Can the New York Rangers take advantage of a depleted Penguins defense?

When the New York Rangers face the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night, the one thing that they know is that they will have to deal with Penguin superstars Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby, in typical Crosby fashion, swept in a rebound 1:11 into overtime Tuesday for his third point to help the Penguins overcome a pair of two-goal deficits to defeat the Washington Capitals 5-4.

However, Pittsburgh played the third period of that game with only four defensemen. Marcus Pettersson left late in the second after taking a blindside hit from Washington’s T.J. Oshie at center ice. Juuso Riikola‘s injury status was uncertain as he did not return to the bench for the third period. The Penguins already had Mike Matheson (undisclosed) and Zach Trotman (right knee) on injured reserve. This could force Pittsburgh to dig deep into their roster for replacements. The three leading candidates to step in are Cody Ceci, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and Kevin Czuczman.

Chad Ruhwedel did not participate in practice Thursday after becoming a first-time father, which means that potential line pairings will have to wait until game time.

This also comes on the heels of an expected line change based on the lines assembled for Friday’s practice, as Alexis Lafreniere skated on the first line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. After practice, head coach David Quinn told the media that he moved Pavel Buchnevich to the second line in hopes that he could provide some help for Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

Zibanejad seemed to feel that Lafreniere is ready for the first line, telling’s Vince Mercogliano that “Lafreniere is very mature for his age, and the speed he plays at and the way he sees the ice. He’s a real pro, so I’m just excited to get to play with him.”

The Penguins also had some help on the offensive side join their team on Tuesday in 24-year-old Kasperi Kapanen. The young forward, son of former NHL star Sami Kapanen, was delayed in joining his team after difficulties in securing a work visa. When the visa was finally processed, Kapanen was allowed to enter the country on Jan. 9, but he had to undergo a seven-day quarantine as per the NHL’s rules regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

The Rangers and the Penguins will see a lot of each other, as they play each other in four of the next six games in this modified 56 game schedule.