Game #30: Kreider: “We don’t shoot enough pucks”

AP Photo credit Los Angeles Kings via Getty Images

Tonight was a frustrating one for the Rangers. They were coming off a nice 5-0 shutout win over the Golden Knights. However, like I unfortunately predicted, they beat the harder team and lost to the team that’s not as good at Los Angeles. The end result was a sleep inducing 3-1 loss that invoked flashbacks to the exasperating 2014 Stanley Cup loss to the Kings at annoying Staples Center.

It’s not just because Jonathan Quick turned back the clock and nearly had a shutout to outplay Henrik Lundqvist. It was due to the game itself. The Rangers did a lot right for most of the first period. They had the shots, the better scoring chances and looks. But couldn’t score on Quick, who remembered that he once was a two-time Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner. He made 29 saves including a couple of great ones by robbing Kaapo Kakko with a pad stop. He was good.

Before I dive into the two goals Lundqvist gave up in his first start in eight days, I want to talk about what Chris Kreider told MSG’s John Giannone following the loss. When asked about the game, he was very pointed in his remarks.

“We don’t shoot enough pucks. Again. It’s always the same thing when we lose.”

Kreider was dead on about it. We heard Joe Micheletti go on and on about how many times this team passes up wide open shots. Particularly Kakko, who’s becoming way too predictable. Yes. He had quite a few chances to bury one tonight. To be fair, he wound up with a game high eight shots. That is a good amount. However, there were other opportunities to where he passed right into the teeth of the Kings disciplined defense, which was content to sit back in a 1-3-1 once Dustin Brown scored on Lundqvist with 10.1 seconds left in the first.

That’s how LA plays under veteran coach Todd McLellan. It’s the only way they can be successful. They’re a last place hockey club that’ll wind up in the NHL Lottery. However, they do play hard for their coach. Even as bad as they looked early on, they hung around thanks to some heroics from Quick, who always is strong down low due to his athleticism. The guy competes hard. Even if he’s not the guy he once was. Similar to Lundqvist, who gave Quick credit for having a good game. Both were good, but it once again felt like Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. Or in this case, Lundqvist playing the Phil character who has to live through the same exact day no matter what he tries.

There weren’t many power plays in this Quickly played game. See what I did there? It was fast moving thankfully because it wasn’t a Picasso or Renoir. This made you question your fandom. Why do we stay up and do this to ourselves? It sounds like a Pythagorean Theorem. If this, then that. Or another philosophy course. I took a few of those in college and even got an A in my final one. Philosophy can certainly apply to hockey.

On a night interrupted by the Yankees going berserk literally by giving Gerrit Cole NINE YEARS (holy guacamole!) and $324 million to go help them win a 28th World Series after a decade without making one, here we were watching crappy hockey on MSG 3 due to the god awful Knickerbockers (I’m dead) and the dizzying and dismal Devils (I listened to the first two periods and Chico Resch sounded so disheartened by what he was seeing). You cannot make this stuff up. Honestly, I hope Dolan loses his mind and sells for the love of sanity. Hey. The Wilpons did with Hasan’s Mets. But their fans have to wait five more years.

Okay. Back to the game. In a real good opening period which included a power play where they had the puck for the whole damn thing, the Rangers failed to score on a sharp Quick. He was stopping everything. When he wasn’t, Mika Zibanejad was misfiring his normally accurate one-timer wide. He missed the net three times. Then even attempted a fourth shot that didn’t hit its intended target. There was a Tony DeAngelo point shot that Kreider just missed tipping in. You even had a Kakko shot from a sharp angle that Quick turned away. He was in the zone.

How much so? The point blank save on Filip Chytil on the doorstep was fantastic. It was classic Quick. This wasn’t the aging netminder that entered with an .887 save percentage. It was vintage Quick as he usually is versus Lundqvist. Maybe if David Quinn had started Alexandar Georgiev, the Rangers might’ve won. This isn’t pinning it on him completely. But it’s just that they play better for Georgiev, who’s the better goalie right now. Despite what MSG wants you to think. Not every fan is blind or naive like other blogs.

On most nights, getting 23 of 25 stops from Lundqvist would result in a win. Not at Staples Center, who again showed no class by playing the ridiculous “Nanana, Hey Goodbye!”, garbage following Adrian Kempe’s empty netter. They are the most bush league arena. I hope the Lakers choke! That fanbase doesn’t deserve anything. Let’s Go Clippers!

Alright. Enough basketball on this post. I hardly watch anymore. I basically disowned my team after 35 years. Sad. But necessary. Thankfully, Dolan stays out of the Rangers business. That allows them to rebuild this thing the right way. There will be some very interesting decisions forthcoming. That’s for a later date.

When you play as well as the team did for almost the entire first period, you better make it count. The Rangers couldn’t do it versus Quick. He stopped 14 shots altogether. They were unable to go high on him. This isn’t a big goalie. He takes risks and relies on his reflexes the same way Mike Richter did. That’s what makes Quick fun. Just like Richter, who won the team’s last Cup. It truly has lasted a lifetime. Sorry Sam Rosen.

Unfortunately, my prediction came true. The one where your team dominates but can’t score. That usually spells doom. Sure enough, it did.

It took until the final frantic minute for things to come apart. The forwards that included Brendan Lemieux, whose diving block was terrific- couldn’t clear the zone. So, Lemieux, Brett Howden and Jesper Fast got trapped in along with defensemen Marc Staal and Adam Fox by a relentless Kings forecheck. They must’ve attempted about eight shots. Lundqvist made some saves, but eventually the entire five man unit tired out. They watched the Kings pass the puck across until a dazed Lundqvist fell down and could only watch Brown finish off a great pass across the crease from Tyler Toffoli. He scored it with 10.1 seconds left in the period.

An absolute crusher. Once that happened, you knew this game was going to be tough. The Kings don’t have much skill. Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t even play anymore. He was a healthy scratch for a 15th straight time. Cue the flashbacks to irrational NYR Twitter with these knuckleheads wanting our team to sign him. I’m not kidding. I could easily find old tweets and expose these frauds. But there’s no point. The Kings are on the hook for $6.25 million and there’s still one more year remaining on the contract. Hahahaha! The sad aspect is Kovalchuk could’ve been one of the great scorers. Instead, he chose to go home to Russia over the Devils. What a turncoat!

The Kings still have Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, who celebrated his birthday on Sunday like me. They have Brown, Toffoli, Quick, Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford. So, there are still some holdovers from that last championship. Those guys know how to win close checking games. They did it again on Tuesday.

The second was just mind numbing. The Rangers couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to match an improved Kings work ethic. I knew it was coming. There was no way they were going to play as poorly. Sure enough, they tightened up the neutral zone which made it feel like it was ’98-99 trap hockey. It was that hard on the eyes. I considered gauging them. Just kidding. I just want to make sure you’re awake. For a very long time, the Rangers remained stuck on three shots in the period. They turned over pucks and fell into the trap.

There also was some rough stuff. In the first, Chytil took a dangerous knee on knee hit from Austin Wagner. They didn’t like it. Unintentional or not, they’re lucky Chytil was okay for his next shift. He definitely was in some pain at the bench, but didn’t exit. Later, in one of the most puzzling decisions, Quinn decided to move Chytil to the wing on a mismatched line centered by Brett Howden and flanked by Lemieux. It was a total waste.

What in the heck is Quinn thinking? You have to play Chytil at center. That’s it. I didn’t care for Ryan Strome on the right side either at the start. As critical as I am of him, let Pavel Buchnevich sink or swim on a second line with Chytil and Kreider. That has to be their second line. Especially now that they seem committed to Kakko playing top line with Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. Strome should center Lemieux and Fast. Howden is a checking center who gives good effort, but isn’t a big scorer. Let him center the fourth line with Greg McKegg and Brendan Smith.

With most of the play at exclusively five-on-five, the Kings applied more puck pressure and controlled the pace. They got more shots through on Lundqvist, who kept it at one goal for a while. However, he had a bad hiccup when he misplayed a heavy shot from defenseman Matt Roy (who?). Instead of gloving it out of harm’s way, he let the puck go off the glove and behind right to Toffoli, who outmuscled Ryan Lindgren to put in the rebound for a 2-0 lead at 13:22. That proved costly. After reviewing the Kings first goal, I gave Lundqvist a pass on it due to the pass across with the five man unit dead exhausted. This was one he had to have. It’s that simple.

You knew this wasn’t going to be a high scoring shootout. Not once LA went in front. They can’t play that way. That meant an uphill climb for the Blueshirts. It also meant clutch saves like the pad denial Quick made on Kakko. Similar to his stone job on Chytil. That’s what he can do. Neither were able to get the puck up. That summed the night up.

In a good character move and very brave at that, Brady Skjei sought retribution on Wagner by dropping the gloves for Chytil. I loved it. Sure. It was a boring wrestling match. But it showed me something. I didn’t know Skjei had that in him. As critical as I’ve been, I really admire what he did. He told Giannone that he was trying to change the momentum. Something most knowledgeable hockey fans understand. Especially when you’re down two with nothing happening. Good for Brady!

After being outshot 10-5, the Rangers knew they had to come with more in the final period. The effort was there. However, the execution wasn’t. They continued to fire pucks into Quick’s lower pads. His biggest strength. He wasn’t having it. It was going to take something special to beat him.

There was another interesting dustup when Smith was challenged by Kings enforcer Kurtis MacDermid. Upset with an otherwise clean hit on a teammate caught in an awkward spot coming out of his end, MacDermid cleanly beat Smith with two heavy rights that landed for the knockdown. It wasn’t a fair fight. Kudos to Smith for doing it. But there was nothing wrong with the hit.

I’m in agreement with Rosen on this issue. If you deliver a clean old fashioned hit, there shouldn’t be any fight. This is the ugly part of today’s game I don’t agree with. It’s wussy hockey. Good checks are part of the game. Hit back the way DeAngelo did in this game on Clifford, who acted like a punk later by getting away with an uncalled cross-check on Lemieux. Even Panarin went back at a King after a scrum. I love it. He doesn’t back down. Exactly the attitude you want from your star player.

It really looked like it would be a Turn Back The Clock Quick shutout. But just as I was about to tweet it, Panarin scored a late power play goal by converting on a rebound created by Kreider in front. Kakko took the shot and Kreider freed the loose puck up right to Panarin for his team-leading 15th with under 31 ticks left. He has points in 23 of 30 games. What a player!

At least there would be no shutout for Quick, who definitely wanted it. You could tell by his focus. I respect that. He is a potential Hall of Famer. But I don’t know if he’ll get in. He broke down due to injuries and a taxing style while his team declined. He will make the US Hockey Hall of Fame. A great honor for the kid from Milford, Connecticut. He’s 33 and has 316 victories with a career 2.39 GAA, .913 save percentage and 51 shutouts. Not bad for a guy they thought wouldn’t be as good as Jonathan Bernier. Oops.

Even though they pulled Lundqvist again, it didn’t matter. There would be no Broadway Miracle On 34th Street. Buchnevich failed to get the puck in which led to Kempe scoring into the vacated Rangers net with 15 seconds left.

That kinda game. That kinda night. They got what they deserved. Even though I liked what Quinn had to say about the Kings being “a tough matchup” due to their size and how heavy they are. A good honest assessment. Now, if only he’d play Georgiev more and stop tinkering with his lines.

Oh well. Onto the next one. That’s the Jekyll and Hyde Sharks, who cannot defend or get consistent netminding. What will happen at the Shark Tank on Thursday? If I were a betting person, take the over. You’ll see much more time and space with scoring and shots up.

Battle Of Hudson 3 🌟

3rd 🌟 Matt Roy, Kings (2 assists, +2 in 19:54)

2nd 🌟 Tyler Toffoli, Kings, (game-winner for 7th of season plus 🍎, +3 in 13:59)

1st 🌟 Jonathan Quick, Kings (29 saves including 14 for 14 in great 1st, still owns us and Lundqvist)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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