The Penguins enter their next back to back off the season against the New York Rangers this evening. Pittsburgh comes into the contest with uneven results and a 2-2 record while the 1-2 Rangers come to Pittsburgh with an improved and healthy roster when compared to last season.
Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad lead the charge, but the Rangers now have Alex Lafreniere and a healthy Chris Kreider back in the lineup. They are a team not to be taken lightly even if they are still a little bit off from being a true contender in the division. Make no mistake though, the Rangers are on the rise while the Penguins are trying really hard to prevent their descent from being a playoff lock. Also, Jack Johnson makes his return to Pittsburgh and will look to help the team for the first time since the 2017-18 season tonight.
Things are going to be a lot more difficult than they were last week for the Penguins. They are without numerous defenders. Marcus Pettersson, Juuso Riikola, and Mike Matheson are all going to miss a chunk of time with injuries. This is paving the way for rookie Pierre-Olivier Joseph to make his NHL debut tonight. This also clears the way for Cody Ceci’s return to the lineup which will force John Marino to play on his off side.
I’m going to be honest I think a lot of adjusting to a new environment stuff is way overblown. Hockey isn’t *that* complicated. This isn’t like a player in football moving to a different team and learning a new playbook. There are only so many forechecks and defensive zone systems in hockey and when you’re 27 years old with 497 NHL games under your belt you’ve seen them all.
I have said the Penguins need to focus on bringing in another forward to help with scoring depth, but the injuries to the defense might change those plans. This would be an unfortunate turn of events as the Penguins have limited assets to work with. Will it have an impact on Jack Roslovic rumors?
Here is what the Penguins lineup looks like tonight based on yesterday’s line rushes
The forward lineup is as “healthy” as it has been all year. Kasperi Kapanen showed off his speed and shooting in his Penguins debut on the fourth line the other night. He will now be playing with the top line. Conditioning may have been an issue for Kapanen, and understandably so, but I felt like Mike Sullivan should have been more creative with his deployment of Kapanen against the Capitals. He played ten minutes of good hockey and led the team in CF% at 82.35 at 5v5. He should have been utilized with the top line. Sullivan is so rigid with his in game management of lines and I think it is a weakness and has held the team back in big spots over the past few years. I think the ten minutes was an appropriate amount of time due to it being the first game back. Those ten minutes could have been with a higher quality of teammate. Show some flexibility and some creativity, coach. At the very least Kapanen will get his opportunity tonight.
The Penguins goaltending has been garbage so far this year. The Penguins have yet to hit a .900 save percentage in any game. The Penguins are dead last in 5v5 save percentage at .824 among the 31 teams. They are also dead last in all-situations save percentage at .813. Tristan Jarry will get the start tonight and I think it is the right call. He deserved to be benched after the subpar start. DeSmith may have won both games he played, but he wasn’t good either. Time to let Jarry attempt to bounce back and regain the starting role. The good news is the Penguins have two wins despite getting 31st ranked goaltending. They could easily be 0-4.
Tonight is a great opportunity for Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Jason Zucker to come out of 5v5 goal scoring hibernation. The bottom six has held up their end of the bargain and it is time of the bigger names to step up and score a 5v5 goal. Only good ol’ reliable Sidney Crosby has a 5v5 goal among the players you would consider top six and he has one.
Here’s a look at the Rangers roster for tonight.
There are some new faces on here and a couple of them don’t have a large enough sample to be included in the WAR calculations. Even if they did have a larger sample Lafreniere and Di Guiseppe wouldn’t push things enough to be on the same level as the Penguins forward unit. Although, the Pararin-Strome-Buchnevich line is as strong as any on the two teams. Panarin of course being the driving force. He could have easily been the Hart Trophy winner last year, but some voters hold GM decisions against players if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.
We of course have the return of Jack Johnson. He will be paired with Tony DeAngelo and they make up what might be the most dunked on duo on Twitter. The other night the Penguins put together a tribute video for Justin Schultz. No idea what one for Johnson would look like. At least if there is one the crowd will be more favorable tonight than it might have been otherwise.
Here is a look at how the two teams fare league wide
Thanks for reading!