Rangers Confidential: Anonymous NHL insiders break down Penguins series

You saw the opinions. You saw the models. It’s a mixed bag when it comes to media views and data on the Rangers-Penguins.

We asked real insiders what they thought, and… well, see for yourself. Our panel consists of two scouts, both of whom cover the Metro Division, an Eastern Conference coach and two executives, one for an Eastern Conference team and one for a Western Conference team. All five have seen a lot of Rangers and Penguins this season.

And only one from our panel of five thinks the Penguins even have a chance.

Scout #1

“The most important position in the playoffs is that of goaltender. With (Tristan) Jarry very questionable for the series, I think it will be a tough climb for Pittsburgh. Give the advantage to the Rangers and their favorite Vézina (Igor) Shesterkin.

“The key to Rangers success is obviously limiting the damage that (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin inflict. K’Andre Miller’s play and Jacob Trouba will dictate not just the outcome of this series, but ultimately the depth of a run Rangers can make this spring. Trouba’s physique and Miller’s size and mobility should make life very difficult on those front two lines for Pittsburgh.

Scout #2

“Rangers will have to limit the risk of high danger. They have the advantage with goaltenders, but the number of high-risk chances they left in the regular season will hurt them in the playoffs if they can’t control that. A key for them is the power play and continuing to be good when they get chances. I like the moves they made at the deadline. They added to the overall squad depth, which you need at this time of year.

“For the Penguins, they need to step up and their star players need to be stars for them to have a chance. I like the central depth. This team will go like Crosby and Malkin. They have the ability to win a streak. Not crazy about their D depth, and I’m afraid they’re not physical enough or good enough at the back, with the goalkeeper being a question mark on top of that.

“When we spoke earlier in the year I told you Rangers weren’t ready. Maybe I think back to that. With every win in the series they could gain confidence and they have good If you had asked me in January who would win in the East, maybe three teams would have legitimately drawn, now with all eight it will be an absolute battle just to get out of the East.

The coach

“I can’t even believe you’re asking me.” Rangers in five.

“The goalkeeper (Shesterkin) is too good. Jarry broke his foot. Even if they were in good health, the other will win the Vézina. If you look at their defense, Pitt’s D is pretty good, but that’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen with the Rangers. (Ryan) Lindgren is good, Miller is good, Trouba – they are solid around the goalkeeper and they can give you a little attack. The Rangers power play is as good as it gets with (Adam) Fox running it. (Mika) Zibanejad, (Ryan) Strome, (Artemi) Panarin can all shoot from their spots. They have (Chris) Kreider scoring 50 points in a tight game. They have four, five set ball games they can run on you with that power play. The Penguins must stay out of the box.

“The most important thing for me with Rangers is that at the start of the year where they are now, they check hard. The counter-pressure, the follow-up, they weren’t like that at the start of the year, but they’re connected. Pitt has a few lines, but (Rangers GM Chris) Drury made great mics. (Frank) Vatrano, (Andrew) Copp, (Tyler) Motte, if he can come back – “It’s real. They’re as deep as anyone. I think they’re going to the conference finals. I’d be absolutely amazed if the Pens beat them.”

Andrew Copp (Tom Horak / USA Today)

“Pitt’s best hope is in low-scoring games. They’re going to have to be in a tight game. The Rangers are like Florida and Tampa. They can explode with some of the guys they have. Rangers goalkeeper can frustrate you to the point where you start cheating, you have to change the tactical part of the game to manufacture the attack. When this happens, it’s normally not a good thing.

“I think Pitt is a good team, but it’s an older team and it’s their last hurray with (Bryan) Rust, Malkin. Pitt’s PP can be good. When you look at special teams and goalie goals, we have to give the Rangers the advantage. I don’t see any way for Pittsburgh to win this series.

“Rangers just play a lot harder now. Their best guys have the mentality of the fourth lines. They understand clock management, who they’re playing against. They did a good job getting the opponents to play a game from 200 feet. It’s too much for Pitt to handle. Kreider, Zibanejad, those guys are playing well. Strome plays hard. Their skilled guys don’t play pond hockey; they fucking work. They get it. I don’t think Malkin and Crosby will have the time and space they need to succeed.

The Eastern Conference Executive

“Unfortunately, this series is not the same as before Jarry’s injury. As good as Mike Sullivan is – and he’s one of the top two, three coaches in the game – I don’t see how he’s going to be able to succeed with that kind of handicap. I had my doubts about Jarry to begin with, but without him, I don’t see how the Penguins can win more than one game.

“Rangers, on the other hand, have the best guy in the league right now, so with that kind of advantage I think it will be enough for them to win this series on their own. While Sid is still one of the best players in the world and playing at such a high level, the Rangers’ top two lines can match the Penguins’ top two. New York’s defense is much better than Pittsburgh’s. They have guys there who can make the game miserable – in Trouba, Lindgren and (Braden) Schneider. This is what you need at this time of year. Depth up front could be a factor for Rangers after they leave, but it won’t be this round.

Ryan Lindgren and Sidney Crosby (Bruce Bennett/USA Today)

The Western Conference Executive

“Rangers start with the advantage, thanks to their good play and having the best goalkeeper in the league. They really helped each other at the deadline. Their high-end players have all had good years, (and) those moves they made at the deadline really solidified this top-tier group of forwards.

“Pittsburgh has elite players. Crosby, Malkin, (Kris) Letang, (Jake) Guentzel, Rust, (Jeff) Carter. Their best players must score. They need to have top level goalkeepers. Looks like it’s (Casey) DeSmith and he’s going to have to give them top-notch goalies. They also need to stay out of the box because Rangers’ power play is such a threat.

“Crosby and Pitt’s management are going to have to fight the tendency to open it up if Shesterkin frustrates them. The experience they have, you come to New York and you want to do your part. You want to play your game too. Maybe later in the show and Shesterkin will play like he did in the season, they’ll loosen up a bit, but you have to start playing your game. Anything else than that is a problem.

“For Pitt, those are three guys who could be key for me: (Evan) Rodrigues, (Danton) Heinen and (Kasperi) Kapanen. They need secondary notation. You know what you get from high end guys. Especially early on, it’s important to start early and keep Rangers guessing who to put their best guys on.

“The focus will be on Rangers D to hold the serve. Miller. Schneider. It will be important that they play at the same level in the playoffs as in the regular season.

“I’m not going to give you a prediction, but I guess everyone else you talked to said Rangers. I’m good with that.

(Top photo of Kasperi Kapanen shoot at Igor Shesterkin: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


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