Welcome to the first installment of Creature vs. Creature here at Bleacher Report's NHL Community.
In this inaugural edition of Creature vs. Creature, I will be collaborating with New York Rangers' Community Leader, Greg Caggiano, as the Rangers play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins this coming Saturday night in the Big Apple.
Now, onto the match up at hand.
Saturday night will mark the first meeting of the 2008-09 season between the Rangers and Pens. The Rangers are currently 6-2-1 (before their game with the Blue Jackets on Friday), and sit atop the Eastern Conference with 13 points.
The Penguins are 4-2-1 (before their game with Carolina on Thursday) this season and are looking to extend their two game winning streak against the Canes on Thursday night.
The last meetings between these two teams came in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The Penguins defeated the Rangers in five games to win the series, and capped off their victory with an overtime victory in Game Five.
After the loss in 2008, the Rangers slipped to 0-4 all time against the Pens in the playoffs.
Needless to say, there is no shortage of hostility between these division rivals, and Saturday night's meeting shouldn't be any different.
The Penguins have largely the same roster that dismantled the Rangers in last years' playoffs, with the exception of Marian Hossa and Gary Roberts and the injuries to Whitney and Gonchar, but the Rangers' lineup looks very different from its' previous playoff form.
Jaromir Jagr has taken his horrendous facial hair overseas to play in the KHL, and Martin Straka has also fled from the Big Apple. Nikolai Zherdev, Markus Naslund, and Wade Redden were the Rangers two biggest off-season acquisitions.
New York Will Win if...
The Rangers will win this game if the role players continue to surpass the expectations of their roles.
With nine points each, Brandon Dubinsky and Aaron Voros are the Rangers' leading scorers heading into the weekend. The Penguins have been notorious for shutting down the oppositions' stars this season (I'm looking at you, Ovechkin), so if Gomez, Zherdev, Naslund, and Drury are taken out of the equation, the Rangers will be looking elsewhere for goals... again.
Henrik Lundqvist was sensational in the playoffs against the Penguins, and looks to have picked up this season where he left off in the playoffs. Lundqvist should expected to be tested early and often by the Penguins, who will be the fresher team on Saturday.
If King Henry can weather the first period storm and the Rangers can snag an early goal, they can turn to their aggressive fore-check to shutdown the Penguins' offense.
Pittsburgh Will Win if...
The Pens should secure the victory if they can play an up-tempo game, taking advantage of the Rangers playing on back-to-back nights.
The Penguins have not played back-to-back games in North America this season (they did play a Saturday-Sunday series against the Sens in Sweden to open the season), so they have had the luxury of being well rested for every game.
Evgeni Malkin is off to a great start this season and has enjoyed success against the Rangers throughout his short career. If Gino can continue to excel as Gonchar's fill-in quarterback on the power play, the Penguins should be able to capitalize on the man advantage and gain an early advantage over the Rags.
Looking at the Rangers' statistics, you might be surprised to note that Chris Drury has recorded just one assist and is a minus-5 in nine games this season.
Drury scored some clutch goals in the playoffs against the Pens last season, and he has been a notorious Penguin killer throughout his career.
If Drury can find a way to break out of his early season slump and put up two or three points, it could be enough to propel the Rags to victory.
For the Penguins, goaltending is the X-factor. Despite the stellar play of Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin early in the season, the Penguins are allowing an average of over 30 shots on goal per game.
When your goaltenders are playing well you want them to see a lot of shots, up to a certain point. Fleury, who will likely get the start against New York, can't be expected to turn aside 30 or 35 shots every game this season.
The Penguins defense and back-checking needs to improve (ahem, Jordan Staal) if they want to relieve the pressure on their net minder.
I haven't read Greg's article yet, but I am fairly certain that he is picking the Rangers to win. Not surprisingly, I'm taking the Pens.
I'm looking for Evgeni Malkin to continue his success against the Rangers, and extend his lead in the points race by recording two goals and adding an assist on Saturday. I'm banking on Petr Sykora cashing in off of Malkin's assist and Kris Letang notching his first goal of the season on the power play.
Pens win 4-2 in a tight-checking, physical contest. Would you expect any less?
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