If you stayed up late on the East coast and caught last night’s game, the Rangers avenged last Tuesday’s 5-3 home loss to the Canucks by hammering them 7-2 in Vancouver. Despite the score, they weren’t perfect. But opportunistic enough to continue scoring goals at a ridiculous clip.
They’re averaging 4.24 goals-per-game. Almost a goal higher than their next opponent Columbus (3.36). That’s not a misprint. When you can score at such a high rate, you’re going to win more than you lose. And so, the Rangers so far are three for three on a four-game road trip outscoring Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver 14-4.
Yet they haven’t played their best in each victory. They’ve given up 113 total shots which averages out to over 37 a game. The big difference is the goaltending of both Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta. Similar to last year, they’ve stood on their head during the Western Canadian portion of the trip. After Raanta stoned the Oilers with 38 saves in a 3-1 win, Lundqvist followed suit by making 36 last night.
Honestly, without some remarkable saves in a lopsided first period dominated by the Canucks, we could be discussing an entirely different result. Playing their third in four nights, the Rangers were flat. It resulted in spending long shifts pinned in their end. Both Daniel and Henrik Sedin had their way. The Twins did everything but score along with some of their teammates. Lundqvist wouldn’t allow it. He stopped all 17 shots thrown his way.
That included consecutive penalty kills of two ill advised Oscar Lindberg minor penalties. Given the chance to play with both Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider out, he hasn’t distinguished himself. The second-year Swede’s play has been disappointing. Even though he did pick up an assist in 18 shifts (11:09), Lindberg can play better. Granted. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you’re the odd man out.
It was also the NHL debut of Cristoval Nieves. He centered the fourth line and looked okay. Boo Nieves took 17 shifts receiving 11:44 of ice-time with it almost exclusively at even strength. He struggled on face-offs losing 7-of-10. He went minus-one and didn’t record a shot. With Buchnevich day-to-day and Alain Vigneault unable to provide any kind of clear update on Kreider, Nieves should be in the lineup again on Friday. Whether he’s still here for Sunday against Florida and a pivotal home-and-home series against the Penguins Monday and next Wednesday remains to be seen.
When you are really struggling and your goalie is bailing you out in a period, usually you wind up scoring on the opposite end. I don’t know what Joe Micheletti had before the game. But coming off Sam Rosen’s Hall of Fame induction in the broadcasters wing, he was on. He called the Rangers’ first goal before it happened. J.T. Miller redirected a Mats Zuccarello feed at 18:42 for the first period’s lone goal. Rosen teased Micheletti about it.
The second period was better. Each team had eight shots. Three goals were scored. The first two off Ranger sticks with Kevin Hayes and Brandon Pirri tallying. As bad as he was last year is as good as Hayes has been this year. Whatever he did in the off-season has paid off. Suddenly, he’s scoring daily and is responsible defensively. With the Canucks backing off, Hayes skated in and did the smart thing firing a slap shot past Jacob Markstrom. I don’t think anyone expected him to shoot. It caught Markstrom off guard. Jesper Fast picked up an assist. He’s really played well in this stretch with five points in the last five games.
Pirri scored on the power play. Off some wonderful passing, he was able to steer in Mika Zibanejad’s rebound for his fifth making it 3-zip. The play was made possible by Ryan McDonagh. He made a great diagonal feed for a Zibanejad one-timer that Markstrom couldn’t control. That led to an easy Pirri tap in. McDonagh now has 11 assists. He continues to play extremely well and is having a big bounce back season. The kind the captain needed.
To their credit, the Canucks kept coming. They finally got on the board when Brandon Sutter’s shot went through a perfect Henrik Sedin screen past Lundqvist to cut it to 3-1 with 41 seconds remaining. It was another relentless shift by the Sedins, who really were tough to defend all night. They’re so fast, elusive and skilled that the puck magically sticks to them like glue. Eventually, Daniel Sedin set up Sutter’s goal which Lundqvist had no chance on. Luca Sbisa drew the secondary assist. He was a pest throughout.
While many Garden faithful worried about that late goal changing the momentum, I didn’t. I was perfectly relaxed. Maybe it’s how this team responds when they’re scored on. Or maybe it was the intermission. I just never felt the Canucks would come back. Sure enough, the Rangers came out like a house on fire with Hayes and Miller each scoring their second of the night on consecutive shifts.
Fast stole the puck at center and sent Hayes in on a clean breakaway. He pump faked and then scored on a forehand deke top shelf for his eighth at 1:49. On the next goal, it looked like the Rangers were on a power play. Only they weren’t. Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello combined to set up Miller in front for his seventh at 2:31.
With the score 5-1, Nick Holden accidentally sent a clear that banked off Markus Granlund for a very odd redirection goal that made it 5-2 with less than seven minutes remaining. The play was so unpredictable that I still can’t figure out how it took the carom it did. It was just one of those freak occurrences. Derek Dorsett and Sbisa drew helpers.
Holden more than made up for it by setting up the next goal and scoring on the power play. His play has gotten so much better that the #NickHolden hashtag on Twitter has taken a hiatus. This time, some great passing between Kevin Klein and Holden allowed Zuccarello to score a gimme within 10 feet. The goal was so easy that Micheletti defiantly said, “That was not a POWER PLAY GOAL,” which got a chuckle from his partner Rosen. The sad part is it looked like one. That’s how poorly defended it was.
Rosen would get to call a second trademark, “It’s a power play goal” when off a Lindberg face-off win, Klein passed across for a Holden one-timer that caromed off Vancouver defenseman Erik Gudbranson past Markstrom with 1:56 left.
Mercifully, the game finally ended for the Canucks, who gave a better effort than what the final score said. Sometimes, that’s how it goes. Especially with the way things have been going for them while it’s been the opposite end of the spectrum for the Rangers. They upped their mark to 13-4-0. Good for first in the Metropolitan Division with 26 points. Their 13 ROW are tied with the Canadiens (13-2-2) for the most in the league. They’re four up on the Pens and five ahead of the Devils, who got some disappointing news with star forward Taylor Hall having surgery to repair a meniscus which will keep him out three to four weeks.
Some takeaways from the game:
-The Rangers played about as poorly as they have all year. Five-on-five, they were brutal for long stretches. A trend that’s led to more shots against. They definitely need to get back to taking care of business in their end. Better opponents will exploit that.
-With them spending more time in their zone, they are blocking a ton of shots. Three instances saw Blueshirts limp off the ice in pain after sacrificing their bodies. The scariest being Derek Stepan, who was in a lot of pain that he needed help getting over the bench and taken to the locker room. Somehow, he returned for the remainder. Hard to fathom. Both Fast and Hayes also made crucial blocks that saw each hobbled. Neither missed a shift. Overall, the team blocked 21 shots making it the third straight game they have blocked over 20. Eleven players registered at least one with Girardi blocking four.
-They were again outshot with the Canucks holding a 38-25 edge. Vancouver out-attempted the Rangers 72-39. It is a concern. This has been going on for a while. Since they swept that weekend against Boston and Winnipeg, the defense has allowed a lot more shots and quality chances.
-The positive has been that this team continues to score even without key players. Kreider and Buchnevich are two of their best skaters who are superb offensively. Particularly Buchnevich, who had scored in four straight and just had a three-point game before back spasms sidelined him again. As for Kreider, he hasn’t scored a goal since Game 3. Perhaps this “mystery injury” explains why his level had dropped. He did play better in his last one. Hopefully, the injury won’t keep him out too long.
-For all the criticism he received for another slow start, isn’t it about time Lundqvist is left alone? How many times has he come through for this franchise since coming over from Sweden in ’05-06? Without him, they’re not even on the radar. There’s a reason he’s the all-time leader in wins and shutouts. He’s unflappable and has so much character. He’s proving it again. Lundqvist is up to nine wins and has his GAA down to .224 and his save percentage up to his career mark of .920. There’s a reason he’s considered one of the best.
-With 17 points and 16 points respectively, Miller and Hayes are now among the scoring leaders. They are a combined plus-31. Michael Grabner leads the team with 10 goals and his plus-16 makes that trio a combined plus-47. Dominant players five-on-five who play more shorthanded than power play.
-With an assist, rookie Brady Skjei is up to 10 helpers. That leads all rookies. He’s also a plus-four and has taken only one minor penalty.
-Skjei (assist), Pirri (goal) and Fast (2 assists) all became the latest Blueshirts to reach at least 10 points for the season. Astonishingly, 13 players have hit double digits in points. That’s how well balanced the scoring is.
-After a slow start, Klein’s play has picked up. He’s up to six assists and a plus-five with no penalties in 14 games.
-With two power play goals, the Rangers now rank fourth overall clicking at 24.1 percent. They’re 13-for-54. They’re also eighth in penalty kill with an 85.1 percent efficiency. They’ve killed off 40 of 47 so far with two shorthanded goals. A marked improvement from last year.