Chytil good to go against Penguins

The Rangers got good news earlier today. Filip Chytil declared himself ready to go for tonight’s big game against the old Patrick Division rival Penguins.

It was during the second period of a 7-1 win over the Blackhawks that Chytil absorbed a late hit from Sam Lafferty against the glass. The dangerous high hit sent Chytil down and to the locker room. He was evaluated further and likely went through concussion protocol.

Having already missed half a dozen games following taking an elbow on Oct. 23 at Columbus, which probably resulted in a concussion, the last thing the Rangers needed was for Chytil to again have sustained another head injury.

A fragile player who’s missed games before due to injuries, the 23-year old center is coming into his own. Having scored his eighth goal to already match last year’s total and set-up Kaapo Kakko late in a three-goal first period, Chytil is quietly having a good first half. In 25 games, he enters tonight with eight goals, nine assists and 17 points.

With goals in three of the last four games along with two assists, Chytil is having an impact during the best stretch of hockey the Rangers have played. They bring a season high seven-game winning streak into play when they battle the Pens for the first time. They enter with 41 points in 33 games while the Penguins have 40 in 31. Given the games at hand Pittsburgh has, it’s a good litmus test for the Blueshirts.

The Pens just had their own seven-game win streak snapped when they lost to the Hurricanes 3-2 in regulation on Sunday. It was a game they led by a goal during the third period before the Canes used goals from Brady Skjei and Jordan Staal to get the win in Raleigh.

It’s been the usual suspects taking center stage for the Pens. Ageless wonder Sidney Crosby leads them in scoring with 40 points (17-23-40). Fifteen of his seventeen goals have come at even strength. He’s also posted 32 of 40 points at even strength. The 35-year old captain shows no signs of slowing down.

Evgeni Malkin is doing his talking with his play. After re-signing with the club last summer, he’s back producing at a point-per-game clip. He has 32 points (10-22-32) in 31 games. Malkin remains dangerous on the man-advantage where he paces Pittsburgh with 15 power play points. Possessing a lethal shot, he must be accounted for.

Jake Guentzel remains a consistent force for the black and yellow. With 15 goals and 16 helpers for 31 points over 27 games, the 28-year old forward remains one of the better scorers in the game. He’s good in front and also in transition.

The Pens have gotten better play out of Rickard Rakell, whose 13 goals are a sign that he’s healthy. That wasn’t the case when he first came over from Anaheim. Bryan Rust isn’t having a big season. But he usually does some of his best work against the Rangers.

Kris Letang remains the anchor of the blue line. However, it’s been a tough go for the veteran who only has two goals and 13 assists along with a minus-seven rating. It’s astonishing he can still play at such a high level following a second stroke. He didn’t even miss much time. Hopefully, he stays healthy.

Tristan Jarry has supplied steady play in net. He’s 14-3-3 with a 2.63 GAA, .921 save percentage and a shutout over 20 starts. The 27-year old netminder has had some good goalie duels with Igor Shesterkin. Assuming that’s the goalie match-up, it should be worth following. Shesterkin turns 27 on December 30.

With Shesterkin having won his last six decisions while posting a 1.80 GAA and .939 save percentage, it should be interesting to see who prevails. Jarry also brings a six-game winning streak into play with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage. He’s won 10 of his last 11 starts and hasn’t lost in regulation since Nov. 5 versus Seattle.

With Chytil good to go, he’ll be between sidekicks Lafreniere and Kakko. Lafreniere has three assists over the past three games while Kakko has heated up with three goals and two assists over the last four. It’s those young players who remain the key to the season.

It looks like Gerard Gallant could stick with the same lineup. That means Mika Zibanejad centering Artemi Panarin and Barclay Goodrow. A line that’s coming off a second consecutive good game. Panarin has goals in back-to-back games with three helpers. Goodrow had a goal and assist in the 6-3 win over Philadelphia. Zibanejad has two assists in each of the last two games. With 37 points (15-22-37) to trail only Panarin (40) in team scoring, he paces the Rangers with 10 power play goals.

The third line features Vincent Trocheck with Chris Kreider and Jimmy Vesey. While both Trocheck and Vesey have been playing well of late, Kreider is without a goal in three. He might be better suited back with Zibanejad. We’ll see what happens.

Since being elevated to center the checking line, Jonny Brodzinski has provided a spark. His speed and ability to forecheck have been noticeable. His hard work paid off when he redirected a Braden Schneider shot for his first goal in the rout of Chicago. He has played with both Sammy Blais and Julien Gauthier, who sat out on Sunday for Blais.

Vitaly Kravtsov played again and scored his second goal in 13 games. He’s played the last three while continuing to work hard on the fourth line. A spot that Gallant readily admits isn’t the best area for the soon to be 23-year old. He blows out the candles in three days. If he remains in the lineup, he should continue to see second power play duty.

The defense is led by Norris candidate Adam Fox. The offensive leader from the back end, the smooth skating 24-year old remains a constant force opponents must key on. His 34 points (7-27-34) rank third on the Rangers. That includes 21 at even strength, 12 on the power play and 1 shorthanded.

One of the league’s best defensemen, Fox should be in the mix for the Norris. It’s a crowded field with Erik Karlsson leading the field in scoring followed by Rasmus Dahlin and Josh Morrissey.

With Ben Harpur able to provide a steadier and more physical presence than Libor Hajek, expect him to remain with Schneider on the third pair. Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller are the second pair. Both having picked it up lately offensively. Ryan Lindgren remains Fox’s partner continuing to provide the nuts and bolts.

It should be a good game. This is the first of two before the Christmas break. The Islanders visit MSG Thursday. That one should be circled.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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