Goal scoring isn’t supposed to be this easy. Routinely, the ’16-17 New York Rangers continue to light up the scoreboard with regularity. They followed up a five-goal performance in Boston with another five in a 5-2 win over Winnipeg at The Garden.
Through 13 games, they’re 10-3-0 with a Metropolitan Division-leading 20 points. Over those lucky 13, the Blueshirts have scored 55. Even if you’re not a math major, it’s easy to figure out that it averages out to over four goals-per-game. Is it sustainable? Of course not. But the level of depth this roster has up front makes all four lines a threat.
Full credit to general manager Jeff Gorton for a great off-season that included adding Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri, Mika Zibanejad along with rookies Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey to a core that features Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. All 12 forwards have been superb comprising four balanced lines that have speed and skill. Oscar Lindberg is the extra at the moment.
Like a broken record, five different Rangers scored to highlight their fifth consecutive win. All five have seen them reach at least five goals. Over that stretch, they’ve outscored opponents 26-8. You’re not gonna lose many games that way. Defensively, they did show some holes against the very fast and skilled Jets, who tested Henrik Lundqvist. He was up to the challenge finishing with 24 saves.
On a night in which coach Alain Vigneault decided to rest Dan Girardi and reinsert Adam Clendening, who sat the last seven games, they played an even first period and were tied at one with Winnipeg. For the fourth straight game, Hayes scored. He opened the scoring at 2:12 netting his sixth from Kevin Klein and Brady Skjei. Klein passed across to Hayes, whose one-timer from way out beat Jets’ goalie Connor Hellebuyck cleanly. It was a harbinger of things to come for him.
The Jets replied back when exciting 18-year old rookie Patrik Laine was able to deflect home a Ben Chiarot shot past Lundqvist to even the score at 10:45. The 2016 second overall pick leads all rookies with eight goals.
The game remained tied 1-1 until the second half of a wild and crazy second period. From that point, the Rangers outscored the Jets 4-1 to end the stanza up 5-2. Zuccarello got it started when he converted a three-on-one pass from Kreider at 10:02. A patient Kreider took advantage of a neutral zone turnover and waited before dishing across for Zuccarello, who sniped his sixth past Hellebuyck for a one-goal lead.
But in a game where they weren’t as good defensively, a coverage breakdown led to Mark Scheifele slamming home his seventh from Paul Postma and Nikolaj Ehlers only two minutes later to even the score. On a quick Winnipeg counterattack, Zibanejad completely got lost leaving his man wide open in the slot. Lundqvist made a great first save on Postma and then a sliding Skjei partially blocked a rebound before Scheifele was able to stuff it home. It was some poor play from the forwards on the top line.
Less than a minute later, Miller had an immediate response when he cruised into the right slot and let go of a wrist shot from distance that beat Hellebuyck to restore the one-goal lead. Nick Holden drew the only assist, extending his point streak to three straight. Miller’s goal was very stoppable. But Hellebuyck wasn’t sharp allowing two bad ones. Fast chased him when he had the good fortune to have a Klein point shot deflect off his right skate in front increasing the lead to two with 3:36 left in the second. A play that Pirri set up for the first of two goals from the fourth line in less than a minute.
With Hellebuyck replaced by Michael Hutchinson, nothing changed for Winnipeg. Even in a game where he took a huge hit from Dustin Byfuglien against the boards, Buchnevich got some revenge on the scoreboard when he took a Pirri outlet and put on a show to score a highlight reel goal for his second in two games. Clendening got the puck out to Pirri, who then passed for Buchnevich, who patiently faked and went to a ridiculous forehand deke sliding the puck into an open side for a 5-2 lead with 2:55 remaining.
The play reminded me of a young Alexei Kovalev. Another talented Russian who could skate like the wind, dangle and make opposing goalies look bad. Basically, Buchnevich undressed the Winnipeg defense and then pulled off a sweet move to finish for a second game in a row. The great thing about him is he never lost his confidence when they didn’t go in at the start. He also has shown the ability to be defensively responsible which explains why Vigneault trusts him on the fourth line and plays him on the power play.
Buchnevich wears number 89. The number of another famous Russian scorer who lit it up during the 90’s and early 00’s. I’m referring to Alexander Mogilny. There’s a lot to like about Buchnevich. An exciting Russian with immense talent. In what was a scoreless third thanks to Lundqvist and the team defense picking it up, Vigneault left the Russian out for an extended shift- reminding some of what former coach Mike Keenan did to Kovalev.
He has a happy go lucky personality too. His English is amusing to listen to. You can’t help but smile or laugh. Kovalev was similar back then. As he continues to learn and mature, Buchnevich should gain even more trust from Vigneault, who loves him.
Right now, it’s all going right. The Rangers are a first place team with a great offense. As Pirri noted in the post game, they do have some things to work on. They weren’t perfect in getting all four points this weekend. So, there will be some stuff to fix before the Canucks visit MSG on Election Tuesday. It’s a lot more enjoyable than that process.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (highlight reel goal-2nd of season-first at MSG, +1 om 15 shifts-13:41)
2nd Star-Brady Skjei, NYR (assist-8th, 2 attempts, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots, even in 20 shifts-17:51)
1st Star-Brandon Pirri, NYR (2 assists, +3 in 17 shifts-11:33)
Notes: Klein had his best effort of the season recording two assists while blocking four shots in 23 shifts-18:45. … Eleven different Rangers had points including Clendening, who picked up a secondary assist on Buchnevich’s first goal at home. … Hayes has now scored a goal in four straight and is up to a plus-12 on the season with 6-6-12. A welcome change. … Scheifele finished with a goal and helper in a losing cause for Winnipeg. … Hellebuyck allowed four goals on 16 shots before giving way to Hutchinson, who only saw two shots making one save. … The Rangers didn’t record a shot in the third getting out-shot 9-0. They also took the game’s only two penalties killing off both. … Holden is up to a goal and six assists going plus-two in 23:06. His plus-13 rating is tied with Grabner for second trailing only Habs’ defenseman Shea Weber (+15).