by John Toperzer
“There’s something about the greatest venue on earth,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday, referring to Madison Square Garden’s slogan while paying homage to it.
NBC Sports Network will cover Wednesday’s game as part of its rivalry package — and the game actually is a rivalry, moreso than last week’s Pens-Bruins matchup.
Pittsburgh and New York have gotten off to distinctly different starts in the newly-minted Metropolitan Division. The Penguins have won 11 of 15 games, slowing down long enough only for a three-game losing streak two weeks ago.
The Rangers (6-8), meanwhile, started the season on a nine-game road trip, posting a 3-6 mark, as Madison Square Garden underwent finishing renovation touches. The team has won three of its last four and is playing better hockey.
A season ago, the Penguins knocked off New York four times in five meetings. The Pens and Rangers squared off three times at Madison Square Garden. Pittsburgh won the first two contests by the scores of 6-3 and 3-0, respectively, before getting blown out 6-1 late in the year.
Tomas Vokoun stopped a combined 59 of 62 shots, including a 28-save shutout on Jan. 31. Marc-Andre Fleury was rocked for six goals on 39 shots in his lone start in New York on April 3. Fleury did lead his team to a 3-0 win on March 16 (in Pittsburgh) for his only shutout of 2012-13.
Henrik Lundqvist was in goal for all five games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers pulled the King on Jan. 20 when the Pens scored four goals on 18 shots.
Goal scoring while at even-strength, 5-on-5 play is obviously important. Thus far, the Penguins hold a respectable 1.35 average with 1.00 average signifying a team allows as many goals at 5-on-5 as it scores.
The Rangers, meanwhile, check in with a 0.54 mark. Along with the Flyers and Sabres, New York’s 5-on-5 play is the worst in the entire NHL.
Pittsburgh has outscored its opponents in each period: 13-7 in the first, 15-11 in the second and 19-15 in the final 20 minutes.
New York is being outscored 13-7 and 19-10 in the first two periods, respectively, while going 8-8 in the third. It’s also scored one overtime goal.
The Penguins hold the upper hand on power plays, but the Rangers have the better penalty kill.
Pittsburgh has posted a 19 percent scoring rate on road man-advantages, scoring four times in 21 opportunities. New York has netted just two goals on 15 home power-plays for a 13.3 percent.
The Rangers have done much better on the PK, at least compared to the Pens, killing 11 of 13 penalties (83.3 percent). The Pens have given up seven goals in 23 chances (69.6 percent).
Pittsburgh appears to be a bit more disciplined in the penalty category also in the early going: the Pens are averaging 9.8 penalty minutes per game while the Blue Shirts are ringing up 15.5 PIMs.
Evgeni Malkin had five points (1G, 4A) in three games at New York last year. He has three goals in 15 games thus far in 2013-14.
Henrik Lundqvist is in the final year of his contract ($6.875 AAV) and his play has been mostly up and down. He’s been hurt, too.
All four of Pittsburgh’s faceoff men have winning rates of 54.2 percent or better. Only one of New York’s top four has a win rate over 50 percent — Brian Boyle (57.1).
The Pens will be facing Alain Vigneault as the Rangers head coach for the first time. We’ll see if that has any impact.
Chris Kunitz missed Monday and Tuesday practices but is expected to go. Beau Bennett practiced each day but is more likely a Saturday return. James Neal skated with the team Wednesday morning, but is still out.
Rick Nash is out with a concussion. Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan recently returned for the Blue Shirts.
Marc Staal is a minus-11, worst on the Rangers. That said, at least he’s playing after a horrific eye injury suffered last season.