This was one they’ll regret later. Game 20 was a old fashioned goalie duel between Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky. Each took turns making gigantic stops. Both former Vezina winners showed why at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Ultimately, the Rangers blinked in the second period. After playing the Blue Jackets on even terms in a fast moving first where both Lundqvist and Bobrovsky were called upon to make tough saves with the latter remarkable, they got severely outskated and outplayed- giving up 19 shots to only nine.
Zach Werenski’s goal was enough as Bobrovsky stopped all 36 shots in a 2-0 shutout to send the Rangers to a second consecutive loss. So after working hard to get back in it by winning six in a row, they’ve now dropped two in succession on the road getting outscored 8-3. At 9-9-2, there remain more questions than answers.
At the quarter mark, what are the 2017-18 New York Rangers? In the previous post, I documented the lack of center depth following top pivot Mika Zibanejad and second line center Kevin Hayes. It’s starting to become problematic. David Desharnais had a nightmare game with his line caught out for the Werenski winner. They were pinned in often. Eventually, Alain Vigneault broke it up by moving J.T. Miller around with Jimmy Vesey elevated to the Hayes line.
I didn’t agree with every change. Consider they trailed by a goal when Vigneault broke up the KZB line. They’ve carried them thus far. So why did Pavel Buchnevich get the short end of the stick after being one of the few bright spots? How did he go from Zibanejad and the underwhelming Chris Kreider to total obscurity? It makes no sense. Somehow, the evolving 22-Year old Russian with 16 points took only two shifts in a exasperating third period.
The first proved costly with Buchnevich taking a unnecessary interference minor in the offensive zone on a pick play. Even though the bench protested, it was the right call. It didn’t help that the Blue Jackets scored on the power play with new Ranger killer Artemi Panarin scoring for the third time in three games against them. He took advantage of a Hayes miscue. Rather than take the easy clear, he tried to pass the puck to Rick Nash. Disaster struck when Oliver Bjorkstrand intercepted it and got it over for Panarin who ripped a high hard one past Lundqvist for a crucial insurance marker with 12:46 left.
Astonishingly, Panarin has scored all three of his goals this season against the Rangers. Hard to believe. He still hasn’t found chemistry without Patrick Kane. That trade has not been good for the Blackhawks either with Brandon Saad ice cold following a hot start. It says here that Panarin will figure it out. He’s too good not to.
The thing that really irked me is the sad but basically accurate sarcastic prediction I made prior to the Panarin power play goal.
He didn’t see the ice again until the final minute when the game was over. He made a save on a empty net try by getting a piece of it with his body. What I fail to comprehend is why he gets penalized by the coach while Kreider (no shots in 18:00) never misses a shift. This is what drives fans crazy. Vigneault punished Brendan Smith, who finally returned after sitting out the last six games. Steven Kampfer was a healthy scratch. Smith was a minus-one in 14:25 while paired with Marc Staal. It’s going to take a while for him to get into a rhythm.
Vigneault tried Nash with Zibanejad and Kreider while Hayes worked between Vesey and the comatose Mats Zuccarello, who had one of those games where you barely noticed him. They’ve been more common. They really need him to get going. Three goals in the first 20 isn’t enough from one of the veteran leaders. I know he brings a lot to the table. But he should be more consistent. Hayes and Vesey each had good games five on five.
It looked like Miller saw time with Buchnevich and Desharnais for one shift. You also had Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast moved up. Grabner had four shots including a great opportunity which of course was swallowed up by the brick wall known as Bob in ‘Lumbus. There’s a reason he won his second Vezina. He makes the kind of acrobatic saves Dominik Hasek made a art form. It’s still a bit poetic that the Flyers gave up on him for Steve Mason, who now is the Winnipeg number one goalie. Straight up. It might go down as one of the worst trades. Especially if Bobrovsky can ever carry his anemic team to a deep run or Stanley Cup. John Tortorella has done a good job but they have yet to take that next step.
In a losing effort, Lundqvist made 40 saves. He really deserved better. This was vintage King Henrik. He faced a number of odd man rushes in a ugly second and made his own acrobatic saves that would’ve made The Dominator proud. But Werenski’s sixth from Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner at the 13:34 mark was enough to deal him a hard luck loss. The Panarin tally self inflicted by a poor decision from Hayes.
I’ll be curious to see what Vigneault does for Sunday’s match against the Senators, who are leading the Coyotes in the third at home currently. How will the team respond to back-to-back disappointing performances? It’s the same Ottawa that eliminated them. They will have a different look with Matt Duchene recently acquired in a blockbuster three team trade from Colorado. Kyle Turris is now in Nashville. That might be a good thing considering how he killed them last Spring. They certainly gave up a lot. We’ll see if they can slow down the red hot Mark Stone.
They’ll need better games from Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk. Neither distinguished themselves on Friday with in particular, the captain reverting to his early poor start the last two losses. When partner Nick Holden has been better in those games, that’s bad news for the team.
As far as the center issue, you cannot be serious. Boo Nieves deserves more trust than not being used in the third while Desharnais has his ice time cut. Deservedly so yesterday. This was the total number of shifts and ice time for each.
You cannot be successful in this league with only two centers you trust. If this continues, Vigneault will have no choice but to shift Miller to center. I would consider flipping Nieves and Desharnais due to the rookie’s size and two-way ability. I didn’t like the Desharnais signing. Now you’re seeing why. It’s almost as if Vigneault is begging Jeff Gorton to do something. Filip Chytil is currently injured. Vinni Lettieri could be a option if they eventually go that route. He has seven goals and three assists so far.
The Rangers can’t afford to go too much longer with this center situation. It’s hurting them.
BONY 3 Stars ✨
3rd Star ⭐️ Zach Werenski #CBJ GWG-6th, 6 attempts, 2 blocks, +1 in 27 shifts-18:47
2nd Star ⭐️ Henrik Lundqvist #NYR 40 saves including 18 of 19 in 2nd
1st Star ⭐️ Sergei Bobrovsky #CBJ 36 saves for 1st career shutout vs NYR