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It’s been a long time since Derek Stepan scored in overtime. In fact, his last one was a memorable goal that sent the Rangers to the Conference Final in the Spring of 2015 on a late May night. The former Ranger delivered a less dramatic goal to win the game for the Coyotes last night at MSG. He was just as excited due to where it came, celebrating a good shot that got the better of former teammate Henrik Lundqvist – completing a comeback from 3-0 down to send Arizona to a 4-3 win in overtime.
It’s been a tough second year for Stepan in the Desert. He entered the contest with only six goals and seven assists on a struggling Coyotes team without starting goalie Antti Raanta for the rest of the season. My fantasy hockey jinx with goalies is strong. At least Cory Schneider hasn’t been a member of my awful team for a month. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Roberto Luongo.
These days, the Coyotes are working in rookie Adin Hill. He’s only 22 and has performed well thus far. Of course, he lost his last two decisions as soon as I picked him up. But when your best goalie is Thomas Greiss with the other options the woeful Vancouver tandem and Craig Anderson, you have to draw the line somewhere. My team is so far out of it that I’m committed to keeping Hill and seeing what he has.
Naturally, when he fell behind 3-0 on three Rangers power play goals (Yes! It’s not a misprint), my first reaction was, ‘It bleeping figures!’ Either way, I didn’t care. It was nice to see the power play back thanks to the successful returns of Pavel Buchnevich (PPG) and Mats Zuccarello (primary assist). They certainly didn’t disappoint.
Arizona kept taking undisciplined penalties. Buchnevich got right back to work when he buried a Filip Chytil pass for an easy one-timer into a open side for the game’s first goal. Jimmy Vesey did some good work behind the net working the puck to Chytil. He came out and made a great pass for the first of three power play goals.
Zuccarello would factor in on the second. It was his slap pass in front to a cutting Kevin Hayes for a tip in that put the Blueshirts ahead by two. With the first period winding down, Nick Cousins tried to lift his team by challenging Brendan Smith to a fight in the last minute. Smith dropped him like a bad habit. Each were assessed matching five-minute majors.
Five minutes into the second, a third bad Arizona minor penalty led directly to Mika Zibanejad getting off his wicked release from the left circle for his 10th of the season. Off a face-off win, Hayes and Neal Pionk worked the puck over to him and he did the rest, beating Hill short side for a 3-0 lead at 5:48. The third Rangers’ power play goal came only seven seconds in.
A mistake by Pionk changed the momentum. Following a successful kill of a Brady Skjei slashing minor, the second-year defenseman got beat outside in by Christian Fischer. With Fischer driving hard with the puck to the net, Pionk shoved him into Henrik Lundqvist. With the net off and play whistled dead, Pionk went after Fischer. His overreaction and fight with Fischer resulted in a unsportsmanlike conduct minor served by Buchnevich.
It was exactly what the Coyotes needed to get back in the game. Jordan Oesterle took a Clayton Keller feed and beat Lundqvist in the slot to cut it to 3-1 with 9:18 remaining in the second. Ex-Hawk Nick Schmaltz started the play by getting the puck to Keller, who skated and drew defenders before finding Oesterle for the big goal.
Up to that point, Arizona had little going. One more goal would’ve put them away. Instead, the Rangers let them off the hook. Following Pionk’s bad penalty that got the Coyotes within two, the home team blew a golden opportunity to put it away. They had a five-on-three, but failed to convert on it. That wasted chance was one Zuccarello lamented following his first game back.
Given a reprieve, the Coyotes gained confidence throughout. They began carrying the play. Finally, Josh Archibald scored off a pass from Stepan to make it a one-goal game with under seven minutes left in regulation. On the goal, our ‘number one’ defenseman Skjei took himself out of the play with a snow angel. It’s been a microcosm of his season. Despite the strong skating, the third-year player hasn’t come close to delivering after the Rangers gave him a big contract. It’s concerning.
With over three minutes remaining, Oliver Ekman-Larsson got all of a slap shot after skating into the Rangers zone to surprise Lundqvist. His shot went high glove and smack off the far post to the the score. Just like that, a three-goal lead was gone. It was their own fault. They got careless.
In overtime, it was fun to watch. Both teams got great scoring chances. None were better than Keller’s breakaway. Off a Ranger turnover, he broke in from his own zone on Lundqvist and tried a fancy forehand deke. However, an acrobatic Lundqvist didn’t go for it. He slid across and stacked the pads to rob Keller.
But in the final minute, Stepan played the hero. On ice he’s familiar with, the Coyotes number 21 took a Schmaltz pass and gained the Ranger zone. With Skjei backing up, he patiently waited for him to move into Lundqvist’s path. Stepan then released a perfect wrist shot through a Skjei screen that beat Lundqvist for the OT winner at 4:28. Nice celly too.
It was a disappointing defeat. One they must learn from. Afterwards, David Quinn pointed out how they haven’t put together a consistent 60 minutes since before Thanksgiving. Ironically, their best game came in a Turkey Eve laugher over the Islanders at home.
Through 31 games, the Rangers are 14-13-4 with 32 points. However, only nine victories have come via regulation or overtime. Despite having a better record than the Blackhawks and a few other doormats such as the Kings, the nine ROW this team currently has are the fewest in the NHL. If not for the artificial shootout, their record would be much worse. A better indication of who they really are.
Nobody should be surprised. This isn’t the most talented roster. They have some good players. But no game changers. Lundqvist can only do so much. He’s performed miracles, but it’s too much to ask any more.
For the sake of the future, they’re better off losing these games and getting no points. The flawed NHL system allows for too many three-point games, creating a false illusion. Gary Bettman’s vision of parity has never been greater. Too bad the fools at NHL headquarters won’t fix the point system. It’s a joke.
All these extra loser points do is drag our team further away from the big Draft Lottery in 2019. Jack Hughes could wind up in Chicago or Hollywood. A sickening thought considering how many Stanley Cups those two teams have combined for this decade.
I know I’m far from alone on what’s wrong with hockey. I’ll bet our resident Devils blogger would prefer to lose games like Friday. Even if you somehow sneak in as a wildcard, it’s for the right to get destroyed by Tampa Bay, Washington, or Toronto.
The truth is many players we see on the roster likely won’t be here in a few years. Don’t become too attached. Encouraging is that the highly anticipated World Junior Hockey tournament is on tap after Christmas. It’s the best prospect tournament we get to see with games on NHL Network.
Hopefully, the Rangers will have enough common sense to assign Chytil to the Czech Republic. Who cares if he misses a few NHL games? This season doesn’t mean anything.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd 🌟 Kevin Hayes, NYR (power play goal, assist, 7 attempts, even rating in 25 shifts for 17:29)
2nd 🌟 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (game-tying goal, 9 attempts, +1 in 27 shifts for 24:22)
1st 🌟 Derek Stepan, ARI (overtime winner, assist, +2 in 33 shifts for 20:09)