Tuesday, April 14, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Sizing Up The Penguins


Tex's Rangers Set All-Time Franchise Record
with 53 Victories and 113 Points
(53-22-7; 113 Points)
President's Trophy Winners
Metropolitan Division Champions

NEW YORK RANGERS: Alain Vigneault does not like sending messages, however, he might have to make a preemptive strike this series.

The Rangers rather manhandled the Penguins this season, to the tune of a 3-0-1 record.

The Penguins were not the team we've been accustomed to; clearly.  Pittsburgh finished 4th in the Metropolitan Division with a 43-27-12 record, just barely good enough for 8th in the Eastern Conference ahead of Boston.  They, like the Islanders, sputtered in the second half of the season.

Off-season personnel changes altered the make-up of this team, and perhaps not necessarily for the better.  They're also beset by injuries, most notably on defense, and specifically to Kris Latang.

Despite still being led by Sidney Crosby and Ivgeni Malkin, the Pens offense only ranked 19th in the NHL.  Brandon Sutter upped his offense, and Patric Hornqvist additionally stepped in to fill the scoring void left behind by James Neal and Jussi Jokinen.  However, Crosby's production was down considerably as well as that of Chris Kunitz' from last season, and Malkin has had trouble staying on the ice with consistency.

Otherwise, Pittsburgh boasted the league's 10th best defense at even strength, and were even better on the penalty kill - 3rd best.  Their power play rated 10th best.

Those numbers may mean little against the Rangers.

There's a strong case to be made for the Pens potentially winning at least one more Cup during the Sidney Crosby/Marc Andre Fleury era.  Deserved or not, there isn't a starting goalie I've held a lesser opinion of over that time.  In 62 starts this season Fleury posted a 34-20-9 record with a .920 SV% and a 2.32 GAA.  In his playoff career, he owns a 52-40 record with an inflated 2.68 SV% and a reduced .905 GAA.

Marc Andre Fleury is by far, the #1 reason why I believe the Rangers will take this series in five games.  

You know what I always say: once is an event, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a trend.

The Capitals were the most recent to do it; the Devils did it; the Blue Jackets did it too.  And, don't think I forgot about the hit Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien put to the back of J.T. Miller's neck.  I can count off every incident over the last two seasons.

Of course, I'm talking about cheap shots.

In their attempts to chase down the faster Rangers, Pittsburgh can ill afford to have any of their remaining healthy blue liners spending time in the box for stupid penalties.  As noted, Latang is already out of the playoffs (with concussion symptoms).  Therefore, I say the Rangers better have their heads on a swivel, and keep an eye on forward Steve Downie.  Despite registering one his more productive seasons, Downie should not factor into the scoring much, if at all, which makes him the perfect person to instigate, and take runs at Rangers players.

Tanner Glass will be looking on with eyes wide open, I'm sure.  I'm also sure he is looking forward to being quite physical with his former team.  Alain Vigneault does not like sending messages.   However, he might have to make a preemptive strike this series (if the situation call for such action) and afford Glass some extra ice-time for the sake of keeping his own players healthy.  Downie averaged 12:26 minutes per game; Glass 10:15 minutes.


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