New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins finally face off for first time this season

rangers battle penguins
Mar 9, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson (28) and goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) defend the net against New York Rangers center Ryan Strome (16) during the third period at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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The New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins will finally face off for the first time this season. It’s taken almost five months of regular season play for these two division rivals to play a game, but thanks to their place in the standings the anticipation for this match is at a fever pitch.

So now the stage is set for a Saturday afternoon battle with the streaking Blueshirts visiting Pittsburgh trying to stay ahead of the Pens. New York is currently in second place in the Metro Division, up by just one point.

New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins set to battle

The Rangers posted a 4-1 win over Washington on Thursday, while the Penguins dropped a 6-1 decision to New Jersey. Those results allowed New York to leapfrog Pittsburgh into second place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Rangers come screaming into the game 5-0-1 in their past six games, with just nine non-shootout goals allowed during that stretch. The Penguins come slinking into the game on a three-game skid, matching their longest losing streak in regulation.

We try to say every game is a big game, but when we haven’t seen that many teams in our division, these are big games,” Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad said. “They’re huge.”

New York kept Alex Ovechkin in check, except for a late goal. The challenge now shifts to Sidney Crosby.

“Whoever gets the minutes against him, it’s a challenge because Sid still works both sides of the puck as good as anybody in the league,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “He plays a 200-foot game, and he’s not just a high-end skill player.” 

rangers penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Rangers focused on the playoffs

The game against Washington was one of 17 remaining within the Metropolitan Division through the end of the season for New York after playing just nine before that.

The Rangers face that schedule with a division title within reach, but they aren’t necessarily thinking quite that big yet.

For me, speaking personally, I just want to get in (the playoffs),” New York defenseman Adam Fox said. “You always hear that’s the most important thing. Once you’re in, there’s a lot of good teams in the league, and anything can really happen. You see teams beat teams that finished higher than them in the regular season.

“Obviously, you want to be able to play playoff games on home ice and have that advantage. At the same time, getting there is the most important thing.”

Realistically, it would take quite a collapse for the Rangers or the Penguins to miss the playoffs, given that there is a well-defined gap between the top four teams in the Metropolitan Division and the rest.

That won’t stop New York or Pittsburgh from being concerned, though, and the Penguins are at a point where concern is a big theme.

Penguins have lost three in a row

The Pittsburgh Penguins come into this matchup losing three straight and giving up an average of 4.6 goals per game.

“To a certain extent, the last few games, we beat ourselves in a lot of ways — a lot of different ways,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I don’t think it’s from a lack of effort. In certain areas, there are lapses in the game where we just (haven’t been) diligent.”

During its three-game losing streak, Pittsburgh has been outscored 14-5. No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry, arguably the team’s most valuable player this season, was pulled for the first time in the game against New Jersey, although his five goals against were also the product of the way his teammates played. At the same time, Pittsburgh got thwarted by a goaltender, Nico Daws, playing his fifth NHL game.

“There’s definitely frustration,” Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson said. “Our job is to win hockey games, and when you’re not doing it, it’s really frustrating. Everyone cares so much. I think there would be an issue if there wasn’t any frustration.”

Pittsburgh also has a division-heavy schedule remaining, with 15 Metropolitan matchups left.

“It starts with just winning battles and competing. Everything kind of seems to follow when you have those details,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to string some good periods together, and we haven’t a good job of that.”

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–Field Level Media contributed to this report

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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