Pittsburgh Penguins Welcome Rival Rangers

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Feb 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62) sktes with the puck against New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62) sktes with the puck against New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Tonight the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers meet for the second time this season. The Penguins often struggle against the Rangers but need every point they can get.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers clash for the second of four times this season tonight, as the boys in blue visit Pittsburgh. The last time these two teams met, the Rangers blanked the Pens 3-0.

Both lineups look a little different this time, though. Evgeni Malkin didn’t play in their last game, but he’s healthy and ready to go this time around. Additionally, the Rangers added forward Eric Staal at the trade deadline.

Since Malkin’s return to the Pittsburgh lineup, the Penguins have had an offensive explosion and have played tighter games. With his linemates Phil Kessel and former Ranger Carl Hagelin, Malkin has made an impact in every game since coming back.

In case you need reminding, he took advantage of defensive mix-ups and forced a turnover, scoring this beauty against the league-leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday. If he could manage a repeat of that against the Rangers’ lagging defense, it would surely be welcome.

Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Dan Boyle have not been having their best years; though Boyle is the oldest, all three defensemen have often fallen behind attacking forwards, botched their coverage, and generally not helped out their all-star goalie Henrik Lundqvist very much.

Marc, however, may be motivated to improve his play now that his brother is on the roster. Eric, formerly captain of the Carolina Hurricanes, had been in Raleigh since the start of his career; former Penguin Jordan Staal requested a trade years ago to go play with his brother there. Now, Jordan is alone in Carolina and Eric is now Marc’s teammate.

Eric’s play in Carolina hadn’t been his best this season, perhaps overshadowed by the constant rumblings of contracts and trades. Look for him to pick up that play in New York, now likely looking to land a solid contract at the end of the season.

The Penguins have not been able to solve the Rangers in recent years, falling to them multiple times in the playoffs and struggling against Metropolitan Division rivals as a whole. Right now, the Rangers sit in the second Metropolitan playoff spot, with 80 points.

Related Story: 3 Things the Penguins need to make the Playoffs

The Penguins are precariously perched in the second wildcard position, with 72 points. Every game is important for them to win, but particularly ones against division rivals. The New York Islanders sit in the third Metropolitan spot, with 75 points, and can be caught by the Penguins.

New addition Justin Schultz is unlikely to be in the lineup tonight, and is getting work on the penalty kill in the morning skate. He’s rotating on the third defensive pairing with Ian Cole and Derrick Pouliot. It will remain to see where exactly he fits in.

Head coach Mike Sullivan wants to wait to play Schultz until he gets an actual practice in with the team, allowing him to get a sense of the system and “put him in the best place to succeed.”

Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to get the start tonight, and will probably square off against Lundqvist.

For the Penguins to get a win, they’ll need to play physically and match the Rangers’ hard hits. They’ll also need to use their speed and take advantage of the defensive lapses. The Pens have the 2nd toughest remaining schedule in the league, so a must-win mindset is also critical.