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NHL Faceoff: A must win for Rangers on Wednesday Rivalry Night?

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the New York Rangers host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

There’s a good possibility fans might not recognize most of the guys taking the ice for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they face the New York Rangers.

The Pens have nine players on injured reserve and will be without James Neal for one more game due to his suspension for kneeing Boston’s Brad Marchand in the head. Add in Evgeni Malkin missing their game on Monday against Toronto with a lower body injury after being injured last Saturday along with Deryk Engelland having his hearing for hitting Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader today – it’s a mess of a situation.

Even in spite of all that, the Penguins lead the Metropolitan Division by 10 points. Captain Sidney Crosby leads the league in points, Marc-Andre Fleury has been strong all season in goal, and Chris Kunitz gives Crosby a steady linemate to work with. Sure, playing without their top four defensemen is troublesome, but the Penguins keep rolling along.

That’s bad news for the Rangers as they’ve continued to struggle under new coach Alain Vigneault. At 16-17-1 they’re fifth in the Metropolitan behind both Philadelphia and Carolina. A win over the Pens would vault them back into a tie with the Hurricanes points-wise, but their issues have been many.

Henrik Lundqvist has been off his game most of the season. Injuries have hampered their lineup, although not to the degree they have for the Penguins, and their defense has had its share of woes.

If there are bright spots to be found it’s in the play of forwards Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello. Those three are tops on the team in points. Rick Nash‘s return from a concussion in mid-November has seen him pick up the pace with nine points in 14 games. More consistent play from him would do a world of good, but that could be said about the rest of the team as well.

With the current state of the Penguins and the Rangers’ need to get right, New York could (should?) be looking at tonight’s game as a must-win. As the Pens showed on Monday night against Toronto, it won’t be easy. If the Rangers come out flat, the grumbles in Manhattan from the fans could turn into full-blown growls.

- Joe Yerdon, NBC Sports

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