Rangers Face Challenges Ahead in the Metro

The New York Rangers will continue to fight in the Metropolitan Divison to stay ahead in the standings, but a recent loss to the New Jersey Devils highlighted the importance of Friday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Every point will be crucial from here, and division rivals won’t make these games a breeze for the Blueshirts, either.

The team came off a stinging 7-4 road loss to the Devils Tuesday night. The Rangers managed a 2-0 lead going into the second period before letting up five unanswered goals. A loss to the Devils was unexpected after big wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes over the weekend.

The shutout win versus the Hurricanes, thanks to backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, resulted in a crucial two-point jump for the Blueshirts. Yet, the Devils thwarted any lead the Rangers might have gained within the division. Though the Penguins were not an immediate threat in the standings for New York, the two clubs are currently battling for sole ownership of the second-place spot.

Alexandar Georgiev New York Rangers
Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers have faced New Jersey three times, including the recent loss, their only one of the series thus far. One of the Rangers’ victories occurred in the shootout back on Nov. 14, and one in a 3-1 regulation win on March 4. Their last matchup will be in early April.

Last Match in Pittsburgh

The Rangers will host the Pens in a re-match on Friday after a 1-0 loss on the road in their last meeting, a goaltender showdown between Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry and Igor Shesterkin. The only goal was an Evgeni Malkin power-play marker in the third period.

The first meeting of the 2021-22 season for the two was a nail-biter. Just from the eye test, it was an aggressive, physical, playoff-style game that previewed what an actual postseason series between the two would look like – the numbers back it up too. The Rangers were credited with 27 shots, 43 hits, and won most of the faceoffs, with a 54.2 percent success rate. The Blueshirts kept their game pretty tight overall and only coughed up five giveaways while the Pens allowed nine.

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The defense played wonderfully in front of Shesterkin, allowing fewer shots on net, which made his job a little easier. Young defensemen Braden Schneider and K’Andre Miller looked exceptional and played key roles to block shots and reliably broke up passes between the Pittsburgh teammates. When facing offensive powerhouses like Sidney Crosby, Jack Guentzel, and Malkin, it helps to have the defense chip in.

Much of the success for the Blueshirts this season comes from their special teams. Both power play and penalty kill units have been excellent, and at times, the team relies on these situations to get their wins. However, their special team’s units were not enough to stop the pesky Penguins. Both teams had ample opportunities on the power play, and although the Blueshirts were able to stave the Pens off, they were not able to capitalize.

On occasion, the Rangers have a tendency to put forth an inconsistent effort. At times, the team comes out of the gate slowly. This was not the case in Pittsburgh as the team looked determined. The team will need to come out playing with the same intensity as the previous game, if they do not, the Penguins will exploit that, as the Rangers saw firsthand.

Due to the formatting of the 2020-21 COVID season, scheduling, team, and travel alterations forced the two teams to meet eight times rather than the typical four times a season. The Penguins won six of those games, and the Rangers’ two wins did not come easy.

A Look Ahead

While the Rangers made a big splash at the trade deadline, the Penguins made one headline move: the acquisition of Rickard Rakell. Shutting down the speedy forward will be another task on the Rangers’ already lengthy to-do list on Friday when he makes his debut.

Rickard Rakell Pittsburgh Penguins
Rickard Rakell, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Thankfully for the Rangers, newly acquired forward Andrew Copp can provide help on the penalty kill and bolster their faceoff strength, an extra effort that could help the Rangers leave with a different result. The points earned from wins, especially against their fellow division rivals will prove to be the difference as the regular season winds down.

Related: Rangers Gain Roster Flexibility Through Trade Deadline Moves

With the team coming off a loss that should have been a win, this may provide the extra edge they need to win. Yet the Penguins are in the same situation. Last night, they fell to the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout and will use the game against the Rangers to get back on a winning streak. Just three points separate Pittsburgh from New York in the Metropolitan currently.

Guentzel leads his team in goals (31) while defenseman Kris Letang leads in assists (46), and Crosby leads in points (66). Chris Kreider leads the Rangers with 42 goals, while Artemi Panarin leads in assists (57) and points (73). Expect both Shesterkin, who owns a league-leading .936 save percentage (SV%), and Jarry (.923 SV%) to start.

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