Pittsburgh Penguins Prepare to Face the New York Rangers – Do the Pens Have the Upper Hand?


The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to embark on a post-season journey that begins at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, April 16. With their late skid in the regular season, Pittsburgh found themselves fighting to stay alive in playoff contention, and squeaked in with the final wild card spot. That skid may have cost them an ideal first round matchup, and they now have to face the Presidents Trophy-winning New York Rangers.

The matchup between Pittsburgh and New York is an interesting one. And, it’s a testament to the fact of needing more than just analytics to measure success vs. failure in hockey. Based on numbers, Pittsburgh has the upper hand here.

Seems outlandish, right? Take a look below.

You’ll notice that the Pittsburgh Penguins are a better possession team by far. They’re also a superior shot suppression team, two extremely important stats in the playoffs.

Henrik Lundqvist and backup Cam Talbot have put together a pretty solid season. You’ll notice in the above chart that New York gives up a lot of shots, but has a very solid even-strength save percentage.

This is where the matchup tips in the Ranger’s direction. The Pittsburgh Penguins rank 19th in the league for shot percentage with a 7.42%. Also, consider that this percentage reflects Pittsburgh’s hot start to the season. Since the beginning of March the Penguins are shooting at a rate of 5.3%. That puts them 3rd worst in the league within that time frame.

The Rangers are shooting at 8.84% on the year, which is 3rd best in the league. Since March, they’ve stayed fairly steady at 8.1%.

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Based on their current roster, I believe that this is the biggest area of concern for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are struggling mightily to score goals, while the New York Rangers are scoring heaps of them. Considering Pittsburgh’s injury-depleted defense, they may need a series for the ages from Fleury, as he’ll be tested early and often.

Does that mean there’s little hope for Pittsburgh? Not necessarily.

The nice thing about the Rangers from an opponent’s standpoint is that they are top-heavy in goal scoring, similar to the Penguins. After their top two lines there is a considerable drop-off of offensive threats. Mike Johnston should seriously consider a line that features Nick Spaling and Daniel Winnik and match them up against Rick Nash as much as possible.

Secondly, the stars will have to shine for the Pittsburgh Penguins. As I mentioned previously, the Pens are also top-heavy when it comes to scoring. I’d like to think that they could step up their secondary scoring and get production out of guys like David Perron, Chris Kunitz, and Blake Comeau. But, I can’t be confident in that considering recent trends.

With all of that being said, I’m taking the Rangers in six games. I simply can’t bring myself to find enough confidence in this team given their play over the last three to four months. I am, however, hoping that they prove me wrong.

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