It’s been a while since this team gave a complete 60-minute effort. The Rangers responded to coach David Quinn’s criticism by flat out dominating the Hurricanes with a resounding 6-2 home win at The Garden. This was their best game since that 4-0 shutout of the Islanders way back on Nov. 21 before Thanksgiving.
You never know how a team is going to respond to such brutal honesty that a fired up Quinn laid out after that debacle in Columbus on Sunday. They passed with flying colors. This was a total team effort. The kind we haven’t seen since that 9-1-1 stretch. Everyone played a part. It was the total opposite of Sunday when the 18 skaters couldn’t be bothered to help out Alexandar Georgiev. It was Carolina, who entered winners of seven of their last eight, that got completely outworked and lost every battle.
How good was tonight’s game? Three Blueshirts had two goals. Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and Tony DeAngelo combined for all six. Zibanejad had his best game in a while recording two goals and two assists for a four-point effort. Buchnevich scored a pair of power play goals on the top unit despite continuing to play on the fourth line. Listening to Quinn and understanding how he thinks, it’s by design. He’s trying to change Buchnevich’s work habits at five-on-five. So far, it seems to be working. He earned the power play duty and paid the demanding coach back with his eighth and ninth goals.
Mats Zuccarello continued his turnaround by picking up three assists. None better than the brilliant no look backhand feed from behind the net to a cutting Zibanejad for his second of the game. A great play by the tenacious Zuccarello we all have come to love and appreciate. It started with a relentless Zuccarello outworking Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin to a puck and skating by him. He worked a give and go with Chris Kreider and then centered perfectly for Zibanejad’s second consecutive goal that made it 3-1 in a three-goal first period.
That’s not a misprint. That’s how well they played. It started early when off a Boo Nieves face-off win, DeAngelo took a Jimmy Vesey pass and fired a wrist shot through traffic that got past Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney at 1:16. It was a tough night for the Hurricanes backup. He allowed six goals on 28 shots.
That included a terrible misplay on a smart Kevin Shattenkirk dump in from behind the red line for a attacking Kreider, who beat McElhinney to the puck and fed Zibanejad for a power play goal into a vacated net for a 2-1 lead. A textbook response to a Brett Howden turnover that allowed Saku Maenlanen to tie it 3:17 earlier. Howden couldn’t handle a Marc Staal pass, fumbling it right to Maenlanen, who cashed it in. He was the Canes offense scoring both their goals. I can’t think of too many NHL players named Saku since Canadiens inspirational captain Saku Koivu retired.
It was important for the Rangers to come back on the power play. They had controlled play. They tried the same set play with Shattenkirk dumping the puck from just outside his own blueline for Kreider on a even strength shift earlier. But linesman Jonny Murray said it was icing even though it looked like Kreider got there for the tie that would’ve negated it. During a stoppage, John Giannone reported that Kreider discussed the close play with Murray. Even though it didn’t work there, the second time was the charm. Shattenkirk made the nice bank pass at the perfect angle for the speedy Kreider to beat McElhinney and set up Zibanejad’s 13th at 12:41.
Less than two minutes later, Zuccarello made the excellent feed for Zibanejad to bury for number 14. It’s his first two-goal game of the season. Goals have been a little harder to come by with the top center taking on more responsibility. He’s been racking up more assists. He came in with 25, which was just five off his career high of 30 established with Ottawa in ’15-16. That was also the year he achieved a career best with 51 points by playing 81 games. The Senators traded him during that summer to the Rangers in exchange for Derick Brassard, who since has moved to Pittsburgh. He could be on the move again if you believe TSN’s latest report. That deal worked out quite well for Rangers GM Jeff Gorton.
In adding two helpers with his two markers, it was Zibanejad’s third four-point game of the season. He’s the first Ranger to do that since Marian Gaborik in ’10-11. The good old days. Gaborik isn’t retired. He hasn’t played a game this season with Ottawa. He’s recovering still from offseason surgery on a herniated disc. What a shame. A similar player to just recently retired Rick Nash, the 36-year old Gaborik is stuck on 407 goals and 815 points in 1,035 games. Like Nash, he scored over 40 as a Ranger, doing it twice. It’s too bad his career is probably coming to an end.
Buchnevich scored his first goal on the power play during a good second. Even though he played with Howden and Cody McLeod on the fourth line, Quinn stuck him back on the top power play unit. It worked out well with Buchnevich finishing a good Zibanejad feed for his first goal in seven games since Jan. 2 against Pittsburgh. Zuccarello started the play for a secondary assist.
Despite having the much better work habits than the Canes, who never win here, the Rangers still gave up some good scoring chances. There was another remarkable sequence where Adam McQuaid left his feet to block a shot. He stayed down for a while. I thought he was hurt and we wouldn’t see him for quite a bit. Somehow, he got up and stayed in the game. He sat out the last one due to a similar block against the Isles. It’s astonishing what a tough player like the former Bruin will put himself through. He’s a warrior. No wonder fans and teammates love him. He’ll literally do anything to win a game. Someone I’m friendly with on Twitter compared him to Dan Girardi. It’s a good comp. The only difference is McQuaid can fight.
There also were some good saves from Henrik Lundqvist. He made a couple of beauties including a highway robbery point blank that earned cheers from the crowd. There also was a groovy glove save that’s always crowd pleasing. He made 34 saves altogether in his first start since last Thursday.
The thing I liked most was how hard the players worked during their shifts. Not only offensively, but most notably defensively. They won the puck battles. DeAngelo had a very solid night paired with Staal for a third straight game. Neal Pionk got the night off due to being banged up. He’s been playing hurt. Maybe that helps explain the drop-off.
With Brendan Smith a healthy scratch, rookie Ryan Lindgren made his NHL debut. Acquired last year as part of the Nash deal with Boston, he did well with Hartford posting a plus-seven rating with 41 penalty minutes and five assists in 35 games. Wearing number 55, the 20-year old from Burnsville, Minnesota was okay in his first game. He definitely likes to play physical. He finished a couple of good checks. He did take a penalty that negated a good Carolina opportunity. He also was caught on for both Hurricanes goals, but it’s all about getting necessary experience. He will learn. Lindgren received 20 shifts logging 15:22 with a minus-one. He had three hits and three blocked shots. As a team, the Rangers blocked 21 Carolina shots.
Even though they didn’t hit the score sheet, the line of Ryan Strome, Filip Chytil and Jesper Fast continued to play well at even strength. They have good cohesiveness and forecheck well. In particular, Chytil was very active during his shifts. He plays hard in all three zones. A very good sign for the 2017 first round pick Gorton stole at number 21.
I also liked the play of Nieves with Vladislav Namestnikov and Vesey. Nieves had two assists continuing his strong run. He is now up to the third line with Howden centering the fourth line. Speaking of Howden, he can’t catch a break. He made a great read defensively to break in on McElhinney, but didn’t quite have the angle to break his 27-game goal drought. Between him and Namestnikov, I don’t know who will get their fifth goal first. At least Namestnikov picked up a primary assist on DeAngelo’s second of the game in the third. A very good all around play from the third line with Namestnikov missing a goal. But the rebound caromed right to DeAngelo for a perfect follow up that concluded the scoring.
The other goal was Buchnevich’s second on the power play on a juicy rebound from Zibanejad and Zuccarello at 4:19. The same combo as his first PPG. Maenlanen redirected a Victor Rask shot for his second to make it 5-2.
Great job by the Rangers stopping to shake veteran referee Brad Watson’s hand after thanking the crowd. It was Watson’s final game at MSG. He’s retiring at the end of the season. One of the better refs.
BONY 3 STARS:
3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (2 power play goals for #’s 8, 9, much more noticeable during his shifts on the 4th line)
2nd 🌟 Mats Zuccarello, NYR (3 assists including the beautiful primary helper to set up Zibanejad’s second of the first period)
1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (2 goals for #’s 13, 14, 2 assists for #’s 26, 27, up to 41 points)