Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The New York Rangers have qualified for the playoffs once in the last five seasons, a swift qualification round defeat in the 2020 bubble, and many were skeptical that they would make it this far before the season began due to some questionable offseason moves. But it was the emergence of Igor Shestyorkin as a superstar (and arguably MVP) that heralded the team's advance back to Cup contention, along with a red-hot power play and Chris Kreider's unexpected 52-goal season. Rangers fans hope that this will be only the opening salvo of a lengthy contention window.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, conversely, might be at the "Last Dance" stage. Yevgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are both unrestricted free agents this summer, meaning that the core that has never missed the playoffs might finally be split up as they enter their late thirties. Pittsburgh was an excellent team for much of the season, led by an 84-point, injury-shortened performance from Sidney Crosby, but has fallen off a bit in recent weeks and now looks to be without their starting goaltender for at least the first round.
This one is a head-scratcher. On one side a flawed team that struggles at 5-on-5 but has momentum and a star goalie on its side, on the other a group with strong underlying numbers floundering at the worst possible time.
My playoff previews are stats-based, going off of both macro- and micro-level statistics gathered by TopDownHockey and AllThreeZones respectively. This allows us to look not only at high-level results (like goals, shots, and expected goals) but also at the stylistic process that creates them (like passes, shot types, and transition play) to get a better sense of how the teams match up. Instead of comparing offence to offence and defence to defence, I'll be breaking down the offence vs. defence matchups.
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