The New York Rangers will have their toughest test of the season tonight when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even without Sidney Crosby for 20 games (the Penguins have played 24 games coming into tonight's matchup) they still put together an impressive 14-6-4 record which has them atop the NHL.
Crosby also has nine points in those four games back.
The Rangers are fresh off back-to-back wins over very good hockey teams. Both the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers are nothing to shrug off, but this matchup tonight will be tougher. The Penguins boast two of the top players in the NHL, and both love playing in New York.
The Rangers' defense, which is still without Marc Staal, will have its hands full. And while both Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have stepped up to this point, tonight will be another stern test for both of them.
Join me after the jump for more.
The Rangers obviously want a win tonight, but it's not just about the points. If the Rangers can beat a full-strength Pittsburgh Penguins team tonight, they will have three-straight wins over three of the better teams in the East. That right there is enough confidence to push a team if and when things get rough down the line.
A win would also move the Rangers into second place in the division, just three points behind the Penguins with three games in hand.
But a lot has to happen before we get into any of that, mainly shutting Crosby and company down. That won't be easy, but there is good news.
Henrik Lundqvist loves these kind of games. He generally steps up when he plays in big games, and he will probably be tested tonight. Thus far this year he's been able to bail the Rangers out -- most of the time-- when there are defensive lapses.
Hopefully there aren't many tonight.