The game’s first star Filip Chytil celebrates a Rangers win over the Lightning with Alexandar Georgiev. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy New York Rangers.
On a night they honored one of the toughest players in franchise history, the Rangers were whole again. Playing easily their best game, a focused and scrappy bunch of Blueshirts beat one of the NHL’s supposedly best teams by outworking and outplaying the Lightning.
The end result was a well deserved 4-1 win that got plenty of cheers from a pleased crowd at MSG. All 18 skaters and the goalie played with laser focus and the kind of determination and intensity that would make Dan Girardi proud. The former Ranger and ex-Lightning defenseman was on hand for an emotional video tribute and ceremonial face-off drop of the puck between former teammates Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh.
It was all very nice for the Black and Blueshirts Iron Man. Number 5 was all smiles along with his family. Even though close friend Marc Staal was a healthy scratch, it would’ve been a nice touch if he were out there for that. When I think of Girardi, I am reminded of the physical battles in the postseason both defensemen battled along with McDonagh.
I understood why Staal didn’t play. That lineup decision was a good one by coach David Quinn. He hasn’t been consistent. With Ryan Lindgren back up from Hartford along with Filip Chytil, it made perfect sense to see what Lindgren could finally do on a very young defense that featured three rookies including Adam Fox and Libor Hajek. Brady Skjei, Jacob Trouba and Tony DeAngelo were the veterans. Well, Trouba has the most experience.
This one started off with some snarl. Less than two minutes in, Micheal Haley dropped the gloves with bigger Stanley Cup hero Patrick Maroon. The former St. Louis Blue was getting the better of it until Haley landed a right to the side of the helmet that knocked Maroon down. Unfortunately, that punch injured him. He was wobbly going off and never returned. My guess is concussion. I hope he’ll be okay.
Following the fight, there was some more rough stuff after Luke Witkowski boarded Lindgren from behind. After things settled down, the Rangers were unable to capitalize on the two minute power play. Personally, I think any boarding penalty should be either a double minor or major. They just suspended Adam Lowry for a nonsensical hit from behind in the Heritage Classic between Winnipeg and Calgary at Saskatoon in the snow. It was only two minutes after he injured Flames defenseman Oliver Kylington. What a joke.
In this game, Quinn made another smart move by putting prize rookie Kaapo Kakko on the top unit. Even though it didn’t pay early dividends, he would be heard from later. Just moving him up seemed to give the teenager an extra jump in his step. He was much more noticeable throughout. Nobody seemed to mind that Kakko played on the third line at even strength with Brett Howden and Brendan Lemieux. His five shots led the team and he tied in attempts (6) with Artemiy Panarin.
Despite playing well, a lousy line change cost the Rangers the game’s first goal. For some reason, all five skaters went to the bench without getting the puck in deep. Instead, Brayden Point raced up ice and turned on the jets to set up Nikita Kucherov for his fourth from Stamkos at 15:44. It was a bad moment for a young team. I didn’t quite get why both Hajek and Trouba came off with the forwards. The D are supposed to make sure a quick transition doesn’t happen.
An irate DeAngelo slammed his stick and was fortunate he didn’t receive a delay of game minor for shooting the puck down ice. Showing remarkable restraint, the officials made him get it. So, five new skaters all wound up with a big fat minus due to the embarrassing wholesale change. The good news is that was the only puck that got by Alexandar Georgiev. Making his first start in three games, he was remarkably sharp throughout. In particular when the game opened up, his lateral movement and rebound control were superb. He finished with 29 saves to earn the game’s second star.
As good as Georgiev was, Russian counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy was better. The rating Vezina winner was at his absolute best in this one. With his team down two men after top defenseman Victor Hedman left the game in the first period, Vasilevskiy made several outstanding stops. He played extremely well and was the only reason the game was close. He faced a barrage throughout as the Rangers outshot an opponent for the first time all season. Vasilevskiy finished with 39 saves and to me, was the game’s number one star. They don’t reward brilliance to a losing goalie in a 4-1 road loss.
The game wasn’t without another learning moment for Kakko. After failing to clear the zone, he slashed Kevin Shattenkirk to earn a minor penalty late in the first. Speaking of which, fans didn’t have much reaction to Shattenkirk playing his first game against his former team. It wasn’t surprising as everything that could go wrong did in his two years in the big city. He’s off to a better start with Tampa. He entered play with four goals and three assists to resemble the offensive player he’s supposed to be. Ironically, he replaced Girardi twice. Here and in Tampa. Go figure.
As for the penalty, a disciplined penalty kill picked up Kakko to help the Blueshirts conclude the period only down one. They held a 14-11 edge in shots. Jesper Fast returned and was utilized on the top line in a checking role. He played with Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome. They had a quietly good game at five-on-five. It was by far Kreider’s most complete effort. He was more aggressive looking for his shot and came back hard defensively. Strome was a beast all night logging over 22 minutes while dominating on draws where he went 17 for 29. He also had another good offensive game.
With Mika Zibanejad out, Chytil centered a very effective second line between Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich. In his season debut following a impressive nine game stint with Hartford, Chytil was much more visible throughout. In all facets, he looked like a different player. He had superb chemistry with Buchnevich. The two played off each other well by working give and goes. They generated a lot of scoring chances that a sharp Vasilevskiy denied.
Ironically, it was Kakko who drew a interference minor on Mathieu Joseph that got the game tied up. Following a undisciplined slashing minor on Ondrej Palat that gave the Rangers an abbreviated five-on-three for 20 seconds, it was Kakko who stuck with it to score his second goal in the remainder of a five-on-four power play. Following missing an open side on a surprising Panarin feed, Strome made a good pass across to an open Kakko, who patiently outwaited a Tampa defender by going around. He fired a shot that took a funny carom off both Vasilevskiy and defenseman Braydon Coburn before the puck went in to tie the score at 9:37. Kreider did a nice job screening.
The rest of the second was each team trading chances. On a rare Lightning power play, Georgiev was at his best making at least four big saves to keep the contest even. He was very good in a key spot against some elite talent. Overall, he stopped 11 Tampa shots in the stanza with nearly half on that one man-advantage.
It was the Rangers who came hard in the second part of the period. However, Vasilevskiy had other ideas. He stopped them in their tracks to keep the game tied. Whether it was due to his team being short two men, or the players having a hard time getting up for one of the league’s doormats, Vasilevskiy did his best to bail out the rest of a disjointed Lightning. They don’t look like they’ve recovered from last Spring’s shocking first round sweep to Columbus. Something is off. I’ll be curious to see what they bring into the second game of a back-to-back at the Devils. Curtis McElhinney should be in net.
In the third period, the refs hung up their whistles. Phantom hooks and holds were let go. They let the teams decide the outcome. This was a refreshing change from most games today. What you got were two teams skating and countering each other while going for it. It made for fun hockey.
Both netminders stayed on their toes. I loved how aggressive Vasilevskiy was challenging shooters. Kreider was a bit unlucky on a two-on-one so his perfect shot clanging off the crossbar. That’s how it’s gone. However, he didn’t let it bother him. When he’s more active during shifts as he was tonight, that’s a good thing for the Rangers. Maybe wearing the ‘A’ in place of Staal helped. He was focused.
Chytil had already been robbed once by Vasilevskiy. I tweeted this earlier.
He got his goal on a beautiful one handed deflection on a great pass from Buchnevich. It was well executed by both young players. Buchnevich pulled up inside the Tampa line and found a cutting Chytil behind the defense with a good pass down low that the second-year center tipped in past Vasilevskiy. That gave the Rangers a well deserved 2-1 lead with 7:14 remaining.
In his season debut, Lindgren played over 15 minutes and didn’t look out of place. It was a subtle defensive play at the end of a shift that led directly to a special moment for Fox. He made a smart pass to Kreider while changing to trap two Lightning players. Kreider came in two-on-one with Fox. He wisely aimed low for a rebound and it went right to Fox for his first career NHL goal. That made it 3-1 good guys with 2:36 left in regulation. It was also a career milestone for Lindgren, who picked up his first NHL point with the secondary assist. Good for both.
With the Tampa net empty, it was Strome that sealed it from the red line for his third at 19:14. That gave him a goal and assist. He is 3-7-10 in the team’s first 10 games. That’s only one point behind Zibanejad for the team lead. Not bad for a hard working versatile guy, who some NYR bloggers wanted to get rid of for nothing. I’m glad they’re not in charge.
Along with Panarin, who quietly has 10 points (5-5-10), Strome has been one of their best players. A player who can be trusted in any situation including the penalty kill. He can also slide back over to the right wing once Zibanejad returns. That’s valuable.
This was a feel good win for a young team searching for an identity. That doesn’t take away from what Girardi and soon Staal gave this franchise. Let’s see how they follow it up at Nashville.
I’m not usually the guy who’ll get into the whole goalie debate. But based on Tuesday’s performance, Georgiev deserves another start on Saturday. Why not? They played well in front of him. Stick with a similar lineup even if Zibanejad is ready.
Battle Of Hudson 3 🌟:
3rd 🌟 Adam Fox, Rangers (1st NHL goal, 4 shots, +2 in 24 shifts-16:16, continues to improve daily)
2nd 🌟 Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning (39 saves including several big ones)
1st 🌟 Filip Chytil, Rangers (1st of season for GW, 3 shots, 2 takeaways, 2 blocks, +1 in 21 shifts-17:27)