door of players. Copp adds a bit of grit to this line, while being able to generate his own offense, however if you’re in the right spot with Panarin on your line, life can be very easy.
Vatrano is a nice complimentary piece to the top line that also struggled to find a permanent right winger. Vatrano has also stepped up his production going from 19 points in 40 games with the Florida Panthers, to 13 points in 22 games with the Rangers. Another speedy player gives Zibanejad plenty of room to make plays and show off his cannon of a shot.
The Rangers are scoring 3.09 goals per game with a 162.4 xGF on 5v5, while being second in the league for goals against per game with a 2.52, only trailing the Carolina Hurricanes. A quarter of the Rangers goals this season have come on the powerplay, (55) in a series against the Penguins who are 5th in goals against per game, the Rangers will need to produce more on 5v5.
The Penguins seem to have a timeless core group as they always seem to find a way to win Hockey games. Much of this Penguins team has changed since winning back-to-back cups in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 but with Crosby at the helm anything is possible.
Tristan Jarry has been the story for the Penguins all season. After a disappointing playoffs last year (.888SV% 2.42GAA) and a first round exit, Jarry surprised everyone being one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season. However, a recent injury will keep him sidelined for the start of the series and Pittsburgh will go with Casey DeSmith for game one. In 26 games this season DeSmith has put up a respectable 2.79GAA .914SV%, at first glance this isn’t a big drop off from Jarry, Desmith’s last starting role was with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in which he had a 2.92GAA .905SV%.
Ultimately, with Tristan Jarry out for the start of the series gives the Rangers a great chance to get an early lead in the series as DeSmith has been shaky at times this season. I think the Rangers will take this series in 6.