The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers will meet at Madison Square Garden for the second time in three days Wednesday, with the Penguins looking to bounce back after a 5-2 drubbing in Pittsburgh on Monday.
The Penguins took a 2-0 lead in the first period but succumbed to the league's best offense, as the Rangers scored four straight goals against goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and a fifth into an empty net. It's unlikely that Fleury will be in net Wednesday, as Matt Murray is clearly the better goaltender this season.
The transition has been an issue for Fleury, who has a .907 save percentage.
“Definitely different than what I've been used to,” Fleury said to TribLive.com. “It's a little bit of a different mindset going into games. It's the way it is. I've got to find ways to be ready, to be sharp and help my team win games.”
The Penguins have lost three of four and haven't been sharp of late, no matter who has been in net. Only two teams have allowed more shots per game this season than the Penguins, who are giving up an average of 33.4 through 19 games. Despite playing at a 107-point pace, the Penguins are a minus-1 in goal differential.
They started well against the Rangers, who enter Wednesday with a four-point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division, but were pummeled over the final 40 minutes.
“We know a lot about this team,” Rangers left winger J.T. Miller said of Pittsburgh. “We've played them so much over the last handful of years. We were just on our heels a little too much to start. We were a little too passive, and we were more aggressive after that. When we did that, we kind of forced them into more turnovers and got a couple more lucky bounces. We did a really good job of defending after that as well.”
The Rangers scored at least five goals in a game for the 10th time this season, by far the highest mark in the league. What made it particularly impressive was it came less than 24 hours after losing top center Mika Zibanejad to a broken fibula that will sideline him for the next six to eight weeks.
Despite playing at less than 100 percent and on no rest, the Rangers saved their best for the final 40 minutes.
“We're trying to play a fast-paced game and we're also trying to check quickly,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said to the New York Daily News. “I believe we saw that in the second and the third. It would've been easy for us on back-to-back nights to maybe not put out the way we were expected to, but not this group.”
Familiarity breeds contempt and there should be no shortage of it Wednesday. The Penguins and Rangers have met in the postseason the past three years, so even though this is the regular season, back-to-back contests between these teams is nothing new for anyone involved.
“You're looking at those games as good challenges, good matchups and obviously they mean a lot because it's within the division,” center Sidney Crosby told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You really expect to be at your best for those games, and you want to make sure you're playing the right way. Whether we lost or won (Monday), I think you go in with the same mindset here, maybe even a little more desperate, hopefully.”