So much for that hot start. The Penguins are 3-3-0 after going 1-3-0 in their last four contests and face the New York Rangers, a club which has won three of its last four, for the second time at Madison Square Garden Thursday.
Pittsburgh has scored just six goals in the four games since planting six on the Rangers earlier this month. The Rangers, meanwhile, will play for the first time without their captain, Ryan Callahan, who is out with an apparent shoulder injury.
For Pittsburgh, the key to getting off the schneide is to rediscover the ugly parts of their game. The Penguins have been hesitant with the puck and shown no physicality in the last week, and teams are taking the game to the Pens as a result. Pittsburgh was aggressive and physical against a very big Rangers team in their first match and earned a 6-3 win for their effort.
The teams are tied at 3-3-0 and share the third spot in the Atlantic Division, and tonight’s match will help to separate the Atlantic pack. Pittsburgh is 2-1-0 within the division while the Rangers are 1-2-0.
Last season, Pittsburgh beat the Rangers four times in six contests and have won each of the last five match-ups dating back to last year. The Pens chased goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in the midst of their 6-3 win, the first time in two years the Vezina Trophy winner had been lifted from a game. Since the loss to Pittsburgh, Lundqvist has gone 3-1 with 8 goals against.
Tomas Vokoun, meanwhile, will get his second start against the Rangers and third of the season after spelling Fleury for the third period of the miserable Islanders game Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Vokoun held the Rangers to three goals on 34 shots and is 1-1-0 with a 2.59 GAA this season.
Elsewhere, Chris Kunitz is a go after sitting out practice with an illness and the Penguins have moved Matt Niskanen to injured reserve to make room for new waiver acquisition Zach Boychuk, formerly of Carolina.
Slew ran an email exchange with Neil Keefe of Keefe to the City about the Penguins, Rangers and the business of their match-up Thursday, linked below.
Vokoun won’t be the only change in the Penguins lineup. Robert Bortuzzo will also get his first action of the season on the blue line. Bortuzzo, 23, has played 233 games with Wilkes-Barre Scranton as well as 6 games with the Penguins last season. At 6’4″, 215, Bortuzzo is immediately the rangiest player on the Penguins blue line, right there with fellow youngster Simon Despres (6’4″, 214).
The Penguins haven’t announced whose place he will take in the lineup, although it would be unconscionable that Simon Despres would be the one to sit after his strong game against the Islanders Tuesday. Ben Lovejoy has struggled all season and is a liability on the blue line. Perhaps Bortuzzo’s defense-first game would better complement Deryk Engelland on the third pairing.
Jesse Marshall of Faceoff-Factor spared a few words on Bortuzzo, who has been one of Pittsburgh’s top defensive prospects for some time.
He’s a defensive defenseman with some serious jam. If you don’t notice him, he’s doing his job. He’s not a bad skater for his size and he isn’t afraid to use his body or drop the gloves. Really just a quiet, effective guy that uses his long reach in a no-nonsense kind of way.
Pittsburgh has been hesitant to let their young guys make an impact, a move that has seen players like Nick Johnson and Brian Strait find success in other NHL cities. Perhaps Bortuzzo will be able to leave an impression as Despres did against the Islanders and, if nothing else, create a little unrest in Pittsburgh’s too-comfortable depth chart.
Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Jeffrey – Malkin – Neal
Kennedy – Sutter – Cooke
Glass – Vitale – Adams
Orpik – Martin
Letang – Despres
Bortuzzo – Engelland/Lovejoy
Match-Up to Watch
The Sutter line versus Richards-Nash-Gaborik. It’ll be tough for Bylsma to match lines with the Rangers holding last change, but expect Brandon Sutter to match the Rangers’ first line as much as possible, especially with Callahan on the shelf. The Rangers’ big line has come alive since the last time these teams met, and while the Penguins have surrendered 14 goals in their last four games, Sutter has been on the ice for exactly zero even-strength goals against this season.
Pittsburgh is shuffling, but their current run seems to suggest that they’ll play well against the Rangers. Pittsburgh’s three losses this season have comes to teams which didn’t qualify for the playoffs a year ago, while their three wins came against playoff clubs in New York, Philadelphia and Ottawa.
Could it be time for a youth movement in Pittsburgh? Will Bortuzzo join Despres in making an impression on the line-up? Might Boychuk make an impact when he gets his first start, presumably Satruday?
Some fresh blood might be exactly what the stale line-up needs.