It would be easy to point out that losing to Winnipeg was predictable. Sure it was. However, in a puzzling league where Detroit went into Nashville and swept the season series (not joking), it was possible for the Rangers to come out with a win at the madhouse known as Bell MTS Place. Instead, they suffered another tough loss by a score of 4-3 to the Jets in front of 15,321 screaming fans at the best home ice advantage in the NHL.
There’s no shame in losing to a quality opponent who is still considered a strong West contender despite some inconsistency. I haven’t been too impressed with Winnipeg. They had a subpar road trip losing badly at Montreal and lowly Ottawa before taking the final game in Buffalo. They have great talent, but something’s missing.
Maybe that’s where a Kevin Hayes or Mats Zuccarello comes in with the February 25 trade deadline less than two weeks away. Given how much Patrik Laine has struggled, Hayes sure would look good in Winnipeg white and blue. We’ll have to wait and see.
One thing I do know. There’s been a lot of silence from the Rangers regarding the future of Zuccarello. A popular player who loves it here, he could go first with Hayes likely going right to the 3 PM buzzer. They might not be the only two. Adam McQuaid, who also likes playing in Manhattan, could be on the move. It sounds like they would like to keep him. But teams are interested.
As for the game, the Rangers gave a good effort following a poor first period that saw the dangerous Jets outscore them 2-0 and outshoot them 19-10. Winnipeg can do that to anyone. Especially at home where they’ve lost just six times in regulation. In fact, their last regulation home loss was on Dec. 29. They improved to 21-6-3 in their 30th game at The Peg.
The start wasn’t ideal. Mark Scheifele scored a pair against starter Henrik Lundqvist in a lopsided first that mostly was played at five-on-five. After three days off, Lundqvist wasn’t sharp. He let in a stoppable Scheifele shot from a sharp angle that clearly ticked him off. He banged his stick in frustration.
A Winnipeg onslaught followed. Credit to Lundqvist for settling down to make some big saves, including a point blank denial on a redirect try. He certainly was peppered. The seven D, 11 forward lineup didn’t help matters. I have no clue why Vinni Lettieri was called up if coach David Quinn was gonna sour on him after two games. Unless Ranger brass really believes they can fetch something for Brendan Smith. They actually got a seventh round pick back from the desperate Canucks for Marek Mazanec. Holy moly. He likely has more value than either Smith or the disaster that is Kevin Shattenkirk. It’s sad.
The Rangers did get the only power play of the first. But the first unit was not good. It wasn’t until the second unit came on that actual shots were attempted. A good rush by Tony DeAngelo nearly led to a tying goal. However, Connor Hellebuyck robbed Pavel Buchnevich with a nice glove save on a quick one-timer from the slot. We would hear from Buchnevich later. It was one of his better games.
Unfortunately, the Buchnevich near miss along with the four blind nice ignoring a Dustin Byfuglien can opener, allowed the Jets to avoid a two-man disadvantage. Instead, Scheifele got his second of the stanza with a deadly snipe on a odd man rush by changing the angle to beat a screened Lundqvist high to the far side at 18:36. Blake Wheeler made the play by dropping for Scheifele and then driving the net with Smith to give his lethal teammate all the time he needed. A well executed play by two great players.
The second period was totally different. It was all Blueshirts. They skated with purpose and poise. Attacking the Jets, they got the only two goals early and late while holding a 17-9 edge in shots. It was a impressive response from a team that never quits under Quinn. He won’t allow it.
After an off first in which they were victimized twice, the top line came right back with the kind of strong play we’ve come to expect. Mika Zibanejad was right in the middle of it again. The red hot number one center scored a weird one from Chris Kreider and Zuccarello at the 38 second mark to cut it to 2-1. On a good cycle from his linemates, he took a Kreider pass and threw a shot towards the net that went in for his 24th of the season.
Despite Jesper Fast and Neal Pionk each taking interference minors over five minutes apart, the Rangers penalty kill got the job done. It was a frustrating game for the hard working Fast, who took a cheap shot from the dirty Byfuglien. He left to get checked out before returning. Not penalized in the first for an obvious infraction, this time Byfuglien went to the sin bin for his ridiculous elbow that stunned Fast. The best part is the Blueshirts made him pay on the scoreboard.
Having scored in the first minute of the period, they decided to also score in the final minute to tie the score. After watching the top unit pass, pass, and pass the puck aimlessly with Shattenkirk rarely looking at the net and Zibanejad for some reason on the wrong side, I finally got my wish. Out came the second unit. They didn’t disappoint. A simple and smart play by Strome resulted in Buchnevich getting his 10th at 19:19. Taking a DeAngelo pass at the right point, Strome made a nice shot pass for a open Buchnevich, who redirected the puck past Hellebuyck to make it 2-2. It was his first goal in nine games. His last two came in a 1/15 home win over Carolina.
Buchnevich should be much better than his stat line of 10-9-19 in 39 games this season. He has the skating, shooting (when he does) and playmaking instincts to become a more consistent scorer. As Quinn has demonstrated in a few benchings, it really is up to him. Over the last 10 games, Buchnevich has six points (3-3-6). The issue is it’s not every night he’s producing. It’s spread out. If he can ever find the consistency, only then can he become the top six forward fans want him to be. He turns 24 on April 17. Buchnevich is a Group II free agent this summer. A prime candidate for a bridge deal.
With the score tied, Wheeler got nabbed for a incidental tripping minor on Brady Skjei with 18 seconds left. Quite honestly, it wasn’t a penalty. His skates accidentally caught Skjei’s causing him to fall. The officiating is not so good. They miss blatant infractions and call ones that aren’t, which drive knowledgeable fans like the loud ones in Winnipeg nuts.
With still 1:42 remaining on the power play to start the third, Zibanejad got another odd one for number 25. On what was a strange play, he took a feed from Shattenkirk and fired a shot that changed direction twice off two Winnipeg defensemen. The puck went off both Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey with Zuccarello in front distracting Hellebuyck to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead at 57 seconds of the third period. That goal puts Zibanejad into first place ahead of Kreider, who remains on 24. Neither have ever reached 30. That should change.
Before they could get too comfortable, Scheifele made a good play feeding a vacated Joe Morrow (really) for a quick one-timer that eluded a unscreened Lundqvist to tie it back up at 5:22. Fittingly, it was Morrow’s first. Of course it was.
With the crowd still buzzing, the Jets converted a odd man break when Mason Appleton (who?) turned into Dale Hawerchuk by centering for Andrew Copp for his sixth right through Lundqvist at 7:21. Just like that, two Winnipeg goals in a 1:59 span gave them a 4-3 lead. On the game-winner, Vesey was late on the coverage with both Skjei and McQuaid right where they should’ve been, defending the front of the net. Just inexcusable. How often are our forwards not in the right spot? It’s not always the D.
The Rangers certainly deserved a better fate in this one. They held a 10-8 lead in shots in the third. So, following the brutal first, they outshot the Jets 27-17 and 37-36 overall. Hockey doesn’t make much sense. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 55 of 56 shots on his 23rd birthday in the 4-1 home win over Toronto. His 55 saves were only fewer than Mike Richter’s franchise record of 59 by a Ranger in regulation.
Oh well. The team now gets two days off before traveling to Buffalo. They face off at 7 PM Friday. Then come the loathsome Penguins in Pittsburgh on Sunday for one of those annoying early 12:30 matinees on NBC. Maybe they can invent some new excuses for any Evgeni Malkin is so dirty. Glad he got at least a game for his stick swing that luckily missed Michael Raffl.
BONY 3 STARS:
3rd 🌟 Joe Morrow, WPG (game tying goal and an apple)
2nd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (two more goals for a team leading 25 as he continues to prove he’s a legit number 1 center)
1st 🌟 Mark Scheifele, WPG (two goals for #’s 29, 30, and a primary assist)