Rangers getting taste of playoff intensity in miniseries against Penguins

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night will be the third time the New York Rangers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in one week. Playing one team three times in a week inevitably leads to tension, which was already present on Thursday night. The Rangers should expect it to be a tough game and prepare for a hungry Penguins team in order to build upon Thursday’s win.

Rangers Physicality and Attitude

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last Sunday saw a very physical game between these two teams. Hits were 45-44 in favor of Pittsburgh. On Thursday night, hits were 21-20 also in favor of Pittsburgh. While Thursday’s game had less hits, it was still an intense physical matchup.

After Tyler Motte accidentally caught Jeff Petry up high with an elbow, tension began to rise. Petry did not return, and Motte took a high hit from Pierre-Olivier Joseph later in the first period. Motte left the game following the hit but was able to return.

In the second period, Motte scored to put the Rangers up 2-1. The Rangers’ fourth line of Motte, Barclay Goodrow, and Jimmy Vesey has played well of late. This will be critical in the playoffs when a full team effort is required every night to make a statement.

The Rangers outshot the Penguins 12-7 in the first period on Thursday night and had multiple quality opportunities. Tristan Jarry kept the Penguins in that period despite the Rangers maintaining pressure. The Penguins outshot the Rangers 11-9 in the second and the teams each had 14 shots in the third. That pressure from the first period was not carried into the second. However, the Rangers came out strong again in the third. After Jake Guentzel scored to tie the game at two, Chris Kreider put the Rangers up 3-2 and later sealed the win with an empty net goal.

Thursday night was a successful response to Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins. Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals was also a solid recovery. The Penguins will now be looking to respond on Saturday, meaning the Rangers will need to bring the same no quit attitude.

Power play and defensive struggles

New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Currently, the Rangers are ninth in the NHL in power play percentage at 23.3%. While they may be in the top ten, they have not scored a power play goal against the Penguins this season. They were zero for three in their first meeting on December 20th, zero for two last Sunday, and zero for two on Thursday. Capitalizing on the power play would be helpful on Saturday to give the Rangers an extra boost against a Penguins team trying to prevent losing three straight, two to the Rangers.

The Rangers’ defense has improved of late following a period of difficulty that was especially evident during their four-game losing streak in February. Too often, more physicality was needed on the back end and the forwards were out of position in the defensive zone. Defense was certainly tighter on Thursday. One particular display of tenacity came when Braden Schneider went hard into the boards but was able to get up and all the way back to defend. It is likely the Penguins will come into Saturday’s game with a sense of urgency. The Rangers must prepare to help out their goaltender and defend against flurries of shots.

Playoff feel

With the Penguins trying to hold onto a wild card spot and the Rangers moving towards securing a playoff spot, both teams could use the points on Saturday. The tension from Thursday’s game may also bleed into Saturday. Both of these factors considered, the Rangers should expect a playoff-like feel to this game. They will have to build on their effort and physicality from Thursday and prepare for a tough match-up.

Note: All stats come from nhl.com

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