Record and head-to-head
Head to head: The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers split their regular season matchup. Both teams were 2-1-1 against each other. Both teams had a shootout win and a shootout loss. The other two games were convincing wins, one for each team.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are well documented as the team who lost more man games than any other club in the NHL this season (524). Despite these injuries the Penguins were still able to finish the regular season on top of the Metropolitan Division with 109 points. The second place team behind them was the New York Rangers with 96 points.
This is an interesting matchup because it pits one of the league’s best possession teams during the 2nd half of the regular season (NYR ~54%) against one of the more mediocre possession teams from the 2nd half of the season (PIT ~48%).
On the surface this looks like a mismatch that greatly favors the Rangers. While the Rangers should certainly be viewed as the better possession team it is also worth noting that the Penguins might be entering the 2nd round of the playoffs as the healthiest they have been all season. The addition of Marcel Goc has allowed Dan Bylsma to use Crosby and Malkin together at even strength. Brandon Sutter has slid up to center the 2nd line with Neal and Jokinen, while Goc has held down the 3rd line with
Bennett and Stempniak. This has benefited the Penguins possession game. The Penguins are currently the 2nd best Fenclose% team in the playoffs at 57.7%.
The Rangers finished Round 1 with an impressive Fenclose% of 55.2%.
Penguins: 22.9 (5th)
Rangers: -5.1 (19th)
It’s no secret here that the Penguins have the more dynamic scoring options. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz all put up their share of points to help lead the Penguins offense. The Penguins are the more dynamic offensive team but they are also extremely top heavy. What the Rangers lack in top end talent they make up for with their depth. The Rangers will come in waves and it is less likely they get caught with players on the ice who are an extreme liability like Tanner Glass and Craig Adams.
Penguins 10.3: (10th)
Rangers: 11.7 (8th)
As mentioned above the New York Rangers are a quality possession team, this stems from the depth of their roster. By having the puck so often it limits the opponent’s ability to mount an attack.
The Rangers Ryan McDonagh has rightfully joined the class of top end defenders in the NHL. He is more than capable of taking on a heavy duty assignment covering either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, this is something that not every team has the luxury of having.
The Penguins are not great in their own zone and will need to rely on having the puck as their best means of defense. A recent injury to Brooks Orpik has opened the door for Kris Letang to play with Paul Martin. This has had an immediate positive impact on Letang who was previously struggling, I call this the Paul Martin effect. The Penguins top 4 defense now includes Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Matt Niskanen, and Olli Maatta. All are quality puck moving players that can facilitate clean zone exits and controlled zone entries. A perfect recipe for a team with high end forwards.
Penguins: 0.7 (16th)
Rangers: 14.2 (5th)
Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies on the planet. Consistency is the name of his game. In the past 3 years in the regular season only Boston’s Tuukka Rask (.938) has a higher EVSV% than King Henrik (.932%). Meanwhile Penguins goaltender Marc Andre Fleury has a rather pedestrian EVSV% of .919% during that same time frame.
Marc Andre Fleury has shown once again this year that he is capable of a big gaffe in a big spot, but he has also shown the ability to play well at even strength this postseason (.948%). Only Lundqvist’s (.957%) and Rask’s (.966%) have been better.
The goaltending matchup clearly favors New York but if Fleury avoids the glaring mistakes he has shown to be serviceable this season.
Penguins: Power play – 23.4% (T-1st) – penalty kill – 85.0 (5th)
Rangers: Power play – 18.2 (15th) – penalty kill – 85.3 (3rd)
Key Match-up: Sidney Crosby vs????????
What forward on the Rangers is going to frustrate Crosby to no end? Who is going to play the Brandon Dubinsky role for the Rangers? Will Dan Bylsma ever be forced to reunite Crosby and Malkin at even strength to get the Penguins offense going again? If the Sidney Crosby line starts to produce and Bylsma can leave Malkin with Neal and Jokinen, this helps the Penguins forward depth out a ton. If the top 2 lines are productive and the bottom 2 can tread water for Pittsburgh that is bad news for the Rangers.
Key Stat 10.3%
This is the success rate of the Rangers power play so far in the playoffs this year. The Penguins penalty kill has been a real weakness since the Olympic break and one that can be exposed. The Flyers would have most certainly taken advantage of this weakness, will the Rangers?
Prediction: Penguins in seven
Ryan Wilson writes for Hockeybuzz.com and HockeyHurts.com follow him @gunnerstaal on Twitter