Nov 29, 2011, 7:30 AM EDT
Sidney Crosby‘s return to action has been pretty impressive. Understatement of the day, we know, but with eight points in his first four games he’s gotten right back into the saddle of being the best scorers in the league. The spark he’s brought to guys like Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, and Jordan Staal has been noticeable as well.
The Penguins have cruised along but now they’ll get perhaps their biggest test since Crosby’s return tonight in their divisional rivals the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET). The Rangers have won 9 of their last 11 games including two in a row. Keying the Rangers attack is offseason acquisition Brad Richards. Richards has 16 points in 20 games this season and is paying off immediate dividends for the Blueshirts. Marian Gaborik and his 10 goals are doing their part as well to give New York a useful offense.
Where this game could be decided depends on how Dan Girardi can do in containing Crosby. Girardi has been earning the hardest minutes in New York and he’s consistently being lined up against the opponents’ best players. If Girardi wants to help improve his write-in candidacy for the All-Star Game, holding Crosby in check would go a long way towards that.
Of course, scoring might be at a premium as it is with Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury expected to go head-to-head in goal. Lundqvist is again proving why he’s the best goalie to hit New York since Mike Richter while Fleury is showing that all the superstars in Pittsburgh aren’t just big scoring forwards.
If there’s one side story to keep an eye on it’s how the Pens handle the tenacity of the Rangers’ forecheck led by pesky Sean Avery. Avery since coming back to New York has reveled in his role as a pressure checking forward and eliminating a lot of the silly antics. The feisty Penguins should provide him with enough sandpaper to potentially spark fury through the game.
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