Lafreniere makes up for bad penalty by getting winner in third period, Rangers survive the sloppy Blues to earn a comeback victory

Two struggling teams did battle tonight at the World’s Most Expensive Arena. The tight one came away with a come from behind win to at least quiet the rumors about coach Gerard Gallant.

In what can best be described as a slop fest full of turnovers that could’ve filled up a bakery, the Rangers survived the Blues to pull out a 6-4 comeback victory at MSG. The only development is they showed enough gumption to finally get their fifth win on home ice.

At least they didn’t fall victim to the putrid Blues, who at times looked like they didn’t know how to play hockey. It’s well documented how the season has gone. They could ill afford another bad loss to an even worse team. Something we’ve seen too much of.

For two periods, you wondered if this was going to be it for Gallant. That’s how sloppy the game was. It quickly went from remaining scoreless to becoming an unpredictable mess.

Three goals were scored within a 2:18 time span late in the first period. Braden Schneider’s third goal was immediately followed up by Pavel Buchnevich tying it 70 seconds later. Before you could look up, Adam Fox scored on a power play 68 seconds later to conclude the strange period.

It wasn’t over. Following intermission, Vladimir Tarasenko scored unassisted at just 12 seconds into the second period. Before a fully recovered Sam Rosen and partner Joe Micheletti could say anything worthwhile about how bad the Blues were in second periods, the game was tied.

Less than a minute later (55 seconds to be exact), on a play started by Jacob Trouba, Artemi Panarin actually got a wrist shot through from the point that Vincent Trocheck tipped past Jordan Binnington at 1:07. It had to feel good to see one go in after all the goalposts he’s hit.

By that point just over a minute into the second, the teams had combined to score five goals within a 3:53 span. It was ridiculous. But it also typified why these two teams entered without many wins lately. Defense was indeed optional. So was checking.

After the Trocheck goal that made it 3-2, the Blueshirts could hardly do anything. It was as if they had never held a lead before. If you’ve followed this team, you can understand why. They’re a very fragile group lacking in confidence.

At one point, they went a very long stretch without even a shot on goal against one of the league’s worst goalies. Binnington entered with less than a .900 save percentage, having been pulled after two periods in a 6-2 loss at the Pens where he showed his temper. He’s the biggest crybaby in the NHL that’s known for taking penalties and screaming at opponents like he did this past weekend. Very uncharacteristic behavior for a Stanley Cup winner.

Binnington made one good save when he padded away a tricky Vitaly Kravtsov try where the former first round pick made a good move to get off a low shot. Afterwards, the Rangers did nothing. It was like they stopped playing.

During this stretch, Tarasenko lost his cool and went after Trouba for no reason. He gave him a cross-check in the corner which stopped play. Somehow, both players wound up in the box for roughing minors. Guilty by association for Trouba, who’s now viewed as some evil comic book character for the hits he delivers. Is Andrea(s) Athanasiou still crying?

Following that sequence, Ryan Lindgren hooked into Brayden Schenn to put the Blues on a four-on-three. They were hideous on it. Unable to do anything with it in similar fashion to the first minor Lindgren took back in the first period, it turned into an easy kill for the Rangers.

At that point, I was thinking about how bad St. Louis looked. Rosen and Micheletti kept emphasizing getting the next goal. That would’ve given them some breathing room. But when you’re also struggling as much as your opponent, it doesn’t come easy. It sure didn’t for the Blueshirts.

When the players all returned, Noel Acciari somehow got in behind a napping Rangers defense. But Igor Shesterkin denied his bid to tie the game. Despite it again being a tough night at the office, he did make some key saves during a game that had no sense to it. He stopped all seven Blues shots in the third to finish with 25 saves.

On a forecheck behind the Blues net, Alexis Lafreniere took a lazy penalty for holding Colton Parayko. The kind of undisciplined penalty in the offensive zone a player should never take. He really deserved to miss some shifts as Steve Valiquette later pointed out during a good intermission segment with Henrik Lundqvist. They also called out Gallant indirectly for not sitting Lafreniere.

With Lafreniere off, Kaapo Kakko had a great chance to put the Rangers ahead by two. In on a shorthanded breakaway, his shot hit the goalpost. All he could do was look on in disbelief. He’d later have Binnington dead to rights on a one on one only for his tuck in to again go off the post. It’s increasingly frustrating to watch him blow chance after chance.

Of course, the Blues tied it. Still on the man-advantage, Jordan Kyrou converted his 10th from Justin Faulk and Ivan Barbashev at 11:04. It was the latest offensive zone penalty Lafreniere took. He’s had a penchant recently for taking bad penalties. That has to stop.

Before you could even look up, Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly was left unchecked to bury a Schenn rebound with all three Rangers forwards puck watching. The closest two were Barclay Goodrow and Chris Kreider. They didn’t do anything. Julien Gauthier also was late on the coverage.

That blown assignment which gave the Blues their first lead led to Gallant giving Goodrow and Kreider a few shifts off. Finally, some accountability. They are veterans who know better. Earlier in the season, Gallant demoted Kreider to the fourth line as punishment for a similar mishap. He responded well.

After being outplayed and out-shot 13-6 to fall behind 4-3, the Rangers were booed off the ice. They sure earned it. The big question was how would they respond to more adversity. The interesting part to the Blues is they entered 5-0 in one-goal games. They’ve gotten blown out in many losses due to poor defense and goaltending.

In the third period, Gallant finally switched up the lines. Most notably, he replaced Kreider and Jimmy Vesey with Kakko and Lafreniere on the first line. They finally got an opportunity to play with Mika Zibanejad. Something I kind of wanted to see a month ago just to find out if it could work.

Kreider and Vesey went down to the third line next to Goodrow. That’s not a bad way to go when things aren’t working. What did Gallant have to lose? His job is on the line. It still is when they hit the road for late tilts at Vegas and Colorado starting Wednesday. Those will be true tests to see if this team is capable of turning it around.

Following a couple of better offensive shifts from Trocheck, Panarin and Kravtsov that saw the center have a shot turned aside by Binnington, out came the top line. After a save on Kakko, Zibanejad won a face-off. During a simple play by Lafreniere back to K’Andre Miller up at the point, he let go of a wrist shot that went right off Binnington and in to tie the score.

This was a horrible goal by a goalie who looks shot. He has no confidence. All it was a simple play. Off a forecheck, Lafreniere passed the puck up for a Miller shot that Binnington mishandled. The goal got Miller off the schneid. It tied it with 15:12 remaining.

Binnington would then deny Jonny Brodzinski on a tip-in. He redirected a wide Lindgren shot that a sliding Binnington just got in front of to make the save before covering up the rebound. In for Ryan Carpenter, Brodzinski would later make a strong back check to deny a Blues chance. Keep him in if Filip Chytil can’t go. He didn’t skate. So, I doubt we’ll see him on the road trip.

With the game still tied with less than a dozen minutes to play, Lafreniere made a good forecheck behind the St. Louis net. Able to pressure the D into a turnover, he then cut right in front to tip-in a Zibanejad wrist shot for a 5-4 lead with 11:44 left.

The goal was just his fourth. It was his first on five games. At times, he’s looked lost. That even was earlier in tonight’s game. But maybe moving him up with Zibanejad gave him a confidence boost. Just like that, Lafreniere had a goal and assist for the first time all season. It’s about being able to do it consistently.

After a pair of saves from Binnington on Vesey and Schneider, Shesterkin stopped Barbashev from the outside to keep his team in front. Lundqvist talked about making that extra save during a segment. That can be the difference between winning and losing.

This is a test for Igor. It’s mentally challenging when your team doesn’t play well in front of you. How many wide open shots did the Blues have without any resistance? That won’t fly versus the Golden Knights or Avalanche. Ditto the Devils and Maple Leafs who visit MSG next week.

Of course, Kakko again ALMOST scored. But his shot hit the post. If he’s trying to imitate Trocheck for most goalposts struck, it’s working. When will they start going in? Will he ever get number five?

With 6:21 remaining, Trocheck hooked into Tarasenko at center ice. The back ref called it which incensed him. But that’s been going on forever. Someone had to make a call. Lucky for him the Blues are so inept, a huge mistake led to Kreider getting a shorthanded goal to ice it.

With seemingly nobody on him, Barbashev clumsily fumbled the puck at center to send Kreider on a breakaway. He made no mistake going forehand-backhand to notch his first shorthanded goal of the season. It came with 5:56 remaining.

A pumped up Kreider visibly yelled, “Let’s bleeping go!”, to his teammates by the glass. Even though he was justifiably benched earlier, Kreider continues to produce. He’s up to six goals and two assists over the last eight games. He’s once again tied with Zibanejad for the team lead in goals with a lucky 13.

For all the crap he takes, Chris Kreider looks like he could wind up with close to 40 goals following his career best 52. Try telling yhe critics how vital it is that he produces. He’s ninth on the Rangers franchise all-time goal scoring list with 242 goals. He’s within four of tying Steve Vickers for eighth. Mark Messier would be next with 250.

With the game put away and feeling under the weather, I didn’t watch the final two minutes. At least I didn’t miss much. So, I decided to coast through this game recap. Better than not posting anything.

My thoughts on tonight’s win is that it doesn’t matter. Not unless they can follow it up with a better effort at Vegas. The Knights defeated the Bruins 4-3 in a shootout to hand them their first home loss. They’re good. Jack Eichel is back producing at a high level. They have good players and are a fast team that’s in first place. It won’t be no picnic.

Let’s see what happens the next two games. You have Wednesday night in Vegas and then this Friday night at Colorado. The Avalanche could be possibly without Nathan MacKinnon, who exited their loss at the Flyers early. Regardless, it could be a goalie rematch between Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev.

I have no idea if anything will materialize over the next 24 hours. This was by all means an ugly win. Not something to crow about. They got two points. That’s better than the alternative. Now, let’s see if they can build on what they did in the third period.

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Icy cold reality hitting for identity less Blueshirts

This was the scene in the Wild locker room before their game on Saturday afternoon against the Ducks. Ryan Reaves hyped up his new teammates by introducing the starting lineup in a scene similar to what he did in over a year on Broadway.

A look at all the excited and happy faces in the Wild room reminded us of what Reaves provided behind the scenes for the Rangers. As fun and entertaining a player he is, he was deemed expendable by the organization due to falling behind Julien Gauthier and Ryan Carpenter on the depth chart.

When it became clear that Gauthier had earned his spot back after returning from Hartford, it was hard to envision much of a role for the likable Reaves. With coach Gerard Gallant continuing to play Sammy Blais while he struggled to find his game due to missing most of last season, it was painfully obvious that Reaves’ days were numbered.

As soon as Vitaly Kravtsov was finally cleared and patiently waited for Gallant to put him back in the lineup, you knew Team President and GM Chris Drury would have to either place Reaves on waivers or find a taker for his $1.75 million salary. They had to clear cap space. That was due to Drury, who screwed up last off-season. His mistakes burned a team that had great chemistry last season.

Whatever your opinion is of the underwhelming ’22-23 Blueshirts who embarrassed themselves further on Saturday night by losing to the woefully bad Blackhawks 5-2 at the World’s Most Expensive Arena, there is an identity crisis for a mentally fragile team that’s lost its confidence. It’s obvious in the negative body language of the players. Frustration has boiled over. The normally unflappable Adam Fox was visibly shaken at the bench.

It’s been a struggle for almost every key player. While Fox, Mika Zibanejad (team-leading 13 goals and 8 PPG) and Chris Kreider (5-2-7 over last 7 games) have still performed well, there have been noticeable issues plaguing the team. The continued lapses and sloppy play have cost them dearly.

How else to explain inexplicable defeats to lesser lights San Jose, Columbus, Anaheim (still only one regulation win) and now Chicago? They’ve blown multiple goal leads in ugly home losses to the Red Wings, Islanders and Oilers. Two of the three they didn’t even get a point in due to lousy third periods.

There’s the ridiculous 4-10 record at MSG. Home ice disadvantage. Where transient sections exist with a new generation of fans who sound like they’re at a funeral. Excuse the visual. A Garden that had more Devils fans who were much louder last Monday night in support of their first place team, who came back from an early two-goal deficit to win 5-4.

On Saturday night, the fans who spent their money for the expensive tickets finally turned on the Rangers. After one of the first two shots went in for the Blackhawks on a deflection by household name Reese Johnson, the collective groan from the crowd grew louder. It only got worse.

In as mind-numbing a first period as there’s been, the Blueshirts couldn’t score on Petr Mrazek. He had his one big game making 21 of 22 saves before an injury ended his night following the second period. Of course he did. The Rangers can make any goalie look like the second coming of Hasek, Brodeur or Roy.

The really exasperating part was for the longest time, the Blackhawks’ shot total was frozen on two. Despite more attack time and scoring chances, the Rangers pop-gun offense did nothing with it. They kept missing the net. There was a wide open look at an open net for Alexis Lafreniere. Instead, he missed by shooting the puck back into a sliding Mrazek, who made the save.

It’s not even worth posting. This is the former top pick of 2020. A player so hyped that they never considered that Tim Stutzle might actually be the better player. To be clear, Lafreniere had a big IIHF U20 World Junior Championships in his draft year for Canada. He teamed up with Dylan Cozens on the same line to lead them to gold. Lafreniere had 10 points (4-6-10) to win tournament MVP.

Stutzle recorded five assists in his first tournament for Germany to get on the radar. The following year in the 2021 WJC, he dominated by putting up 10 points (5-5-10) for Deutschland. The line with current Sabre J.J. Peterka and Florian Elias had a great tournament- combining for 29 points. Although he didn’t win tournament MVP which went to Trevor Zegras of Team USA after he led them to the gold medal, Stutzle’s game-breaking speed and ability to elevate the play of teammates stood out. It was impressive.

Credit the Senators, who took him third after Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield, for having enough sense to assign Stutzle to Germany for a second WJC. He dominated in his second appearance and looked explosive. No wonder he’s doing well with Ottawa in Year Three following a breakout season. He gets top minutes and first power play. That really helps the development of a young player. A foreign concept in the Big Apple.

On the flip side, the Rangers could’ve decided to send Lafreniere to Canada for another WJC. But the thought process was that he’d already proven he could succeed on that stage against his peers. So, they kept him for the abbreviated 56-game ’20-21 season to begin. It didn’t until the WJC concluded due to the pandemic. Considering how slowly he started, maybe that was a miscalculation. He hadn’t played hockey in a while.

Stuck behind top left wings Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin, Lafreniere was third on the depth chart. There were even learning moments where he found himself on the fourth line under former coach David Quinn. He wound up finishing with 12 goals and nine assists in 56 games.

Lafreniere showed improvement under Gallant in ’21-22. Even without ideal ice time due to the pecking order and hardly enough power play duty which remains a lingering issue, Lafreniere scored 19 even strength goals and had 31 points in 79 contests. His play along with Filip Chytil and former ’19 second pick Kaapo Kakko was good in the playoffs. That third line contributed offensively and were effective on the cycle. The nine points (2-7-9) he had during the trip to the Conference Finals was cause for excitement.

When former deadline additions Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte departed along with key second pivot Ryan Strome, there was some concern over losing the depth that supplied secondary scoring. However, the hope was that by replacing Strome with the 200 foot Vincent Trocheck, Lafreniere and Kakko could play bigger roles. That hasn’t happened. Instead, they enter Monday’s game versus the similar Blues with seven combined goals and 18 points through the quarter mark.

At the moment, the Rangers bring a mediocre 11-10-5 record into play. That’s 27 points in 26 games. It leaves them out of the wildcard behind both the younger Red Wings and battle tested Penguins. With the Panthers finally starting to pick it up, that doesn’t bode well.

If they want to make the playoffs, the Rangers have to play more consistently. Instead, we get piss poor efforts against the Senators in a home rematch and then the tanking Blackhawks, who predictably were shutout by the Islanders last night. They’re chasing Connor Bedard along with the Ducks, Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Sharks and Flyers. Expect the Sens to move up in the standings. They’re not as bad as the aforementioned teams.

What made Saturday night worse was how awful the second and third periods were. Instead of responding down a goal, the disjointed Blueshirts couldn’t summon enough energy despite captain Jacob Trouba’s best efforts. He had two huge open ice hits that led to fights in an emotional second period.

Jujhar Khaira went after Trouba following a clean hit on Jason Dickinson. A victim last year of a huge Trouba hit that put him out of action with a concussion, Khaira fought Trouba to a draw. The first scrap came over three minutes into the second.

On a five-on-four with Seth Jones in the box, the Rangers didn’t make him pay. A Zibanejad slashing minor cut short the power play. A lazy hook from Gallant pet Carpenter gave the Blackhawks a two-man advantage. In the first, they looked like they’d never practiced it. However, Patrick Kane was able to put in a rebound past Jaroslav Halak for a 2-0 lead. A minute later while still on a five-on-four, Max Domi beat Halak from distance to increase the deficit to three.

Boos rained down at The Garden. If you paid these prices which exclude the overpriced food and beverage, you’d be fit to be tied. The Rangers didn’t respond until Trouba caught Andreas Athanasiou with a monster hit that nearly decapitated him. It was shoulder to upper chest. Of course, Athanasiou cried about it afterwards. Maybe he should take up polo.

That’s how lifeless they were prior. On the ensuing power play, this time Zibanejad connected when he buried a Fox pass for a one-timer past Mrazek to break up the shutout with 2:09 left. They trailed 3-1 following the period.

Well respected captain Jonathan Toews took up for his cowardly teammate. He quickly made a beeline for Trouba and put him in a headlock. At least he made wrestling fans happy. I quite enjoyed it. That fight amounted to nothing. It’s Toews, who’s likely headed for the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Even though he’s not the same player, I’ve always been a fan of him. It’s been a tough go for Toews the past couple of years.

The end result from the fight was Toews receiving an instigator. When he went to the locker room after getting five for fighting, an incensed Trouba slammed his helmet and had a few choice words for teammates on the bench. It was easy to figure out. “Bleeping wake up!”

Before Taylor Raddysh turned MSG into a morgue, Trocheck hit another goalpost. Nobody draws more iron than him. If he’s not missing wide, the puck is clanging off the post or crossbar. It’s really frustrating. For the effort he puts in unlike declining compiler Artemi Panarin, Trocheck deserves a break. It isn’t his fault the team stinks. He’s a three zone player who Gallant can trust in any situation including penalty kill and on key draws. He actually wins more than he loses.

Here’s how I’d summarize what happened afterwards. Trouba returned and got called for a phantom hook because Kane looked directly at the ref and sold it. So, it was a bad call. Similar to the delay of game penalty Mrazek got nabbed for back in the first when he accidentally bumped into his net knocking it slightly off.

Predictably, the Blackhawks’ suddenly rejuvenated power play scored again for the third time. Needing one more point for 1,200 in a brilliant career, Kane took a point shot that Raddysh was able to redirect past a helpless Halak for a 4-1 lead. Playing in the spotlight, Kane had a goal and two assists to join American legends Mike Modano, Phil Housley and Jeremy Roenick as the only American players to reach 1,200. Record holder Brett Hull (1,391) has dual citizenship.

When you’re bad, this is what happens. The Rangers entered the game ranked in the top five in penalty kill. They gave up three to a bad hockey team. They are now 10th best on the kill. That’s what one lousy game did. If you think about it, the Hawks only scored once at five-on-five. Reese Johnson only 2:38 in on his tip-in from Jake McCabe and Boris Katchouk. They would add an empty netter from Max Domi.

In a period where Mrazek was replaced by the inexperienced Arvid Soderblom, the Rangers only could mount six shots on goal. The way they skated, it was like watching a slow death. The building was eerily quiet like a library. That’s how dull the action was. It was like they accepted their fate. A humiliating loss to a team that had dropped eight straight. What would you expect the way it’s going.

Trouba fought twice after laying clean hits. He let out frustration at the team and showed more emotion than anyone including the coach who somehow thought the effort was “better.” When even a beat that isn’t tough is starting to question him, that isn’t a good sign for Gallant. Even if they are without Chytil (lower-body) for a second straight game later, it’s sad that he saw something nobody else did. Just trying to save his job. No criticism either like the Ottawa debacle.

Credit also goes to Barclay Goodrow for his fight with Connor Murphy late in the second as Trouba and Toews were wrestling. Goodrow is always game. He plays honestly and mixes it up. He also has six goals. That puts him in a three-way tie with Fox and Panarin. They trail Zibanejad (13), Kreider (12) and Trocheck (8).

Goodrow places third in even strength goals. All six have come there. That remains an area the team must improve at. They have been scoring more at five-on-five with the power play struggling. That trend must continue.

If you subtract Chytil (11 points in 19 GP), that hurts the roster. He was centering Panarin and Kravtsov. A new line that looked good in their first game versus Ottawa. They weren’t as visible against Chicago. Although I did notice one active shift where Kravtsov forced a turnover and went directly in front on a point shot. It’ll be interesting to see how he does. He’s still up on line two with Trocheck and Panarin.

Unlike Saturday when Carpenter played with Chytil a scratch, it’ll be recently recalled forward Jonny Brodzinski centering the checking line between power play specialist Sammy Blais and Julien Gauthier. I kid. I don’t understand Turk’s infatuation with having Blais on PP2.

With Zac Jones sent down to Hartford where he’ll receive more minutes, that unit doesn’t even have a true point guy. Trouba isn’t a quarterback. Why not try K’Andre Miller? It’s not like his defense is so good, which he admitted recently to Mollie Walker.

Miller is paired with Braden Schneider. Something I prefer. Trouba is teamed with Libor Hajek. Hajek won the sixth defenseman job from Jones, who’s a better skater that can contribute offensively. But he still makes mistakes defensively. They feel he needs more time with the Wolf Pack. Hartford also has Matthew Robertson fine tuning his game after a good camp. At this point, I don’t care. Even if I have no idea who Ben Harpur is.

If there is one thing I didn’t like, it was the ‘fans’ giving Halak the Bronx cheer on some saves. He doesn’t deserve that. Of the four goals he allowed, the only one he could’ve had was Domi’s first on the power play that put the Hawks ahead 3-0. It looked like he didn’t pick it up. It went high blocker. Blaming Halak for this mess is ridiculous. It’s loser talk from people who don’t watch the game.

I could care less about Panarin’s two secondary assists. He has stunk it up for a while. He’s the biggest reason PP1 isn’t as good. The predictability of his cross-ice passes have led to turnovers that are cleared down the ice. He doesn’t look shot enough. Although he has tried to change that strategy, they’re not going in with regularity. Six goals (5 ESG) in 26 games for the $11.64 million dollar Bread Man isn’t good enough.

Neither has his play without Strome. Gallant shouldn’t have to bend over backwards for Panarin. If he’s not pulling his weight, then try Lafreniere on the second line at his natural position. Instead, he’s being taught to be a third liner. Great.

Kakko I don’t have much hope for. He doesn’t possess much speed and isn’t instinctive enough. He looks like a two-way checking forward who can possess pucks and kill penalties.

The issue with both is neither have that extra gear. Where as you see it with Stutzle and other young stars like Jack Hughes and Calder leader Matty Beniers. Why don’t Kakko or Lafreniere have more breakaway speed? They’re in Years 4 and 3. They should have worked on the skating.

Do the Rangers even have a skating coach? Or is it all former muckers consisting of Jed Ortmeyer, Tanner Glass, Ryane Clowe and Matt Hunwick? Who will they hire next? Ryan Hollweg.

Aside from the stagnation of the kids who are needed to produce, it feels like the Rangers are having an identity crisis. Who do they want to be? A team that to be honest came off a Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Final last Spring that Igor Shesterkin carried. He of the .913 save percentage following a remarkable .935 last season in which he won the Vezina.

Make no mistake about it. Before those deadline additions arrived, Shesterkin stood on his head most nights. They had a great start under Gallant mostly due to Igor making unbelievable saves.

Don’t forget Dryden Hunt was on the second line. Blais was used on the top line before P.K. Subban ended his season with that dirty slewfoot. Then, Goodrow was moved up while Lafreniere and Kakko mostly stayed with Chytil. Kevin Rooney did a solid job on the fourth line and penalty kill. He left for a million to play for Calgary.

The depth isn’t as good. It was easy to ignore last year. Shesterkin, Fox, Kreider, Panarin and Zibanejad did the heavy lifting. Yes. Strome was reliable both as the second center and on the top unit. Gallant never had to deviate like he has done by trying Chytil before his latest mystery injury. Now, Trocheck gets another crack with Panarin.

If Jimmy Vesey is going to be counted on to stay up on the first line with Zibanejad and Kreider, what exactly does that say about Kakko and Lafreniere? Lafreniere was tried on the off wing. Kakko also was given a look on the right side. The production wasn’t good enough.

Lafreniere was decent with Panarin, but eventually it was obvious he had to go back to the left side, which again put him third on the depth chart. He’s willing to finish checks and get in on the forecheck. But it’s still not clicking. The consistency isn’t there. In his second year, you noticed him more during shifts. It could be a confidence issue.

What are the New York Rangers? Are they a win now team who’s missing key pieces in the top six and on defense? Or are they the miserable outfit we currently watch who show no signs of putting together a good stretch? They’ve played 26 games. There’s plenty of time to turn it around. They’d not dead and buried by any stretch.

But why do watching these games feel like a chore, bore or snore? Why did I have no excitement for last Monday’s first installment of the Battle Of Hudson? I knew what would happen. Even up two fast goals, at no point did I have any faith. With the way they make leads evaporate at home, would you feel confident?

When Gallant’s message is getting stale, it’s hard to see a turnaround. His lineups don’t inspire much. It’s See No Evil, Hear No Evil at Dolan’s Garden. If only this act co-starred Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.

I’ve put a lot of thought into this team. Maybe too much. They don’t deserve it. It hasn’t been earned. When even the most optimistic of fans is now numb to these games expecting the worst, that speaks volumes. It’s incredible.

Will they show up for sixty minutes tonight? The Blues are a lot like the Rangers. They have good players including Pavel Buchnevich. They should be better than their 11-13-0 record. But if you’ve followed them at all, you know better. They’ve given up 90 goals and have a minus-21 differential. The Rangers are dead even there at 76 apiece.

What does it mean? Jack bleep. If they can lose to lottery teams chasing Connor Bedard, then there isn’t any expectation. We don’t know how they’ll play. It can start better and then suddenly, there can be one of those lapses they’re prone to. Or maybe it’ll start badly and they’ll turn it around. You can’t predict much with this team.

If you saw the raw emotion Trouba spoke with at his locker following Saturday’s game, you could tell how much he cares. He knows his play hasn’t been good enough. Yet he’s there win or lose. He tried to light a fire. They didn’t respond.

We also see the disappointment all over Zibanejad following these games. He gives honest assessments. Ditto for Kreider, the warrior Ryan Lindgren and Fox. It’s killing them.

Is it a locker room issue? Trouba came dangerously close to indicating as such. Things have to change. Etc. Is it about a player or the coach? Or is it all in their heads?

If they don’t get a win tonight, it’ll only get harder. They are at Vegas and Colorado this week. Then the Devils and Leafs visit. No easy games.

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Tkachuk scores late and gets overtime winner to hand the Rangers another bad home loss, Senators earn split, Kravtsov nets goal in defeat, the disappointment of Kakko and Lafreniere

How many bad losses can a team have on home ice? Counting blown leads to the Red Wings, Islanders and Oilers, this makes four. Simply put, the Rangers don’t know how to win at MSG. They blew another lead in a bad 3-2 overtime loss to the lowly Senators.

Despite not playing well, they were in position to win thanks to Mika Zibanejad finding a loose puck that went off Artem Zub to take a one-goal lead with 13:57 left in the third period. But in a sloppy game where they turned over pucks and kept giving the Senators opportunities, they finally got burned in the final minute.

Behind the net in the corner, Jacob Trouba tried to clear the puck up the middle. The high risk play was intercepted by Ottawa defenseman Thomas Chabot. He knocked it down at the blue line and in one motion fired a long shot that captain Brady Tkachuk deflected past a helpless Igor Shesterkin to tie the score with less than 49 seconds remaining.

It was the latest costly mistake from Trouba, who can’t seem to find his way this season. The new Rangers captain gets credit for continuing to grind his way through whatever is ailing him. However, he’s repeatedly committed turnovers and blown assignments that have led to goals against like the big one Tkachuk scored on Friday night.

Making matters worse, the Rangers twice blew great chances to still earn the second point during three-on-three in extras. First, Trouba made a perfect outlet to lead Zibanejad on a breakaway. However, Cam Talbot took away the winner by making a glove save on Zibanejad’s wrist shot. He read it well.

Following that scoring chance, Adam Fox was in good position to be the hero. Instead, his shot or pass was taken away by a diving Chabot. He then found Tkachuk to send him in one on one with Shesterkin. With Artemi Panarin trying to back check, the much bigger Tkachuk warded him off and then made a big boy move, going forehand, backhand deke to beat Shesterkin five-hole for the OT winner at 4:42.

It put an end to another frustrating game at home. The Rangers are now 4-5-4 at MSG. Essentially, they’ve got four wins against nine losses at The Garden. That is an indictment of the current team. They continue to lose with regularity in their own building. Home ice disadvantage. Devils fans would agree after buying up all the available tickets on Monday and then failing to sellout for Nashville on Thursday in Newark.

It is embarassing how inconsistent this team is. I don’t often listen to Gerard Gallant. But I caught his somber postgame courtesy of ESPN Radio while out for a ride. He was as upset as he’s been all season. Referring to his team as only playing good for 15 minutes out of a 65-minute game, he called the effort far from good enough.

He also called out the power play. Even though they only went 0 for 2, he said there were poor entries and they were sloppy. This was in direct reference to the top unit that hasn’t been pulling its weight. It was actually the little used second unit that got a couple of shots on the second attempt. It isn’t good enough. Maybe Gallant should consider adjusting the two units.

In what amounted to his return to net after a tirade in which he blamed himself for all four goals the Devils scored on him in a discouraging 5-3 loss on Monday, Igor Shesterkin was back after Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves to win his first game at Ottawa (Kanata). He was much better finishing with 34 saves to take a hard luck defeat.

It wasn’t about the goaltending. Following a good enough start in which they tried to build off the road win over the same opponent, the Rangers were able to grab the lead thanks to Vitaly Kravtsov. He returned on Wednesday night and impressed Gallant enough in 10:30 of ice time to move him up on the second line with Filip Chytil and Artemi Panarin.

That new line was easily the most effective one during the game. Following a Fox pass up for Panarin, he moved the puck to Kravtsov in the left slot. One on one, his first shot accidentally caught Travis Hamonic up high sending him down in pain. Then, Kravtsov retrieved the puck and beat Talbot from an angle by going far side off the goalpost for his first of the season at 10:31. It was the third goal of his career.

Afterwards, the Senators began to pick it up. Talbot made stops on Fox and Jimmy Vesey, who always gives an honest effort. He just shouldn’t be on the first line. That’s more an indictment on Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. Both played with Vincent Trocheck on the third line. Neither distinguished themselves.

Kravtsov opened more eyes in one game than either former high draft pick has all season. That’s because unlike the overhyped ‘can’t miss prospects,’ the former 2018 ninth overall pick can actually skate and puts himself in good position in the offensive zone. That’s why I didn’t want the organization to throw him away. He still must prove a lot more. He took a bad penalty that they killed off. It’s a learning process.

Sometimes, MSG Network puts out postgame interviews on the Rangers YouTube channel. The one they made available of Kravtsov was severely lacking. It was 65 seconds. He didn’t seem to care about the goal. Instead, he wasn’t pleased with the game. It’s about winning. They didn’t.

If there was something that was noticeable the final seven minutes of the first, it was the Sens willingness to get shots through and drive the net. They made life difficult on Shesterkin, who was much sharper. He also had some help.

After Libor Hajek (in for Zac Jones) broke up a two-on-one, he saved a goal. Tkachuk had a shot trickle through Shesterkin dangerously close to going in. However, a hustling Hajek was able to get his stick on the puck and tuck it back under him to get a whistle. Goodrow also dove on the play and tried to get there.

On an effective shift while they were featuring him as the Ranger of the game, Trocheck made a strong move around the Ottawa net. However his wrap-around was denied by an alert Talbot. The former Ranger had 25 saves on 27 shots to ultimately get the win.

With Ottawa continuing to improve as the period wore on, it was the ever dangerous Tim Stutzle who got a quality chance thanks to a great move. After going around K’Andre Miller, he then got off a leaping wrist shot from the high slot that Shesterkin padded it away. A prime example of the elite skill he has. Hard to believe scouts had him rated behind Lafreniere. Stutzle is a more explosive skater. He’s also German. Not Canadian.

By the time the first concluded, shots were even at nine apiece. The Senators played better than at any point the other night. The Rangers turned over pucks and were making life harder on Shesterkin.

At the start of the second, the Senators got off quickly with three shots in the first 62 seconds including a Shane Pinto try that Shesterkin got over to deny. Pinto has a top heavy shot. He has nine goals. A second round pick on 2019, the right shooting center looks like a good goal scorer. Isn’t that what Kakko was supposed to be at number two?

The new checking line again was effective. Sammy Blais drew a cross-checking minor on Zub to put the Rangers on the power play less than four minutes in. I might get on his case a lot, but Blais has looked better recently. He almost scored in this game. The goalpost denied him.

In particular, the top unit was abominable. They couldn’t get anything going on the five-on-four. Instead, it was controlled by the Sens, who even got two shorthanded chances that Shesterkin handled. He also almost gave away a puck, but at the last second recovered. He’s very aggressive at stick handling. But lately, it’s been more iffy.

Back to full strength, it was advantage Ottawa. Alex DeBrincat was denied by Shesterkin, who really did his best work under siege. For a majority of the period, the more aggressive Sens swarmed his net. He made saves on Stutzle and Tkachuk to keep the Rangers ahead by one.

Following a close call on one end in which a Fox turnover allowed the Senators to counterattack, Claude Giroux thought he’d tied it by putting in a rebound of a Tkachuk shot with 8:58 left. However, a successful coach’s challenge by Gallant for offside showed that Tkachuk was just ahead of the play to reverse the goal call.

However, a Trouba minor for tripping Drake Batherson put Ottawa on the power play. After a stoppage, the Sens banged away with Stutzle finally able to stuff a backhand in past Shesterkin to tie the score with 7:44 to go. Tkachuk and DeBrincat picked up the assists.

On a rare five-on-five shift with Trocheck where he was visible, there was an Alexis Lafreniere sighting. He got two shots on net that Talbot stopped. There isn’t much else to say. At least he had three shots on goal including one good chance in the third. Aside from his penalty killing, Kakko did nothing. He really looks like a bust. I think he can be a checking forward. But that’s not what was predicted.

With the shots 11-5 in favor of the Sens, Trouba decided to challenge Tkachuk following a draw. This heavyweight clash was very entertaining. They exchanged blows and it definitely woke up a dead crowd. The same one that was asleep while Devils fans took over the building. Dolan’s creation.

The Rangers began to show some signs of life after that fight. On another effective shift for the trio of Panarin, Chytil and Kravtsov, they were able to get some sustained pressure that nearly resulted in the go-ahead goal. On a smart diagonal pass from Panarin up to Schneider, he made a good centering feed for a wide open Chytil in front. All he had to do was tip it home. But he missed it. It was there.

After Austin Watson finished a check on Trocheck, Barclay Goodrow engaged him. Taking up for Trocheck, the smaller Goodrow did well against the bigger Watson, who’s a tough customer. Each received five-minute majors for fighting. When he discussed this portion of the game, Gallant indicated that they shouldn’t need two fights to get motivated. He’s right.

It was on a shift with Trocheck anchoring the checking unit that Blais made a nice move around and fired a shot that beat Talbot. But it rang off the goalpost and stayed out. That’s his luck. No goals in 36 games and counting. At least his confidence is coming back.

Even though Ottawa didn’t get any shots following the fights, Lindgren had a late one from distance that Talbot handled. The second finally ended. The Senators led in shots 20-15 and had the better of the play except on the scoreboard thanks to Shesterkin.

In the third period, Trocheck got open. But as has been the case for him in Year One, he hit another post. Joe Micheletti noted that that’s nine goalposts. Who’s keeping track? Not him or Kenny Albert, who filled in for a sick Sam Rosen. I hope he feels better. He really sounded under water in Ottawa. Poor guy is such a gamer. He should also get Saturday off. But Albert travels for NFL games. Get Rosen some help.

On what else but a good forecheck by a pinching Fox, he drew two for slashing from Stutzle. This time, they got chances. But Trocheck and Chris Kreider missed with the latter a great opportunity on a weird play. By the time Panarin fired the rebound, Talbot was set and made the easy stop for a whistle.

Remarkably, the second unit came out and actually had more shots on net. Talbot stopped a Trouba long blast and then shut the door on tries from Lafreniere and Chytil. Lafreniere tried to go five-hole from the circle. But Talbot was squared up. I really think he should be on the right side. Kakko isn’t a shooting threat. I haven’t figured out why Blais is on that unit.

A little bit later, an active shift from Vesey down low led to a goal. On the forecheck, Schneider sent a wrist shot that banked off Zub in front. Kreider then had a rebound go to Zibanejad, who was able to squeak it through Talbot for his team-leading 12th at 6:03. A gritty goal for a skilled player. They’ve been getting more of those recently.

With over 10 and a half minutes left, Kravtsov just missed on a backhand. The replay seemed to indicate it might’ve gone off Talbot. They don’t always get everything right. I couldn’t tell. Following that close call, he went for a stick lift and caught Pinto with a high stick. That put Ottawa on the power play.

On the penalty kill, Shesterkin made two saves. His best came when he slid over to deny a Pinto one-timer. It was a good set up. But he was much more locked in than this past Monday. Perhaps the extra day off did him some good. They’re gonna need him.

Shortly following the successful penalty kill, Tyler Motte thought he had one. On the play directly in front, he shot a puck into the right outstretched pad of Shesterkin, who had it underneath on the goal line with 7:18 remaining.

Immediately, the refs decided to go to video review to determine if it was a goal. Shesterkin’s momentum pulled him back into the net. At no point did the replays show the puck anywhere other than underneath him. It was the right call.

Undeterred, the Sens continued to come. On a strong offensive shift, Pinto had Batherson wide open in the slot. But Shesterkin calmly made a glove save to shrug it off. Then, the more familiar, “Ig-or, Ig-or!”, chants followed. If only it had the same enthusiasm as the mock chants.

After another good shift where you noticed him on the forecheck, I tweeted this. Dan Rosen also had something positive to say.

At least Kravtsov can skate and shows instincts. He did play professionally. He will need to get stronger. He almost got caught on a dump in during an early line change. We’ll see what happens. They need all the help they can get. Especially with Kakko and Lafreniere in a malaise.

As Shesterkin kept making key stops, it looked like the Rangers would actually protect a one-goal lead and earn a win in regulation. Not so fast.

Instead, with Ottawa pressing late in the final minute during a six-on-five, Trouba thought he had a chance to clear the zone. But his pass up the middle was intercepted by a quick thinking Thomas Chabot. He then fired a shot that Tkachuk tipped in to again spoil the fun.

It was typical. What else can be said. This team doesn’t know how to close games out on home ice. They’ve also lost to San Jose. Another forgettable cruel ending in OT.

The three-on-three was entertaining. The Rangers had their chances. But when Zibanejad was thwarted by Talbot and Panarin was turned away, it was just a matter of time.

I didn’t understand Gallant using Kakko over Kravtsov. He didn’t have a good offensive game. No shots on net. Reward your best players. Stick him out there. See what he can do.

After Fox came close, Chabot sent a hanging Tkachuk down for the winner. A power forward move by a player who isn’t a colossal disappointment. Instead, he’s a captain at 23 who scored two goals (including numbers 100 and 101) and an assist with a fight for a Gordie Howe hat trick. He leads his team in scoring with 28 points and dominates games.

Will Lafreniere ever reach that level? He’s on a checking line and still struggling to distinguish himself. The game-breaking speed isn’t there. He puts himself in position and gets dirty. But there just isn’t that extra gear. Kakko I’ve given up on. He lacks the instincts you expect in a scorer.

I wish I had more positive things to say. If they don’t get two points against the woefully bad Blackhawks tonight, that’s pathetic. It has to be a win. It’s a 7:30 start.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Vitaly Kravtsov, Rangers goal (1st of season), 3 attempts, 2 PIM, +1 in 15 shifts (12:22)

2nd 🌟 🤩 Igor Shesterkin, Rangers 34 saves on 37 shots incl. 13/14 in 3rd

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Brady Tkachuk, Senators 2 goals (10, 11) including OT winner plus 🍎, fight, 8 SOG, +1 in 19:10

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Warrior like mentality for Lindgren provides spark

If you watch Ryan Lindgren play hockey, he does it with maximum effort. Few give what the 24-year old rugged defenseman does shift in and shift out.

A former Bruins second round pick in 2016, the Burnsville, Minnesota native came over to the Rangers as part of the Rick Nash trade on Feb. 25, 2018. One of the best moves of the Jeff Gorton era, the former GM also swapped first round picks to select K’Andre Miller. He also turned Ryan Spooner into Ryan Strome, who had a good career on Broadway before signing with Anaheim.

Although we didn’t know a lot about Lindgren, he was considered an afterthought. Let’s just say not everyone was convinced that he’d amount to much. They were preoccupied singing the praises of Libor Hajek, who was part of an even bigger deal that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Lightning. I’ll spare you the details.

When Lindgren first debuted with the Blueshirts in ’18-19 following a season with the Wolf Pack, he got into five games. While he didn’t leave a big impression, I liked the edge he played with. Never mind the minus-six. A product of where that team was. He stuck his nose in and brought physicality.

Maybe that’s why when training camp for ’19-20 arrived, I couldn’t believe how overlooked he was. Nobody was talking about him. It was all about Hajek. But honestly, I was more impressed with the harder hitting Lindgren, who showed more promise during that preseason before getting sent down.

Sometimes, you can tell a lot about a player based on instinct. The University Of Minnesota product was someone I knew would be back. It only took five more AHL games in Hartford for the Rangers to recall Lindgren. He never went back down.

Instead, the generously listed six-foot, 190 pound defenseman became a mainstay on the blue line. Almost immediately, former coach David Quinn teamed up Lindgren with close friend Adam Fox. They had played together before with Team USA. Familiarity with each other’s game helped bring chemistry.

While new Ranger Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei struggled to rediscover the chemistry they once had growing up, Lindgren and Fox became a good tandem. With the ultra skilled Fox providing the offense, the gritty Lindgren supplied the nuts and bolts. They formed a nice partnership.

In 60 games his rookie season, Lindgren registered a goal with 13 assists for 14 points along with 47 penalty minutes and a superb plus-16 rating. He finished checks and got involved when it was necessary during scrums.

There was a real warrior like mentality to him. Whether it be a big hit or diving block, Lindgren would do it. That hard-nosed style is what’s made the no frills defensive defenseman a very effective player for the Rangers.

It’s the willingness to battle in the trenches and get dirty that makes Lindgren so valuable to the Rangers. When he missed three games in the first round versus Pittsburgh last Spring, they missed his steady presence on the back end. In fact, they dropped Games Four and Five by giving up seven goals each to fall into a 3-1 series hole.

Of course, a hobbled Lindgren would return to help provide an emotional lift that certainly aided the Rangers in their first round comeback series win over the Pens. They couldn’t have reeled off the last three to advance without the heart and soul of the team.

It speaks to his importance. Lindgren and Fox go together like peanut butter and jelly. With Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller able to draw tough assignments, it allowed Gerard Gallant to count on his top two pairs to get the job done. He was also able to wisely utilize the third pair which became Justin Braun and Braden Schneider after Patrik Nemeth struggled.

When Lindgren was out, the blue line was weakened. Nemeth had to play along with Braun. It was no surprise the Rangers fell behind three games to one. For a player who they initially didn’t foresee big things for, all Lindgren has done is continue to play an honest role on a team that needs it.

While he mostly will do his due diligence delivering big hits that energize the bench and sacrifice for the team by blocking shots no matter how tough it is, he also can contribute offensively when the opportunity presents itself. He set a career high in goals (4) last season while adding 11 assists for 15 points to go with his plus-18 rating, 48 penalty minutes, 129 hits and 141 blocked shots.

Lindgren was even better in his first true postseason. He posted two goals with three assists and five points while going plus-eight in 17 games. All on a bad ankle that he played through in the second round triumph over Carolina and six-game Eastern Conference Final defeat to Tampa Bay. He averaged 21:55 in the playoffs finishing with 30 hits and 41 blocks.

Entering his fourth full season, Lindgren was in the second year of a contract that pays him an average cap hit of $3 million through ’23-24. A bargain for a gritty player who leaves it all out there. He continues to take some bumps and bruises along the way. Even if that means taking his licks as he did against Jeremy Lauzon on Nov. 12 in a frustrating loss at Nashville.

That’s who he is. Accountable for his actions. The kind of team player who has the respect of his teammates. In the key win over Ottawa on Wednesday night, he made a diving block of a shot that clearly had him limping. However, he finished the shift and got back to the bench. Of course, he returned for the next shift.

Ironically, it was Lindgren who was directly involved in all three goals the Rangers scored in a badly needed 3-1 road win over the Senators to end a three-game losing streak. He established a career high with three assists in the victory.

In fact, Lindgren picked up the primary helper on all three goals. That included a rebound that Jimmy Vesey put in for the only goal during the first period. One in which the Rangers focused more on checking and the defensive side by playing responsibly.

Midway through the contest in Kanata, Ontario, it was a Lindgren point shot that a hustling Barclay Goodrow was able to tip in past Cam Talbot for a two-goal lead. An effective shift for the checking line Goodrow anchored between Sammy Blais (assist) and Julien Gauthier.

After Ottawa rookie center Shane Pinto cut the lead to one, the Blueshirts survived a close call when a Senators chance by Parker Kelly was just tucked under Jaroslav Halak by Trouba. He is still having issues due to the upper-body injury he’s playing through. So, Gallant made a change and had him play with Zac Jones while Schneider teamed with Miller. It worked.

When they needed an insurance marker during a tightly played third period, it was Lindgren who took a Mika Zibanejad pass and fired a shot pass for a Kreider deflection that gave them enough breathing room to leave Canada with a 3-1 win. The third primary assist for Lindgren.

Not surprisingly, he was named the game’s First Star. He also shared the Broadway Hat with Halak, who made 34 saves on 35 shots in earning his first victory as a Ranger. An important development that can only boost his confidence.

When asked recently by NY Post beat writer Mollie Walker about Lindgren, Kreider summed up his key teammate perfectly:

“We always tell him before the game that he’s the straw that stirs the drink,” Kreider told The Post in a feature story that appeared earlier today. “He is. He does so many little things for this team. There’s a reason he’s the biggest unsung hero on this team. The way he blocks shots, the physical way he plays every single night.

He’s so committed to winning. To see him do the things that we’ve all been talking about from an offensive standpoint, just getting pucks through to the net when you’ve got a lane. I mean, right from the get-go, he’s moving, he’s jumping up into the play.”

He’s not wrong. Kreider, who tied all-time great Brian Leetch for ninth on the Rangers franchise list for goals (240), understands the importance of Lindgren. A quiet player who lets his play do the talking.

With eight assists in 22 games along with a plus-seven rating and 25 penalty minutes, Lindgren continues to lead by example. His 42 blocks rank second on the club behind Trouba (60), who despite being banged up is grinding it out. He also has 31 hits. Although it’s middle of the pack, when he finishes a check, you know it. That’s the impact Lindgren has.

In many ways, number 55 is similar to Dan Girardi. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help the team win. A member of the Black and Blueshirts, Girardi was the warrior of those teams that made three appearances in the Conference Finals and played for the Stanley Cup in 2014. Ironically, he rocked number 5. Lindgren wears double 5. How’s that for irony?

In the NHL, every good team needs those glue guys who provide the grunt work. That’s why Ryan Lindgren is universally loved by coaches, teammates and fans. Like Girardi, he gets up and keeps on ticking. Lindy as he’s affectionately known, will continue to be an important foot soldier for the Blueshirts.

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Still without answers, Gallant’s desperation beginning to show, depth hurting Rangers after loss to well balanced Devils, a closer look into the trust issues with young players

The differences between two bitter Hudson rivals was on full display at MSG on Monday night. For Gerard Gallant, that isn’t a positive development. A good man still searching for answers, he has very few right now.

What transpired was another wasted opportunity for the Manhattan side of the rivalry. Buoyed by two quick goals from Artemi Panarin (finally) and Mika Zibanejad, it looked like the Rangers were out to prove a point at the start against the first place Devils.

Gallant even decided to take a suggestion I’ve made. He moved Filip Chytil up to center the second line, teaming him with the slumping Panarin and Kaapo Kakko. On a good outlet by K’Andre Miller that caught the Devils, it allowed Chytil to move in on a two-on-one and setup Panarin for his first goal in 13 games. That came only 80 seconds in.

Throughout most of the game, it was that newly constructed line which looked good. Chytil was flying. He continues to improve in his fifth season. Proof that if you’re patient with a former first round pick, eventually they’ll get it. In 17 games, Chytil has 11 points including seven assists. Never a big passer, the 23-year old is showing that he’s capable of setting up open teammates.

If only the cynics noticed his improvement. Something that started last Spring when it was the line centered by Chytil with younger pups Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere that provided the spark at five-on-five in the club’s trip to the Conference Finals. I think anyone would admit the returns on both Kakko and Lafreniere have been disappointing so far. But they are 21 and still trying to find their way.

One thing that’s been overlooked is before the old administration run by Jeff Gorton and John Davidson were unceremoniously dumped into the Atlantic by impatient Garden CEO James Dolan, they were responsible for landing Panarin and acquiring Jacob Trouba prior to the start of ’19-20. They spent a whopping $19.6 million on two key additions to take a shortcut into becoming competitive during the rebuild.

In also extending Chris Kreider for $6.5 million that same ’19-20 season when things were looking up with David Quinn behind the Rangers bench, they thought the team was good enough to keep together. After a surprising year where they qualified for the expanded format due to the pandemic, they were dismissed easily in three games by the Hurricanes in what proved to be the last time Henrik Lundqvist ever played.

A big part of that belief were the emergence of future stars Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin. Both grabbed the spotlight during their rookie years to energize the fan base. Even though they were no match for the Canes, there was hope moving forward.

Featuring a core that included Mika Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin, Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Trouba, Shesterkin and then second pivot Ryan Strome, there was cause for optimism. With Kakko also part of that roster in what amounted to a challenging rookie season, things looked up.

If there was a gigantic surprise nobody anticipated that summer, it was the second part of the complex 2020 NHL Draft Lottery that really changed things. Having been one of 24 teams to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoff Qualifier, odds were against the Rangers of winning the lottery which featured much hyped Canadian top prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

When the league’s worst teams didn’t win the ultimate prize, that left the door open for eight lucky losers (tennis expression). Even the Maple Leafs, Penguins and Oilers could’ve landed the top pick. Instead, it was the Rangers who won the draft rights to Lafreniere. Never in their history had they ever selected first in the NHL Entry Draft.

Everyone knew that Lafreniere would be the number one pick. How could you argue with all the success he had tearing up the QMJHL and winning MVP of the 2020 IIHF U20 World Junior Championships? Even though he was a left wing, the consensus was to take him number one overall.

Once the Rangers made it official on October 6, 2020, an excited 18-year old teenager said all the right things about joining an Original Six franchise rich in history. If he only knew then.

When it comes to developing its high draft picks, the organization doesn’t have a good track record. Whether it’s taking the wrong player (Brendl, Lundmark, Jessiman, Montoya, McIlrath, Andersson) or being unable to get the most out of them (Korpikoski, Malhotra, Gagner, Middleton) before moving on, the track record isn’t good.

Kreider is a rarity. A first round pick in ’09, he’s been a successful player in the Big Apple. After coming over from winning a national title with Boston College to help the ’11-12 Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Final, he’s scored at least 20 goals in seven seasons.

Having twice hit 28, he reached a new level by scoring a career best 52 in ’21-22. A memorable year that saw him surpass Jaromir Jagr for a new single season record 26 power play goals. His 11 game-winning goals were also a new mark for the most by a Ranger in a season.

Although he’s not finishing at the same rate, Kreider has been one of the most consistent players this season. With two assists in the frustrating loss to the Devils, he’s up to 10 goals and nine assists in 23 games. That production is why he’ll stay on the top line with sidekick Zibanejad, whose 11 goals and seven power play tallies lead the team. His 24 points are second behind both Fox and Panarin, who each lead with 25.

Following a good finish to his second year in which he scored 19 even strength goals and added nine points during the postseason as part of the Kid Line, it’s been a struggle so far for Lafreniere. He did recently end an 11-game drought by tallying against Edmonton over the weekend.

However, the 21-year old former top pick feels lost in the shuffle. Lafreniere has been moved around by Gallant. He’s had stints both on the first and second line playing on the off wing. Then, been moved back to his natural position on the left side where he currently is.

He works well with Chytil, who will remain between Panarin and Kakko for a second straight game when the Rangers face Ottawa later Wednesday night. At the moment, he’ll play either with Vincent Trocheck (GTD) or Ryan Carpenter with Vitaly Kravtsov out of purgatory. Another story altogether on how mindless the organization is when it comes to handling prospects.

With three goals and seven assists for 10 points, Lafreniere has to contribute more. The issue is how he’s been handled. Being shuffled all over the place doesn’t allow for consistency or chemistry. A look across the Hudson at how Lindy Ruff has handled the Devils revival is completely different. That’s why they have 19 wins including Monday’s first meeting at what sounded like a Devils home game.

You gotta give MSG credit. They sold-out a long time ago. So, the mocking of “Ig-or,” on a night he didn’t have it is what they get. They cater to a different crowd. Not the traditional fan who’s been there since the beginning. They didn’t even sellout versus the Devils, whose fans bought up a lot of seats to be louder in support of their first good team in years. Who could blame them?

If they want Lafreniere to improve, then the coaching staff had to figure out a way for him to play with better players and receive consistent ice time. He still remains on the little used second unit which has a miscast Trouba on the point.

When Sammy Blais is taking a power play shift, that’s a problem. He of no goals and four assists. A fourth line player who Gallant likes even though he hardly shows it. Ditto for Julien Gauthier, who barely sniffs the ice in the third period despite deserving to.

The bottom line is Lafreniere remains behind both Kreider and Panarin, who still hasn’t recovered from losing center Ryan Strome. He might lead the team in scoring, but his play at five-on-five has been subpar. He hasn’t had much chemistry with Trocheck, who’s a 200-foot player that’ll work in the corners and is a shoot first center unlike Strome, who deferred to the Bread Man.

At least for now, Trocheck has switched places with Chytil. Did GM Chris Drury really give him that contract to be a checking center? You know the answer. This isn’t on Trocheck, whose late power play goal on a rebound at least made things interesting before Yegor Sharangovich scored into an empty net. He plays the game honestly and is a good team player who can be used in any situation. He also is better on face-offs than Strome.

It’s hard for the Blueshirts to be successful when their franchise netminder has a stinker like the game on Monday night. He allowed bad goals to Tomas Tatar, Sharangovich and Jack Hughes even though it was a breakaway. He got beat five-hole.

Shesterkin called his performance crappy. I can’t use the exact word he said. But his frustration was obvious. He even broke a stick yesterday in practice after giving up a goal. A sign that his confidence level isn’t high.

Perhaps that explains why Jaroslav Halak will get the nod tonight in net. Having not won a game yet, it’s important for the likable 37-year old veteran to get off the schneid. He’ll want to erase the last start where he gave up two questionable goals in a Turkey Eve defeat to the lowly Ducks.

As much as the goaltending hasn’t been as consistent although prior to the third period meltdown versus Edmonton, Shesterkin was trending up- it has a lot to do with how the team plays in front of the goalies. They have lapses where they stop playing their game. It happened again on Monday. The pair of goals from Panarin and Zibanejad were followed up by Tatar and Sharangovich tying the game.

Then, they were badly outplayed in a lopsided second period by a Devils team that’s extremely fast and aggressive in both the neutral zone and on the forecheck. They forced a lot of turnovers including the one from Trouba behind his net that led to Sharangovich tying it in the first.

Shesterkin made a lot of saves in the second. However, a Dawson Mercer lob pass came perfectly to Hughes, who was behind Lindgren and Fox. He made his move and beat Shesterkin through the wickets. Mike McLeod would add a goal on a rebound that Shesterkin didn’t track. That was enough for the Devils to win.

Despite several trips to the penalty box in an undisciplined third, the Devils killed off most of the penalties. It wasn’t until Trocheck got to a rebound of a Fox shot that Kreider kicked it towards him that they finally scored on the power play. A five-on-four that’s struggled. It’s now ranked 18th in the league. That’s despite Gallant leaning heavily on the five-man unit of Fox, Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider and Trocheck.

Although he was shaky early allowing a bad Trouba rebound for an easy Zibanejad put away to fall behind by two, Vitek Vanecek steadied during Monday’s game. He made 30 consecutive saves including a few key ones to keep the Rangers at bay. That allowed his team to come back and grab the lead. He was better than Shesterkin, who not long ago won the Vezina with a historic season.

It isn’t coming as easy these days. It’s hard to point at Shesterkin. It’s been a collective effort. That’s why the Rangers are a mediocre 10-9-4 entering tonight. They’re out of the playoffs at the moment. But the calendar is still November until tomorrow. Way too early to go off the rails.

There are a lot of things that you can’t like. From the inconsistency shift to shift, to the lack of scoring depth. As ESPN analyst Ray Ferraro alluded to in his response to a tweet I sent, they no longer have Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano or Strome to help provide balance. Tyler Motte as well. As I’ve maintained from Day One, it’s up to the kids now.

With the defense having issues due to Trouba clearly not at 100 percent and Miller being up and down, it makes it difficult to win consistently. Trouba has been playing through an upper-body injury. You can see that he’s a step slower and not finishing as many checks. He still does, but not at the same regularity. The mistakes have been glaring.

Some critics made a huge deal out of Leon Draisaitl knocking his stick out following Edmonton tying Saturday’s game. They blew a three-goal lead and it was late in the third period. Trouba couldn’t exactly go back at Draisaitl in that spot. The same for any teammate. Look how they won it. On a bad Lafreniere penalty for knocking the helmet off which Draisaitl cashed in on with just over two minutes remaining.

Are the Rangers softer than last year? Absolutely. They were even when Ryan Reaves was still a member up until recently. They aren’t as hard to play against. You’ll have to ask Gallant why. He makes the lineups. There aren’t many answers these days. But finally an admission that they’re all accountable for the losing.

At not even 25 games in, some have thrown in the towel. Far too early for that. It isn’t like the Pens or Hurricanes are pulling away. The Rangers have now played five divisional games. They’re 1-4-0. The only win against the now morbid Flyers. Obviously, they’ll have to turn it around when they start facing division rivals more. They’ve yet to see Carolina, Pittsburgh or Washington.

If they can get a win against a defense optional Ottawa team that likes to play a fast pace, then there’s another game with them on Friday back home. The lowly Blackhawks then follow on Saturday. Then the middling Blues next Monday. That’s a chance to get better. All four games are winnable. It’ll depend on how they play.

There’s a lot of work to be done. From Shesterkin getting back to the elite level to the team functioning as one. Also the coach having enough trust in the roster. That means not shortening the bench by five skaters in the third period. While I understood the rationale, it means he again is over-playing Fox, who probably should come with a piano on his back from carrying the defense by Christmas.

Unlike that, Ruff used all 18 of his skaters. He seems to have full trust in the players. He recently became just the fifth coach to win 800 games. The players love him. That was also the game Hughes recorded his first career hat trick. A 5-1 home win over the Caps. On Monday, Ruff played all 18 skaters at least 10 minutes including emergency call-up Alex Holtz. A former high pick who clearly isn’t ready.

The Devils definitely are benefitting from their former top picks both growing into young stars. Hughes is leading them with 12 goals and 26 points. Nico Hischier is right behind both Hughes and Jesper Bratt (8-18-26) with 10 goals and 25 points. Both Hischier and Bratt are 24 while Hughes is 21. They are all over a point-per-game.

Ruff has found a role for rookie Fabian Zetterlund. He picked up a helper in the win. Up to 12 points, that’s good production for the 23-year old former third round pick in 2017. That’s better than either Lafreniere (3-7-10) or Kakko (4-4-8).

They’re still trying to figure it out. Is that due to being overhyped or not having clearly defined roles? Maybe it’s both along with the weight of expectation. Each play hard. But sometimes, you don’t notice them during shifts. Not being cast consistently in the top six or on the top unit doesn’t help. They’re essentially blocked by more established higher salaried players.

Ask Kravtsov how he’s been handled since Drury decided to give him a do-over. Injuries and a surgery for a toothache haven’t helped. He was ready to return six games ago. But Gallant wanted to keep the same lineup that includes that fourth line he likes. The one that hardly saw the ice the last two games.

This isn’t to suggest that Kravtsov would make the difference. Honestly, who knows at this point. I liked what I saw when he first arrived debuting under Quinn at the conclusion of ’20-21. Is he strong enough to handle the NHL? That remains a question. Kravtsov gets back in later where he’ll play on the same line as Lafreniere. Hopefully, Trocheck is able to go.

If other teams can remain patient with young players and let them grow as we’ve seen in Buffalo with Tage Thompson and Anaheim with Troy Terry, why can’t the Rangers? They’re seeing Chytil continue to improve. He gets another game with Panarin.

They have given Miller a lot of leeway. He never comes out of the lineup. Now, the coaching staff has decided to take one of my suggestions by pairing him with Braden Schneider. Trouba will pair with Zac Jones. An admission finally.

If we look around the league, you’ll notice Jason Robertson lighting it up with Dallas among the league leaders in scoring. How many players are better finishers? He’s 23. A 39th pick by the Stars in 2017. Their patience got rewarded. They also are playing recent ’21 first round pick Wyatt Johnston (6-3-9).

When they visit Ottawa tonight, the Rangers will have to contend with Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle. Tkachuk is the 23-year old do everything captain who paces the Senators in points (25), assists (16), goals (9), penalty minutes (32) and is second in hits (54). Stutzle is second in scoring with 22 points (8-14-22) including 14 at even strength. He went third behind Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield.

The difference is the primary roles Tkachuk and particularly Stutzle play. Flashing back to that 2020 WJC, I was more impressed with the speed and skating of Stutzle than Lafreniere. This isn’t a second guess. Stutzle played for Germany and made them much better. He is a better skater. So far, he’s had a faster start. Of course, it’s easier to play for a team that doesn’t have players ahead of them. That allows for growth.

The Hurricanes have no problem playing Seth Jarvis in the top six. Even though he got off to a bad start in his second year, Rod Brind’Amour has allowed him to find his footing.

You see what Matty Beniers is doing with the Kraken. Two more goals in the game of the month. A wild Seattle 9-8 overtime win at the Kings. The same Kings who have Arthur Kaliyev in a secondary role up to eight goals (6 PPG) and eight assists. He wasn’t good enough to go in the first round of 2019. Oops.

It’s interesting how Kaliyev is used by Todd McLellan. He is on the power play and producing due to that laser of a shot. Neither Kakko or Lafreniere have a power play goal this season. In fact, Lafreniere who is a former number one pick, somehow has zero power play goals over his career. That’s 158 games. What other NHL franchise would that happen under? Kakko has totaled five PPG in 180 games.

If that doesn’t spell epidemic, I don’t know what does. The Rangers are allergic to putting their young players in the best situations to improve. It stunts growth. The Turk way of doing things is hurting them. Being all in on one top unit isn’t beneficial for the future of the team. Especially when they’re not getting it done consistently. At some point, that needs to change.

Can you imagine Hughes here? Would he play over Zibanejad? That is hard to answer. Zibanejad definitely is a first line player who’s now established. That’s because after acquiring him from Ottawa, they gave him every opportunity to succeed. That’s what they haven’t done with Kakko or Lafreniere.

Can it really remain Jimmy Vesey playing first line minutes? He’s a very hard worker who’s performed well. But he shouldn’t be anywhere near the top line. Checking role. Penalty killer. Barclay Goodrow is more effective in that role too. He was miscast on the second line recently. A good player that can be plugged, he shouldn’t be in the top six. These are questions that should be asked.

Gallant is still desperately hoping to solve the scoring problem. By experimenting with Chytil between Panarin and Kakko on the second line, he’s giving two young players another look with the highest paid forward on the roster. If Trocheck can play, Lafreniere and Kravtsov together on a third line could be interesting. Vesey remains with Zibanejad and Kreider. Goodrow back to the checking line with Blais and Gauthier.

Will the Turk find enough trust to do what must be done for this roster to succeed? That remains to be seen.

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Devils once again streaking after a 5-3 win in 2022-23’s first Battle of the Hudson

This Devils team sure does know a thing or two about winning streaks, doesn’t it? After the end of a thirteen-game heater (thanks to Jack Hughes’ quote it’ll be a while before I stop thinking about a Devils winning streak as a heater) last Wednesday, the Devils merely responded after Thanksgiving with another three straight wins in four nights – qualifying it as a winning streak according to the Gospel of Lou Brown – including a back-and-forth game with the Rangers tonight at the Garden that lived up to the billing and then some. Despite early adversity falling behind 2-0 barely three minutes into the game, and late adversity with a parade to the penalty box making things tenser than they needed to be, the Devils once again did enough to win. Everything still feels so surreal, I’m pinching myself…this team is really 19-4, in first place IN THE ENTIRE NHL?!

Ironically when there hasn’t been much to say about the losing the previous few years because of how constant it is, I don’t really feel the need to recap every game now that the winning is becoming just as constant. Truth be told, I had a tougher time getting over the adrenaline rush of last week than the team itself did. To their credit, they’ve kept up their not too high and not too low mindset – winning 3-1 in Buffalo on Friday behind Akira Schmid (33 saves, now 4-0 overall). Then they stuck it to one of their biggest nemesis the last few years at the Rock on Saturday, beating the Caps 5-1 with Vitek Vanecek coming up aces in his first game against his former team, yet ‘somehow’ not getting the first star in a game where he made 37 stops.

In this case, the somehow was Hughes’ first NHL hat trick earning him the first star on Saturday. If beating a Caps team who hadn’t lost a regulation game to the Devils since February 2020 (a.k.a before most of us knew what COVID was) was satisfying to the organization, they sure didn’t rest on their laurels today. Of course, it’s pretty well impossible to take any game with the Rangers for granted. Especially since this had all the makings of a rivalry game where the slumping team uses the energy to get out of its malaise against a streaking team. Early on, it looked to be going exactly that way when Artemi Panarin got the fans in blue rocking with a goal off a two-on-one just eighty seconds in, giving the Rangers the lead. Then less than two minutes later came a rare mistake by Vanecek this season, fumbling a shot in the crease that led to a Mika Zibanejad rebound goal at 3:01, doubling the Blueshirt edge.

Momentum started to turn with a beaut of a goal from Tomas Tatar at 7:33, beating Igor Shesterkin by roofing a high backhand short-side. Probably a surprisingly weak goal from the reigning Vezina winner on the one hand, but a heck of a shot on the other. You decide:

Less than six minutes later, the game was tied after Yegor Sharangovich was johnny on the spot, putting away a juicy turnover in front of the Ranger net to tie the game and give Sharangovich his seventh goal of the season. At first I thought it was a nice pass by Jesper Boqvist out of the corner, but the goal was officially unassisted so clearly it was off a turnover. Early in the second period the white-hot Devils maintained their momentum and took the lead off a lovely skill play, with a home run pass from Dawson Mercer finding Hughes for a breakaway, and he scored his twelfth goal of the season (five of them in this recent three-game winning streak).

Thankfully the Devils’ scoring binge wasn’t quite over yet, as a Miles Wood shot deflected off Michael McLeod in front for the team’s fourth goal, at 9:40 of the second period. Despite failing to really put the final hammer down on a power play late in the second, things still looked good at that point. Our power play did everything but score…but a too many men on the ice penalty late in the period proved a harbinger for what was to come. Though the Devils killed off that power play early in the third, there were three more to come when Mercer, Ryan Graves and Tatar took penalties in short order (all within less than seven minutes). Mercer’s penalty was the most egregious since it came while the Devils were on the power play, in the offensive zone but Tatar’s is the one that proved costlier when Vincent Trocheck finally cashed in for the Rangers, inevitably pulling them to within one and leading to a tense finish. Vanecek shut the door from there however, and an empty-netter from Sharangovich finally sealed the deal at a surprisingly divided Garden fan-wise.

I can’t rightly say just how pronounced the Devil fan presence was compared to when I was there for us clinching a first round sweep in 2006, but however big the contingent was, it came through on TV. To the point where there were actually noticeable Igor serenades in the second period

As unbelievable as the team’s play has been, the fan support the last week has been just about as eye-opening. I swear, even when the team was consistently good I’ve never seen THIS kind of excitement level from the fanbase – at least not pre-April. To sell out three straight November games (two of them weekday against Canadian teams), then to invade the Garden as if it was Game 4 of the 2006 first round in the span of eight days?! It shows both how much this fanbase is starved for a winner, and perhaps how much the fanbase has grown in spite of the losing the previous several years.

It tempts you to look ahead over what’s to come, but there’s plenty of time to enjoy the ride before the spring angst begins.

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Telling quote from Gallant following third period debacle leaves more questions than answers for fragile Rangers

The Rangers lost a game today to the Oilers 4-3 at MSG. It’s the way they lost that drew plenty of boos from the capacity crowd and criticism ln social media circles.

Blowing a three-goal lead after two periods on home ice is inexcusable. The fashion in which they did was mind-numbing. Even in a game they got screwed out of a goal (Braden Schneider goal overturned on a very tacky incidental contact on Ryan Carpenter via a coach’s challenge) and lost Ryan Lindgren to a possible concussion, there’s no way they should’ve lost this game.

But here we are. After somehow losing to the basement dwelling Ducks in a game that had several goalposts and John Gibson having his one huge outing while Jaroslav Halak stunk, they found a new way to lose a game.

Despite a better showing from Artemi Panarin, who also had a power play goal wiped out by an offsides challenge (apparently the Oilers’ coaching staff paid attention) along with a host of other key players, it wasn’t enough to prevent a third period collapse on home ice.

An early goal from Alexis Lafreniere off an Adam Fox set up was a good way to start the afternoon. It ended an 11-game drought. The 21-year old left wing is one of those young players who must find more consistency.

With Gerard Gallant continuing to keep the First Round Pick Line together, they should be able to contribute more offense. Especially if he’s going to increase their shifts at even strength. Hopefully, that’ll bode well for Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko.

When they got consecutive five-on-five goals from Chris Kreider and the suddenly emerging Julien Gauthier late in a second period where Igor Shesterkin made some big saves, it looked like they’d win comfortably. However, nothing comes easy for the ’22-23 New York Rangers.

Having already blown a two-goal lead to the Islanders in an ugly regulation loss at The Garden, this one was even worse. While it is the Oilers, they got support from other players not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. They don’t win often when their dynamic duo doesn’t dominate.

Instead of finishing the game off, the more passive Blueshirts let the Oilers hang around. Evan Bouchard scored twice over a 2:52 span to swing the momentum. The first one was a good high shot with a player screening Shesterkin in front. He never saw it.

It came just after a K’Andre Miller penalty expired. His second came due to a bad turnover from Libor Hajek. He lost a battle behind the net which allowed the Oilers to pull within one.

Before you could look, Jacob Trouba had another sloppy turnover that led to rookie Dylan Holloway scoring his first NHL goal. A Rangers tradition. With Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow changing in front of the bench, a rushed Trouba pass missed both. Instead, Ryan McLeod made a lead pass for Holloway, who moved around Trouba to beat Shesterkin short side to suddenly tie the score with 9:39 remaining.

It was the only goal Shesterkin should’ve had. However, it’s hard to fault him. He bailed their asses out in the second with 15 saves when the Oilers most dangerous stars created opportunities. Of course, he’d want that tying goal back. It wasn’t a good period for the Rangers’ franchise goalie. But he was blameless on three of the four goals Edmonton scored on just eight shots.

This was a team effort. After Lindgren left the game following an awkward collision with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that likely sent him into concussion protocol, they fell apart. Down to five defensemen, that forced Gallant to rework his pairings. It still isn’t a good enough excuse to lose a game you once had a three-goal lead in.

The coach came under fire for not calling a timeout after Holloway tied it. His team could’ve used a breather to regroup. Perhaps even halted the Oilers’ momentum. Not Turk.

Instead, he watched as a Lafreniere minor penalty resulted in Draisaitl finishing off a nice passing play from Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid to give Edmonton the lead with 2:02 left in regulation. A play where Kreider was late covering Draisaitl on an easy backdoor go-ahead goal.

Of course, they didn’t tie it. That’s who they are right now. A fragile team that lacks confidence. Something Mika Zibanejad alluded to in a postgame interview in the locker room. He was one of a few players who felt they sat back too much. It cost them. While the guys on the ice are accountable, what about the coach? He didn’t take any responsibility.

So, let’s get this straight. He can’t explain how his team blew a three-goal lead when they had the last change in front of a sellout crowd. He has no answers. Only to put it all on the players. The same core he rode to within two games of playing for the Stanley Cup. I’m sure that quote will go over well.

Is Gallant kidding? He is behind the bench. This isn’t the first time his team not only let a lead in the third period slip up. But they didn’t even get a point. This was as bad a defeat as he’s had coaching the Rangers.

It’s Year Two. You can’t just take no responsibility for what happens in these games. Maybe that’s why Turk has worn out his welcome in other stops. When you have half the fan base already sick of his act this early into the second season, you know how much is expected.

Why should we care if he uses Vincent Trocheck as a checking center between Goodrow and Vesey. It was his brilliant decision to do so. They wound up minus-eight for the game. Though neither Goodrow or Vesey were culpable on the Oilers’ third goal. That was on Trouba, who now is minus-six with only five assists in his first year as captain. The mistakes are piling up. He must be much better.

If they are without Lindgren for any significant time, that isn’t reassuring. The glue of the defense who makes a huge difference as he proved last Spring in providing the warrior-like mentality for the first round comeback against the Pens. Without him, the Rangers haven’t fared well historically.

Whatever the news is on Lindgren, they’ll likely be without him for the first big match-up against the rival Devils on Monday. A first place team that entered Saturday with only four losses in 21 games. They’re much improved under Lindy Ruff, who was once a punchline. No more.

They’re a very fast team that plays well defensively. They are more explosive too. In other words, the Rangers better get it together for Monday’s showdown at MSG. They seem to fare better away from the World’s Most Expensive Arena. That won’t please customers. They deserve better than this circus.

It starts at the top. Maybe it’s time for Gallant to become more accountable before he loses the room. Time is ticking.

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A fan’s perspective on the disappointing Rangers so far

I’ll be honest. I haven’t felt like writing lately about this team. They are far more boring due to the predictability of Gerard Gallant.

Maybe it’s not all his fault either. Maybe it’s the way the roster is constructed. Maybe it’s time to look at the lousy off-season Chris Drury had. Anointed a ‘genius’ by other pundits, I’m starting to see things a bit differently.

Would you have given a 37-year old Jaroslav Halak a full no-movement clause and signed the declining backup goalie for $1.5 million this year? The results haven’t been up to par so far. In six starts, he’s yet to win a game and hasn’t exactly been consistent. Either he straightens out or it’s a huge fail by Drury, whose only other option is journeyman Louis Domingue.

In adding depth forwards Ryan Carpenter and Jimmy Vesey along with re-signing Julien Gauthier, that made Ryan Reaves expendable. Once Gauthier reestablished himself after coming back up from Hartford, the writing was on the wall for a great team guy in Reaves. He did the right thing requesting a trade.

Drury was lucky the Wild were interested. They assumed the rest of the $1.75 million tab for a player who became the odd man out under Gallant. The same coach who wanted him here and played him a lot last year. By extending him before he even played a game, Drury took an expensive risk. Paying a fourth liner that kind of money could’ve come back to bite him.

It nearly did. But due to Reaves’ past relationship with former Penguins teammate and current Wild GM Bill Guerin, Drury was able to accommodate Reaves’ trade request through his agent. He wanted to play. That’s exactly what he did yesterday on Black Friday. Reaves played over 12 minutes for Minnesota. Not bad for a guy who unfortunately became a victim of the numbers.

As much as I liked Reaves for what he brought to last year’s team due to his commitment, character, hard work and leadership, I knew this would likely be his fate. I called it a while ago. I’m glad he got the chance to play for the Rangers and make a positive impact both on and off the ice. Best of luck to a good man with his new team.

Of the additions Drury made, only Vesey has really made a difference. A likeable guy who’s mostly been used in a checking role recently with the Devils across the Hudson River, he’s gotten the opportunity to play in the top six on Broadway. While he’s played an honest game and done well by chipping in with seven points, there’s no way he should be on either the first or second line. Or does his two goals satisfy Gallant to justify playing Vesey with mostly Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider?

It all stems from a lack of trust in former high picks Kaapo Kakko and the lost Alexis Lafreniere, who looks nothing like the player he was supposed to be when they lucked into the top pick three summers ago. While there’s been noticeable improvement from Kakko, who seems to get quality scoring chances every game only to be foiled on most, it’s hard to believe he only has scored four goals. At some point, they have to start going in.

As for Lafreniere, if you haven’t figured it out by now, Gallant has no idea how to use the 2020 first overall pick. He’s tried playing him on the off wing with both Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck. The latter experiment where he found some chemistry with the exasperating Artemi Panarin (0 goals in 11 straight) started positively, but ended poorly.

Since then, the 21-year old Lafreniere has found himself reunited with both Kakko and Filip Chytil on the First Round Pick Line. In Year Three, after a promising showing in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Lafreniere remains stuck on two goals through 21 games. Not enough production for what either is a much overhyped Canadian prospect or another mismanaged young player by an organization known for stunting the growth of most prospects. I think by now, you know which camp I’m in.

Lafreniere’s natural position is left wing. Once the Rangers won the two part Draft Lottery following their ouster from the 2020 Preliminary Round, it put them in an unenviable position of having both Kreider and Panarin ahead of Lafreniere on the depth chart. With Kreider scoring a career high 52 goals including a franchise single season record 26 on the power play in ’21-22, there was no way Lafreniere would start on either of the top two lines at left wing. He’s been screwed around with. Despite that, he has remained positive due to how grounded he is.

With Panarin struggling to produce consistently at five-on-five like he has in years past, it’s complicated matters. Why else would Gallant have him on a new first line alongside Zibanejad with Kreider now shifted over to the off wing. It hasn’t come easy for Panarin with Trocheck, who’s more meat and potatoes unlike former second pivot Ryan Strome.

Trocheck finds himself between Vesey and Barclay Goodrow on a checking line when they host Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers this afternoon. Exactly what they paid Trocheck to do by also giving him seven years and the usual NMC the first three seasons before it becomes a moderated no-trade clause for the rest of the contract.

If Panarin can’t find chemistry on the top line playing with the Rangers’ best players, where to put the $11.6 million man with the immovable contract that doesn’t expire until 2026. If not with Trocheck, perhaps Gallant should consider trying the play-making Panarin with Chytil. An improving player whose 10 points (4-6-10) in 15 games have all come at even strength. His skill, speed and shoot first mentality might work. But they’d probably need a defensively responsibile forward to round it out. Either Vesey or Goodrow. The latter could take draws.

I’m a proponent of giving Kakko another look on the top line. He certainly creates plenty of chances due to his strong puck possession. He’s had breakaways too, but doesn’t shoot enough. He prefers to make one too many moves which opposing goalies seem ready for. He’s still a better option than Vesey, who’s better suited for a checking role like he was in New Jersey. Isn’t it about time they give Kakko an extended look to find out already?

With Gallant steadfast in his refusal to bench Sammy “No Goal” Blais (yet another Drury mistake) and reinsert Vitaly Kravtsov despite indicating otherwise, it feels like the end is near for another high draft pick. I guess they would rather play a bunch of grinders with little skill than find out if Kravtsov can handle the workload. How he’s not part of the equation since being declared healthy from the mysterious stomach bug/toothache is mind-boggling. So much for having a clean slate.

The Rangers aren’t a good offensive team. They rely too much on the established stars. It can’t always be the same five or six guys scoring the goals. That doesn’t work over an 82-game season. Especially if you have Stanley Cup aspirations.

They did clear enough room to add a significant player at next year’s trade deadline. Knowing what we know so far, would you go all in on a rental like Patrick Kane, who’ll cost them young players, prospects and picks? It seems like something this franchise has done before. One Cup in 82 years. Will they ever learn from their past mistakes?

I believe there needs to be better scoring balance. That means not relying on the same top unit which can’t always get it done. It also means Adam Fox getting help from a lackluster blue line where both K’Andre Miller and new captain Jacob Trouba have struggled. Aside from Fox’s six goals, Braden Schneider (2) plus rookie Zac Jones and Libor Hajek have four goals combined. They need a lot more from Trouba and Miller. Ryan Lindgren isn’t paid for offense. He supplies the nuts and bolts.

Igor Shesterkin has accounted for all 10 wins this team has. His play has gotten significantly better this month. He will face the McDavid/Draisaitl Oilers machine today. The rating Vezina winner enters with a 10-2-3 mark with a 2.38 GAA and .917 save percentage. Respectable numbers that should improve. If the offense continues to be inconsistent, they’ll need Shesterkin at his best. We know what he’s capable of. He’ll be asked to carry the team much like last year.

In certain aspects, it feels like when Henrik Lundqvist had to do similar with lesser rosters. He never had a player like Panarin, who could produce at such a high clip. Nor a dominant defenseman in the mold of Fox. The most valuable Blueshirt up to the quarter mark. Fox has been so good that I have him ahead of Erik Karlsson for the Norris. He has to do everything. Where would they be without him?

In order for them to have more success, it’s imperative for the younger players to have clearly defined roles that have them contributing the secondary offense needed. You can only ask Fox, Zibanejad, Panarin, Kreider and even Trocheck to do so much. Both Panarin and Zibanejad can be better at five-on-five. They should be.

Whether he realizes it or not, Turk isn’t getting many goals from grinders such as Vesey, Gauthier, Carpenter or 12th forward Blais. Goodrow can chip in due to having a bit of skill to go with his grit. He’ll remain a key player that can be plugged anywhere. Similar to last season.

That means getting more out of Kakko and Lafreniere. One has more confidence while the other is clearly working through it. They do continue to work well with Chytil like they had during last year’s dream run to the Conference Finals. One that might’ve been fool’s gold due to injuries to opposing netminders and Sidney Crosby. They also benefitted from having Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano and depth players Tyler Motte and Justin Braun playing key roles.

The growth of the team depends on the kids. Just like I said at the beginning of the season. They will determine what kind of year it is.

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Devils’ winning streak finally ends amid controversy and anger

As the saying goes, it was a fun ride while it lasted! Finally, the Devils’ insane winning streak ended at thirteen straight games after what can only be termed a frustrating 2-1 loss to a Leafs team that was undermanned on defense but rode a solid performance from Matt Murray, some puckluck and some help from the black and white stripes to get over the finish line – much to the (ahem) consternation of the second straight sellout crowd of the week.

Before getting into the controversy and ugliness last night, the most important thing is giving credit to this team for tying a franchise record with the thirteen straight wins. I’m glad this team got its deserved sendoff from the home crowd when tying the record Monday with a 5-2 win over the Oilers. You could tell from before puck drop that night (and yesterday) that something different was in the air, and not just because we sold out weekday games against non-Ranger teams in November. My commute on Monday was one of the longest I’ve ever had to the Prudential Center – like an hour and fifteen minutes for a drive that generally takes 35-40 minutes because of all the traffic around Newark – but it was more than worth it to see the Devils smash the Oilers, while new goalie Vitek Vanecek in the postgame showed viscerally how welcome he’s felt in New Jersey, thanks to some stellar play over the first quarter of the season.

Shockingly the commute wasn’t anywhere near that bad last night – perhaps because of the upcoming holiday (not to mention the renewed excitement around the team), most of the crowd was already in the arena by puck drop. At least this time I was also able to cheer the team in pregame intros, and not rush to my seat right after the national anthem. After a quiet first few minutes on the ice, the crowd roared when Nathan Bastian’s apparent goal gave the Devils an early lead…but in what proved to be a harbinger, the goal was dubiously waved off due to goaltender interference, which basically consisted of a skate tap between Bastian and Murray outside the crease where Murray wasn’t even complaining about interference afterward! To add insult to injury, the Devils’ challenge was denied and they had to kill a power play off on top of the first controversial decision of the night.

At least the Leafs didn’t score on that power play, but their explosive offense put the Devils behind the eight ball early when a nice individual play by Mitch Marner to win the puck away from Devils defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler and Dougie Hamilton gave him enough time to find a streaking John Tavares in front of the net for the Leafs’ first goal at 11:41. A couple minutes later, an unfortunate bounce left the puck in no-mans land between Vanecek and Leafs winger Pontus Holmberg. In hindsight, Vanecek had enough time to play the puck but in the heat of game action those decisions aren’t always the easiest ones to make, but leaving the puck for a wide open Holmberg proved costly as he scored his first NHL goal to put the Leafs up two at 14:03 of the first.

Early in the second period came the Devils’ second disallowed goal, when Tomas Tatar’s tip into an empty net was ruled out because of ‘incidental contact’ – which more or less consisted of Tatar trying to skate inside Murray after a poor clearing attempt by the latter – with the goaltender grazing him and performing a theatrical flop. Despite the no-goals and Dawson Mercer hitting a post earlier in the first period, the Devils’ offense was still shut down early by the Leafs’ fill-in defensive unit, getting only eight shots on net almost halfway through the game when a Tavares penalty seemingly turned the tide. Granted, the Devils didn’t score on the ensuing power play but they peppered Murray with several scoring chances and it was a shooting gallery from then on.

Still, no goal would come until the third period though when Erik Haula attempted to kick the puck toward Bastian, and it hit off a Leafs defender and went past Murray. Another goal, another discussion, another wave-off job by the refs and confirmation of an illegal kicking motion after a review (ahem) in Toronto. I mean it would be nice to have one uniform rule over what an illegal kicking motion is, since the definition seems to change every single year. If that goal is going to be disallowed where the puck wasn’t actually kicked towards the net, then you could theoretically disallow a goal that gets kicked from center ice into the defensive zone and then hits off a stick for an own goal. At a certain point, so-called safety concerns have to be overridden by common sense.

Of course, it figures it was Chris Rooney who was the head ref for this game, since this guy has been involved in multiple incidents all going against us – starting with the controversial Steve Bernier boarding call in Game 6 of the 2012 Finals, going through to when he ejected then-coach Pete DeBoer for calling him out after another one-sided officiating game a year or two later in one of the season’s final games. It seems like every time there’s something unusual in the air going against us, this guy’s somehow involved and that was the case again last night. Things reached a boiling point last night after disallowed goal #3 and…well, it wasn’t pretty.

As annoying as everything on the ice was, I can’t say it excuses the crowd’s behavior. Throwing innocuous projectiles like caps or rally towels is one thing but throwing half-filled beers, I mean come on now…at best you’re just causing a delay of the game and making the arena staff work unnecessarily to clear the ice. At worst you might hit someone with a plastic can or the beer itself, not to mention there could have theoretically been a delay of game assessed to the crowd. Of course, I’m sure the refs last night saw trying to enforce a delay of game for that would not have been a good idea for their own safety.

Still, you could feel the anger building from the first goal on, it was the perfect storm for things to get ugly given the fact of a sellout holiday crowd, a big game and every big call going against the home team. However you want to debate the merits of each disallowed goal – and they’re all shown here – it’s pretty rare when three of those go against the home team (or any team) in the same game.

Also throw in the fact that the game was already delayed for several minutes earlier in the third period after Murray gratuitously shoved the net off its moorings – for no other reason than to slow our attack down after we were buzzing the first few minutes of the period. Some call it a veteran move, I call it lame gamesmanship. At the very least goalies should be fined when they do that, it would also be nice to have an off-ice official inform the refs on the ice that it should be a delay of game to stop that kind of nonsense from happening.

Still, in spite of all the adversity throughout the night and two third-period delays, you figured this Devils team would at least make a run at it to try and keep the winning streak alive. Sure enough, they finally scored one even the refs could find no fault in when a Hamilton deflection made it legally past Murray with 5:08 to go in the game, pulling the Devils to within one. For the final few minutes in a one-goal game the crowd was on its feet cheering and chanting, trying to will in the tying goal. It was the most intense regular season crowd (by a country mile) I’ve ever experienced personally and a fun atmosphere overall – the ugliness and frustration aside – but despite all that and playing with the net empty for about half that time, the tying goal would never come and the fans at the end alternated between those of us who stayed to clap the team off the ice and those who stayed to throw even more beers at the end of the game.

All things considered, perhaps the most fitting response to the craziness came from now not-so-embattled coach Lindy Ruff:

Now that the streak is over comes the next test for a young team, how they manage to sustain a high level of play without the adrenaline of going for a team record. There isn’t much time to rest and recharge after the holiday with a back-to-back against the Sabres and Capitals on the docket for this weekend. Brendan Smith alluded to guarding against a letdown in the postgame clip at the top, but this is where both having a veteran coach and more of a veteran presence in the locker room this year should help. When you bring in guys used to winning, eventually that’s going to rub off and it has in spades so far this year.

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Strong response to flat start earns Rangers an important win over Kings

This isn’t going to be too long. With there being another game tonight on Turkey Eve at the Ducks, there’s no point in doing a full breakdown.

However, it was important for the Rangers to come back from two goals down after a lousy first period to earn a 5-3 win over a good Kings team at Staples Center. They needed it.

The strong response to falling behind by two was necessary. When almost everyone called them out for a flat opening period where they were fortunate to only be down by a pair thanks to a couple of crucial saves from Igor Shesterkin, there had to be some push back.

Finally, there was. Instead of letting it mount, the Rangers came back with the kind of workmanlike effort that’s been sorely lacking. If they can use the three-goal second period as a prime example for how they have to play to win consistently, maybe we’ll look back at it as a turning point.

There wasn’t much to say about the first period. It was lackluster. At times, they looked like they were sleepwalking. The Kings took advantage of an early non-icing to take the lead when Kevin Fiala was able to reach around Jacob Trouba and put in a rebound just 35 seconds into the game.

It didn’t get any better. A lazy turnover by Artemi Panarin, who hasn’t been scoring, lead to Vincent Trocheck going off for slashing Alex Edler. A miscommunication between Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox allowed Fiala to make a perfect statue of liberty pass for an easy Gabriel Vilardi finish with Shesterkin clearly frustrated.

With the exception of the checking line which remained the same, there wasn’t much for the Rangers to like. The grunt work from Ryan Carpenter, Sammy Blais and Julien Gauthier was noticeable. At least they played a simple game and generated forecheck pressure. None of the other three lines did anything.

They still were only down two thanks to Shesterkin, who made sure to keep them afloat with 11 saves on 13 shots. He was very good throughout finishing with 35 stops on 38 to earn his 10th victory. He continues to round into form.

Whatever was said between periods, the team responded well. Off a strong cycle from Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere, Braden Schneider was able to beat Kings goalie Cal Petersen from the point with both Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko in front.

Although they didn’t tie it right away, the difference in their approach was noteworthy. Instead of the predictable over skating and passing that never accomplishes much, they decided to take a more simple philosophy. That meant taking a page from the Kings, who fired pucks at Shesterkin from everywhere in the opening stanza.

Beginning to use their team speed to break through the tight checking of the Kings, the Blueshirts had more success. They spent more time in the attack zone. That also created more shots on Petersen, who was forced into some harder saves. He did well for the first half.

However, with LA backing up more, it allowed the Rangers to zip through the neutral zone and continue to pile up chances. On a simple Lindgren outlet for Trocheck, he easily gained the zone and maneuvered around a King before having a strange shot go right off Drew Doughty and past a stunned Petersen to tie it up.

A bizarre sequence if you ever saw one. Trocheck came in with speed and kind of fanned on his attempt. But it worked because the puck went off Doughty and straight in the air into the net for a 2-2 score with 7:59 left. That play was the biggest one of the game. It was unpredictable and really gave the Rangers momentum. They haven’t gotten many bounces. That was a huge one on a rare even strength goal for Trocheck.

The Kings did try to get it back. But Shesterkin was strong during the middle period. He made all 10 saves in the frame. His focus was there. It’s exactly what they need from their ace in net.

Late in the period, a delayed call on the Kings which was drawn by the third line lead to an actual goal during a six-on-five. With Mika Zibanejad on as the extra attacker, they continued to move the puck around until Chytil took a Lafreniere feed and fired a wrist shot that was partially deflected. The puck came to Kakko, who was able to get enough of the rebound to bank it in off of Arthur Kaliyev for a 3-2 lead with 76 seconds left.

It snapped a six-game goal drought. The goal was Kakko’s second of the month. After scoring two in the first four games, he’s struggled to finish. Unfortunately, he still isn’t over it. There was another frustrating sequence in the third that almost cost them.

On another dominant shift where they had the Kings on their heels, Petersen lost his goal stick. In fact, as the First Round Pick Line continued to cycle the puck, Kakko came out and had a great scoring chance with Petersen dead to rights. But instead of shooting right away, he waited too long. The shot never made it to the open net as diving Kings players sold out to block it in another crazy sequence.

Astonishingly, it was the Kings who came back down the ice and scored. On a quick counter started by Fiala, Anze Kopitar was able to set up defenseman Sean Walker for a shot that beat Shesterkin to tie it back up with 13:48 remaining. A visibly frustrated Kakko threw up his hands in disgust.

The play was so exasperating that I went off at Kakko for falling to score on such a great opportunity. He has to understand that when you get those kind of chances at the NHL level, you have to shoot the puck quickly. Not wait. He’s not the only player who does it. During the second, Panarin was all set up by Trouba on a great pass. He waited and allowed Petersen to get set and make the save. That’s a veteran star player. It’s absurd.

With Kakko and Lafreniere both trying to figure out how they didn’t score on their shift while Walker tied it, a smart play by Zibanejad lead directly to Chris Kreider scoring the game-winner less than a minute later.

Taking a Fox pass, Zibanejad fired a bank pass off the boards so the speedy Kreider could beat his man to the loose puck. Once he did to negate an icing, he surprised Petersen with a snapshot that went high short side for his eighth goal at 7:06. The goal celly told the story with both Kreider and Zibanejad pumped up.

Following the goal, Trocheck made sure to give Kakko a tap on his helmet at the bench. Just to say, ‘We got this.’ That had to be reassuring. They still had to protect the one-goal lead with under 13 minutes left.

It came down to Shesterkin. He wasn’t about to give back the second one-goal lead. Strong saves on Adrian Kempe, Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson really stood out in a third period the Kings out-shot the Rangers 15-7. They created enough chances off their cycle. But were unable to put the puck past Shesterkin, who was the difference.

With Petersen off for an extra attacker late, Jimmy Vesey passed up for Kreider who skated calmly and tucked the puck in for the empty netter with 50 seconds to go. It was a well earned win. One the team desperately needed.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 LafreniereChytilKakko NYR 1-4-5, +4 rating

2nd 🌟 🤩 Kevin Fiala LAK goal (7th) plus 2 🍎 in 18:52

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Igor Shesterkin NYR 35 saves on 38 shots incl. 15/15 in deciding 3rd

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