What You Need To Know, Round 2: Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. New York Rangers
Pittsburgh: The Penguins managed to secure victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets by using their depth, their defense, and strong play on the puck. The Penguins had a tough time getting everything going against the very tight checking Blue Jackets, but still managed to control the puck at a 60% corsi and shake up the lines enough to avoid the preferred match ups of Columbus.
All of this plays in well against the Rangers. Pittsburgh will not have to focus exclusively on the forward match ups, mostly because New York’s shut down play Boyle has not had great success against Crosby. Pittsburgh has been able to use five different lines, comprised mostly of top six forwards, to break up the shut down lines. Consequently, this gives Pittsburgh a more pliable lineup, one that will not succumb to the burdening pressure of shut down matchups.
Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, and Matt Niskanen have been very good for the Penguins and pushed the offense in round one. Their unique blend of puck control, speed, and shooting ability has allowed the forwards to force the pressure down low, opening up scoring chances from the point.
New York: The Rangers had a good first round against the Flyers and proved that they are a much smoother transition team than in years past. Despite not having huge production from top players, the Rangers managed to outlast a deep Flyers club, thanks in large part to strong depth at forward in their own right.
This forward depth is led by the small in size, but not in determination, Matts Zuccarello. His line has been a catalyst for the Rangers big wins against the Flyers, using his speed and tenacity to get into the dirty areas and open up scoring lanes.
The Rangers best D-tandem is easily Girardi/McDonagh, but it was the Staal/Stralman pairing that had success against the Flyers. These two pairings will have to key exclusively on the top two lines of the Penguins if the Rangers want to advance.
Pittsburgh: James Neal had over 20 shots in round one, but had just a single goal to show for it. His play was lacking in speed, physicality, and intellect. Neal was slow to win races to 50-50 pucks and only had a handful of high percentage scoring chances.
Consequently, he was removed from the first power play. If Neal wants to make his mark, he is going to have to play in the dirty areas and create his own chances. If the Penguins best true sniper can get going, it would help take pressure of Crosby and Malkin to produce.
James Neal has to come on strong in this series for more reasons than one. If he continues to disappoint, Neal could find himself on the trading block in the offseason. His value is at its peak and if Pittsburgh is looking for better depth, Neal is the perfect piece to move.
New York: Marty St. Louis was a late addition to the Rangers and showed he still had plenty left in the tank against the Flyers. His speed and awareness of the puck makes his line a possession nightmare for the opposition. While many would select Richards or Nash here, I believe that St. Louis is the player to stop, therefore, he is the player to get his team going.
Someone needs to spark Nash and that player is St. Louis. His elite playmaking ability drives defenses mad. Pittsburgh has had its fair share of success against Marty in the past, but not to the point where the defense will remain comfortable.
St. Louis is also a good special team’s player for the Rangers. His all around abilities make him difficult to stop and if he can get going at the elite level we have grown accustomed to, the Rangers will have a good chance of taking this series.
*I thought of going with Dominic Moore here, similar reasoning to why I picked Dubinsky in round one, but I think New York will need to be on the offensive in this series if they want to win.
Pittsburgh: With Paul Martin, Kris Letang, and Matt Niskanen playing strong hockey, the x-factor for the Penguins on D comes down to Robert Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo is currently filling in for the injured Brooks Orpik. The tall, strong defender has a knack for big hits in big moments and is difficult to beat along the boards.
Bortuzzo is not going to be an offensive threat for the Penguins, but that is not why he is brought in. With the Rangers rolling four strong lines in the playoffs, Pittsburgh needs to have three strong defensive pairs. Thus, Bortuzzo needs to have another strong series.
In his two games against Columbus, Bortuzzo didn’t average a lot of ice time, but he still managed zero goals against. The Penguins really need him to be at his best as long as Orpik is out of the lineup. If Bortuzzo can get some more time on the penalty kill to lessen the load on the top pairings, then the Penguins can expect success in this series.
New York: Ryan McDonagh is the obvious choice here and I cannot stray from that. He is a do it all defender who played 25 minutes a night for the Rangers. He had great success against the Flyers top line and produced offensively as well.
McDonagh has the speed to help neutralize a match up with Crosby and the tenacity to take on a more physical match up with Malkin. McDonagh started to slow down towards the end of the Flyers series though and needs to get going again in round two. The Rangers might not depend exclusively on his pairing, but the Rangers need McDonagh to be the best defensemen on the ice in this series if they want to move on to round 3.
Goaltending: This one is almost too easy. King Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best netminders in the game today. He is the New York Rangers best player and will have to be once again in round two. The edge certainly goes to New York here.
For Marc-Andre Fleury though, he just has to perform at an average level. His .950 even strength save percentage in round one was great, but his play on the penalty kill left a lot to be desired. If Fleury can play within himself and limit his big mistakes, then his team will have a good chance of moving on.
Special Teams: This advantage goes to Pittsburgh and in a pretty strong way. The Penguins power play is clicking at over 20%, while the Rangers power play is barely over 10%. The Penguins also have the better penalty kill in this series, but only by a 3% differential.
The key here will be shorthanded goals. Pittsburgh had two shorties in round one and had one other breakaway goal that was scored just seconds after the power play ended. The Rangers did not score a shorthanded goal, but they also did not allow one; whereas the Penguins allowed three shorthanded goals.
The edge goes to Pittsburgh.
Prediction: I found that the Rangers and Penguins match up well at even strength, with the edge slightly going to Pittsburgh because of their top players’ skill level. The goaltending falls into the hands of the Rangers. The Defenses are relatively even in their effectiveness, with the Rangers having the slightest of edges.
The Penguins, being able to win without superb production from the top lines in round one, are a better team than the Rangers. Pittsburgh in 6
I also have my predictions for round two: Hawks in 5, Ducks in 7, and Canadiens in 7