Rangers, Penguins collide from different angles today
March 28, 2009 8:00 AM
John Amis/Associated Press
Thrashers defenseman Anssi Salmela knocks Rangers left winger Sean Avery into the boards Thursday in Atlanta.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Several of the Penguins -- including interim coach Dan Bylsma -- lingered after the formal part of practice yesterday at Southpointe. They continued to work on things and smiled while doing it.
Then the New York Rangers came out. Same building. Same ice. Different tone.
Things tend to be a little more workmanlike when your coach ditches a preskate video session to offer an earful about needing a killer instinct on the heels of a disappointing performance.
John Tortorella declined to divulge the particulars of his meeting with the Rangers, but he's grateful for his team's chance to rebound against the Penguins today after it blew a three-goal lead Thursday at Atlanta and lost, 5-4, in a shootout.
"I don't think we played well [Thursday] night at all," said Tortorella, who offered only a short, terse evaluation of the game immediately afterward but was calm yesterday.
"That's what's great -- you have a practice, you prepare for another one. You have to have a short-term memory and move on."
The teams might be coming from different places, with the Penguins basking in a 2-0 win Wednesday against Calgary, but they are close where it counts, in the standings.
The Rangers could have pulled even with the sixth-place Penguins in the Eastern Conference if they had held onto that second point against Atlanta, but now are in seventh, one point back with 87. Carolina is fifth with 89. Montreal, with 85, and Florida, with 83, are not far behind.
"I'm sure they'll want to bounce back from that, being up, 4-1, and then throwing away a point," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said. "They're not going to be happy, so I think if anything that makes them a little more dangerous. That makes them hungry to redeem themselves."
And eager to get on with it.
"One nice thing about our season is we get another crack at it almost the next day," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "We know it's a huge game and it's always exciting to go into that [Mellon] arena.
"This game means a lot more to both sides. [Thursday] night [the Thrashers] were just playing for pride and things like that."
The Penguins are 2-1-2 against the Rangers going into the final game of the season series, but there have been changes since they last met, a 6-2 Penguins victory Jan. 28.
Bylsma has replaced Michel Therrien behind the Penguins bench, and Tortorella has replaced Tom Renney.
Each of the replacement coaches has sought a more aggressive style.
"At times we're good at it, and other time we're awful," Tortorella said.
Specifically, said Penguins center Sidney Crosby, "I think they might pinch their [defensemen] a little more and maybe use a two-guy forecheck instead of one."
These are teams that are keenly familiar with one another, having played eight times a season the past few winters, plus a five-game playoff series won by the Penguins last spring, and another five games so far this season.
Yet the coaching turnover means there will be extra adjustments on both sides added to the adrenaline from playing a team so close in the standings.
"We're probably a different look than we were a month ago, two months ago," said Bylsma, who is 13-2-3 since taking over as Penguins coach.
"Same thing with the Rangers. Although we've played them a lot, it's probably going to be a different [scouting report] and different look than earlier in the year. If two teams are playing similar, it's about execution and then puck management and trying to get to your game, and the team that gets to their game more often usually has the upper hand."
The Rangers are 8-5-1 under Tortorella. After dropping a point to Atlanta, which has been eliminated from playoff contention, they play their final seven games against Eastern Conference teams that have clinched a playoff spot or are in strong contention for one.
They are hoping that forces them to raise their game down the final stretch.
"When we're playing at our best, we're a very, very difficult team to play against," Staal said. "Sometimes during the course of a game, we lose that a little bit. We've got to learn to take that into games and carry it right through."
The Penguins, meanwhile, have a mix of five games against teams that are playoff-bound or in strong contention for a berth, and two against the bottom clubs in the conference.
For today, they aren't worried about the type of letdown the Rangers experienced Thursday.
"Sometimes there are games that have emotion attached to them prior to the start of the game," Bylsma said. "If you play an LA, that emotion might not be there and you have to get it into the game as quickly as possible. When the Rangers come in, the emotion comes with the matchup, comes with the time of the year, comes with the divisional opponent."
Matchup: Penguins vs. New York Rangers, 1:08 p.m., Mellon Arena.
The stakes: The Penguins are one point ahead of the Rangers for sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.