Outclassed by the Bolts

It’s one thing to beat mediocre competition but quite another to be on the same level as legit contenders. That’s a lesson these new Rangers are learning the hard way.

After falling to Winnipeg at home 3-1, they were completely outclassed by the league’s best team. Indeed, it was every bit as lopsided despite the Lightning easing up in the third period to coast to a 5-3 win at home. They’re up to a league beat 47 wins and 98 points.

Meanwhile, the Rangers dropped to 30-32-6 with their 66 points ranking them dead last in the Metro Division. That ties them with the Blackhawks for the ninth fewest points. Detroit (63), Edmonton (62), Montreal (61), Vancouver (59), Ottawa (57), Buffalo (55) and Arizona (53) are all worse in the tank for Rasmus Dahlin sweepstakes. Obviously, the worse you are, the better your chances are at winning the weighted NHL Draft Lottery.

So, what is the takeaway from last night? Just that the rebuilding Blueshirts have a long, long way to go. They’re in the early stages which means there will be more bumps in the road ahead. With 14 games left and the red hot Panthers next playing for a wildcard, it potentially could get uglier. Especially the way Florida is scoring led by Aleksander Barkov and 38 years young Roberto Luongo, who is in beast mode.

As far as who played okay, Kevin Hayes again did some good things adding to his career high with his 19th goal on a deflection in front of a Rob O’Gara shot. Hayes also added a primary assist when he made a great move around a Tampa player and got off a good low shot that resulted in a rebound from Tampa starter Andrei Vasilevskiy which caromed right to Ryan Spooner for the Rangers’ first goal. A terrific play by a more confident player who I am gonna vote for in the Steven McDonald Award. There aren’t many good candidates. Hayes, Jesper Fast and Marc Staal are my top three with Henrik Lundqvist sure to get plenty of votes. But remember. Lundqvist gets Team MVP every year.

Spooner continued his impressive play scoring a goal and assisting on the other two in the third. He continues to pile up the points. Since coming over from Boston as part of the Rick Nash deal, the versatile playmaker is proving why he has the ability to be a top six forward. In six games, he’s up to 10 points (2-8-10). It will be worth watching what the organization decides to do with Spoon Man in the off-season. He’s restricted for one year and can hit the open market in 2019.

Vladislav Namestnikov skated well and created the only two chances in a nightmarish first that saw the Lightning flex their muscles by outshooting the Rangers 17-1 at one point. It could’ve been much worse than the two goals they scored on 21 shots. Cedric Paquette was left alone to put in a rebound of a Chris Kunitz shot that Henrik Lundqvist couldn’t handle. Adam Erne took advantage of a poor Rangers breakout with three players flying the zone to wrist one past a faultless Lundqvist.

It worsened in the second with Lightning prospect Anthony Cirelli able to tip a Mikhail Sergachev home even with Hayes draped all over him for a 3-0 score. Following Spooner’s goal that made it 3-1, Kunitz took full advantage of a Lundqvist giveaway behind the net for a easy goal into a vacated net. That was enough for Alain Vigneault to give Hank a mercy pull. He faced a onslaught of 31 shots a little over halfway through the game.

It got worse when Tyler Johnson beat the defense to a rebound for his 19th past reliever Alexandar Georgiev to make it 5-1. A play in which Neal Pionk was beaten by Nikita Kucherov and Marc Staal fell down. It was that bad.

If the Bolts really wanted to, they could’ve reached 60 shots and run it up. There were still many good saves by Lundqvist (27) and Georgiev (13) on the 45 they faced. It was nuts.

It’s hard to watch. At one point, I switched to the more competitive games with the Devils falling to Winnipeg who ended Taylor Hall’s streak at 26. Plus the Bruins and Flyers with Brad Marchand scoring another clutch game-winner with less than 25 seconds left in regulation.

I missed Mats Zuccarello’s 11th goal from Spooner. It figures. He’s played so poorly that I think they have to trade him at the Draft. He had a mindless giveaway on a back pass to nobody that fueled a dangerous Bolts counterattack. He isn’t the same player. Even with Namestnikov doing good work with his speed and aggressiveness. Jimmy Vesey continues to struggle finishing despite mixing it up in scrums. He can be saved under a new coach who won’t screw him. I would re-up him on a show me one-year deal.

Chris Kreider left the game for precautionary reasons due to absorbing a high hit. He was okay. I don’t know if he should even play. But if he’s fine, he will. He’s definitely adjusting to a new leadership role and has certainly had a positive impact on Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad. Without him, they were lost. I’d still like to see Namestnikov get a crack with Buchnevich. His speed and forecheck is ideal. He also isn’t afraid to go inside. Sometimes, the KZB line is too much on the perimeter despite their positive possession statistics. They don’t take enough shots.

Kevin Shattenkirk wants to return. He’s skating and took warmups. I don’t see the point. If I were management, I would tell him it’s better off resting and not risking reinjury. The most important thing is for him to come into next year’s camp fully healthy.

That’s going to do it for this post. Until next time.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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