Following practice on Tuesday Rangers head coach John Tortorella said he was unconcerned about the upcoming NHL trading deadline, as well as a myriad of other topics. The only that matters to him and his team, according to the coach? "We just want to win."
That becomes even more of an important mindset now as the Rangers (17-15-3, 37 pts) open up a home and home set with the Pittsburgh Penguins (28-9-0, 56 pts) this evening at Madison Square Garden on the outside looking in at the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings. With the Islanders passing the Rangers Tuesday night, the Blueshirts now sit in ninth place, two points behind the Isles---though with two games in hand---and just a point up on tenth-place Washington, which also won on Tuesday. And they must find the winning touch now against a Pittsburgh team that is not only tops in the East, but has won more games than any other team in the entire NHL.
The Rangers are coming off a hard-earned 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at The Garden on Monday, a win that not only snapped a two-game skid, but in which the Rangers actually scored some goals after being shut out in two straight games. In the two games sandwiching those shutout defeats the Rangers have scored nine goals---five in Philadelphia last Tuesday, and four on Monday against the Jets. And Derek Stepan has had a hand in six of those nine goals. The third-year centerman had a goal and three assists against the Flyers, and another pair of goals two nights ago.
Ryan Callahan was a real catalyst on Monday, netting a huge shorthanded goal and assisting on three others, while Rick Nash scored a goal and added an assist. And the line of Mats Zuccarello-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik stood out with their hard work and string of scoring chances, too.
The Blueshirts added to their grit and depth up front on Tuesday, beating the trade deadline by acquiring veteran forward Ryane Clowe from the San Jose Sharks for three draft picks. A proven rugged scorer, Clowe is two years removed from a 24-goal, 62-point season, though he has incredibly been held without a goal so far this season. Clowe does have 11 assists, and he ranks tenth in the NHL with 79 penalty minutes.
It is not yet known whether or not Clowe will be available to play tonight against the Penguins. If he is in the lineup, it would seem one of the two rookies---J.T. Miller or Chris Kreider---would come out after Tortorella questioned whether or not the team can afford to keep having them play at such a crucial juncture of the season. To that end, veteran Arron Asham could very well return to the lineup tonight, as well.
Though the Penguins had their 15-game winning streak snapped with a 4-1 loss to the Sabres on Tuesday, they are still an extremely formidable foe to say the least. And even without superstar center Sidney Crosby---the league's leading scorer with 56 points who suffered a broken jaw last Saturday---and injured defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin, the Penguins bolster one of the most talented rosters in the NHL. That they have added Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, and Douglas Murray to a mix that already included Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal prior to the trade deadline just further bolstered that lineup.
It is a fairly devastating 1-2 punch employed by the Penguins, as well. While their league-leading offense grabs most of the attention, they are also capable of outstanding team defense, too, as witnessed by shutting out three straight opponents prior to Tuesday's loss.
The Rangers have suffered at the hands of the Penguins this year, losing all three meetings with the Pens, outscored 12-3 along the way and shut out twice. All three goals scored by the Rangers against Pittsburgh this season came during the home opener at the Garden on January 20th, a 6-3 Penguins victory.
Will the Rangers hand the Penguins a second straight defeat tonight? Share your predictions below.