If it were only about wins and losses now, then the tone of this blog would be different. With the Rangers all but eliminated from the playoffs, the kids are getting a chance to show what they got.
Already we’ve seen positives from Neal Pionk, Alexandar Georgiev and John Gilmour. That’s included contributions from deadline pickup Ryan Spooner and Jesper Fast proving that maybe he isn’t just a secondary player by fitting perfectly with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
Monday night was a look into the future with 2017 first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil becoming the first pair of teenagers to record a point in a game for the Rangers since Ron Greschner and Dave Maloney some 44 years ago on Dec. 18, 1974. Pretty amazing company. Both Greschner and Maloney were integral parts of the next wave that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1979 and on some more good Rangers teams in the 80’s.
It’s pretty exciting for fans to see the potential these two kids have. Playing in his first NHL game, Andersson made a great first impression by scoring his first career goal in the national when he finished off a nice Jimmy Vesey feed in front to bring cheers at MSG following a dreadful first period that saw the first place Caps erupt for the game’s first four goals. Here’s how it looked and sounded.
Playing for the third time, Chytil showed off his unique talent by registering a team high six shots. He recorded his first NHL point when he was able to pass across a deflected puck to a wide open Mats Zuccarello for a goal early in the third period to cut the deficit to 4-2.
It was a good reward for a gifted young player with a lot of upside. He spoke to reporters about the game and experience in the locker room.
Full marks to the young Blueshirts for making a game out of it. They were so dominated by Alexander Ovechkin (NHL leading 45th goal, assist) and company in the first that it looked like there should be a mercy rule. The Caps skated circles around them and quickly chased poor starter Georgiev for three goals on six shots.
Ondrej Pavelec was terrific in relief only permitting one while making 26 saves on 27 shots faced. The only goal was a bit of bad luck with Evgeny Kuznetsov getting a pass off a odd bounce off Brady Skjei that allowed the Russian to push the puck into a open side for a shorthanded goal. That made it 4-0. Afterwards, he was splendid robbing Ovechkin in his office a couple of times with great glove saves.
Maybe the Caps took their foot off the accelerator. But the Rangers never gave up. A sign of a young rebuilding team that isn’t mailing it in. They play hard. Sure. There are mistakes like the one by Gilmour and Kevin Hayes on one goal and Pionk on another. But they’re learning.
Chris Kreider drew a penalty to give them a late power play. Eventually, Alain Vigneault pulled Pavelec for a six-on-four. The issue was the reluctance to shoot the puck by the six-man unit featuring Pavel Buchnevich. A talented player who had the puck at the right circle with room but did nothing with it. He’s been frustrating. At some point, the second-year Russian needs to be more decisive and not always think pass.
Like Zuccarello, he defers way too much. It’s no wonder he has only three goals in his last 37 games. That’s not a misprint. Over that stretch, he has 16 assists totaling 3-16-19. Hardly the kind of production that warrants first line minutes. He’s far from a finished product. Granted. There’s no rational explanation for Vigneault sticking him and struggling Russian Vladislav Namestnikov with Cody McLeod. At least they got a shift with Andersson in the third which nearly resulted in a third goal. But Namestnikov somehow missed a gimme.
As good as the power play has performed getting all the way up to seventh entering last night, too often they defer to Zibanejad for his patented righty shot. It can’t be so predictable. You need other shooters. The go to plays are either get the puck to Zibanejad for his one-timer on the off wing or fire a point shot hoping for Kreider to either redirect or screen the goalie in front.
With both Buchnevich and Zuccarello unable to do anything in crunch time, I would’ve liked to see Chytil or Andersson at that point. Why the heck not. They definitely earned it. Even Hayes has changed his approach looking shot more.
All in all, a good effort considering how poorly it started. The crazy part is they get to do it all over again tomorrow on Rivalry Night at Washington with the dreaded 8 PM start. Hopefully, they won’t wait till it’s four goals down to start playing.