Panarin records hat trick to highlight comeback win over Sharks


Artemi Panarin dons the Broadway Hat following his first hat trick as a New York Ranger. His four points in a comeback 6-3 win over the underachieving Sharks prove that he belongs in the MVP conversation if the Rangers somehow make the playoffs. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

Artemi Panarin’s hat trick highlighted a Rangers 6-3 come from behind win over the Sharks at San Jose. He scored two of his three goals in a four goal third that saw the Blueshirts rally from a 3-2 deficit by getting the last four unanswered.

I’ve run out of adjectives to describe the Bread Man. He just keeps producing for a team that would be nowhere without him. If you subtracted Panarin from the offense, the Rangers would probably have at least six less wins. He makes everyone around him better by creating space and knowing where to be on the ice.

The Rangers have played 31 games. Panarin is up to 18 goals with 23 assists for 41 points. He might not be in the same category as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl or Jack Eichel, who’s emerging as an MVP candidate with Buffalo. However, if he somehow managed to carry this team to the playoffs similar to what Taylor Hall did with the Devils, then Panarin deserves to be a Hart candidate. That’s how well he’s played. He is the straw that stirs the drink for the Broadway Blueshirts.

I didn’t watch this one because I was tired. So, I napped with the radio on. I woke up with the game tied at two in the third period. The Sharks went ahead on a rare goal from defenseman Brenden Dillon. They were playing their first game under new interim coach Bob Boughner, who relieved Pete DeBoer. The former Devils bench boss was fired along with almost everyone on Thursday due to the continued underperformance of a team expected to compete in the West. DeBoer has the dubious distinction of guiding two teams to the Stanley Cup Final, but not winning. So, he’s a lot like current Flyers coach Alain Vigneault.

Unless they get better goaltending from Martin Jones, it won’t matter who coaches. Just from the analysis of an exasperated Dave Maloney on ESPN radio alongside Kenny Albert, he couldn’t believe the goals Jones gave up to Mika Zibanejad and Panarin that put the Rangers ahead 5-3. He heavily criticized Jones’ positioning and made that exact point about San Jose, who dropped their sixth game in a row. Panarin completed his third career hat trick with an empty netter.

On a night future Hall of Fame center Joe Thornton recorded an assist in his 1,600th career NHL game, it was the resilience of the Blueshirts that ruined his big night. Despite being young, they continue to respond positively under David Quinn following losses like the miserable one they had to the Kings. They improved to 10-1 after defeats by getting big performances from Panarin (3-1-4) and Zibanejad (2 goals). The hat trick was the third of Panarin’s career. His first two came versus the Rangers at MSG. How’s that for irony.

Zibanejad came up big in the final stanza. Consecutive goals off his stick tied and put the Blueshirts ahead 4-3. He converted on a power play which Maloney thought was a break. In other words, he didn’t feel the tripping penalty on Barclay Goodrow that Chris Kreider drew was the best call. You have to take advantage when the chance presents itself.

Trailing by one, they did. Panarin and Tony DeAngelo combined to set up Zibanejad for his eighth on the power play. That tied the score with 11:11 left in the third. It was a quick response to Dillon’s tally from Brooklyn native Kevin Labanc and Thornton 4:37 earlier.

Alexandar Georgiev got the start. He was back in net following Henrik Lundqvist losing a tough decision to Jonathan Quick on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Georgiev didn’t have to do anything special like he did at Vegas or in other recent starts. He was picked up by his teammates. He allowed three goals on 18 shots. So, you can’t talk about the goaltending. I know the first San Jose goal from Tomas Hertl shorthanded was deflected off a Ranger. The other two Sharks tallies came from Logan Couture and Dillon.

Even though it sounded like they played a good first period with Maloney highlighting the puck possession and 12 shots on goal, the Rangers trailed by a goal due to Hertl victimizing the man-advantage. He was able to convert his 11th unassisted for a shorthanded goal at 9:13. It sounded sloppy on the radio.

I missed the second due to shut eye. It was played entirely at even strength without any penalties. That must’ve been good to watch. I would imagine it was fast moving because the game didn’t take that long. After Filip Chytil (2 assists) and Greg McKegg set up Jesper Fast for his second goal over three games, Ryan Strome made a good pass to an open Panarin at the side where he quickly fired his 16th past Jones short side for a 2-1 lead 2:54 later. Brady Skjei, who kept the play alive by pushing the puck down to Strome, also picked up a helper. I read quite a few complaints about Skjei defensively. That’s not going to change. He’s gonna play. You may as well deal with it.

Following a Couture snipe from Timo Meier, the game was dead even entering the third. It was San Jose who surged ahead when from listening to Maloney discuss the Dillon goal, he had all sorts of time due to Jacob Trouba giving him way too much space. He backed in and it gave Dillon enough time to fire a wide open shot from the point past Georgiev at 4:12.

But that was it for the Sharks offense. They only recorded two shots the entire period. Just mystifying. How can a team with their talent be so bad? Erik Karlsson hasn’t scored in a while to hear Maloney tell it. And the normally reliable Brent Burns was hesitant to shoot the puck when I was tuning in. He’s also got a very bad plus/minus rating (-23). I know not everyone is in love with that stat. But there’s a good reason Burns is struggling. I’ve seen him get beat plenty in the San Jose games I’ve watched either on NBCSN or NHL Network. Meier hasn’t produced like they envisioned either. Thornton doesn’t have a goal yet with only 11 apples in likely his final year. Patrick Marleau is 6-5-11 in his return.

I heard Evander Kane say he didn’t think there was enough pushback from his team last week following a loss. Interestingly enough, he took matters into his own hands following an uncalled cheap shot. Kane has arguably been their best player so far. He’s got 24 points including a team-leading 13 goals along with 75 penalty minutes. Kane is a gamer. Whatever went down in Winnipeg between him and the vacationing Dustin Byfuglien, it’s in the past now. He’s not that guy anymore. I bet Buffalo wishes they could’ve kept him.

In terms of the Sharks, they’ve always been a team I pulled for due to my friend Jen. I’ve always liked them too. It’s too bad they couldn’t win that Cup against the Penguins in 2017. That was their best shot. Probably Thornton’s final chance at it too. What a shame. I guess he’s going to wind up like Lundqvist and recently retired Roberto Luongo. Not everyone wins a Cup. Just ask Mats Sundin and the notoriously omitted Curtis Joseph.

Sometimes, you got to be lucky. I’m glad Brian Leetch has a Conn Smythe and Mike Richter along with Alex Kovalev were a big part of that Stanley Cup in ’94. Of course, it doesn’t happen without Mark Messier or some of the other former Oilers including the very popular Adam Graves. Plus Sergei Zubov, who also won with Dallas in ’99.

The point being you need breaks to win championships. And you have to cash in when it’s there. The Rangers didn’t in 2012, ’14 or ’15. Neither have the Sharks, who continue to leave diehard and loyal fans like Jen (SharxGirl) frustrated. They look like they need a different goalie. Do I hear John Davidson convincing Lundqvist that it would be best if he waived his no movement clause to go take another shot at winning a championship with San Jose or Calgary? I know it’s not gonna happen.

Truth be told, the Rangers are better off without Lundqvist now. He doesn’t win enough when Quinn goes to him and isn’t that guy you want in a rebuild. If he would just swallow his pride, he’d conclude that he doesn’t want to wind up like his Swedish buddy Sundin, who held the Maple Leafs hostage until he left and wound up with Vancouver for one final swan song.

At this point, it’s clear that the team plays harder for Georgiev, who’s got a different and more laid back personality. He is still trying to prove himself since that strong finish to last season. He’s got the better numbers and is backing it up. Even on less than stellar nights like Thursday or that wild and crazy game at Montreal, he doesn’t let a bad goal affect his demeanor. He’s very cerebral.

If and when the organization decides to recall Igor Shestyorkin and give him a look due to his continued domination for Hartford in the AHL, where’s the logic in keeping Lundqvist for another year with him on the salary cap for $8.5 million? Are they really going to give in and trade Georgiev due to catering to the all-time franchise leader in just about every category? I hope not.

I would like to see a scenario where you have Georgiev and Shestyorkin both in NYC. That way they can find out who’s the better option. Before you just anoint Shestyorkin the man, he has to prove it. If they let this happen, they’d have another win win situation like John Vanbiesbrouck and Richter. They chose Richter and let Beezer go to Florida where he carried the Panthers to the Cup Final in ’96 before being swept by the Avalanche. It worked out well for everyone.

The organization also has Tyler Wall performing extremely well in his senior year at UMass-Lowell. A forgotten sixth round pick in 2016, the 21-year old from Lexington, Ontario is 10-3-4 with a 1.72 GAA, .945 save percentage and two shutouts in 17 games this season. Aside from a tough sophomore year, Wall has been excellent in his four-year collegiate career. He should be part of the future in the Rangers organization soon.

There’s not much more to say regarding the Rangers goalie situation. It’ll be interesting to see what JD and Jeff Gorton decide. Davison knows a thing or two from experience as a player about making hard decisions that impact the future. That’s how he got his shot here after the unpopular decision by Emile “The Cat” Francis to waive Eddie Giacomin and trade away Jean Ratelle and Brad Park for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais. Eventually, Davidson backstopped the ’78-79 Rangers to a huge upset over the Islanders to play Montreal for the Cup. They lost in five games. Injuries derailed his career where he moved to the booth and became the best at his craft.

Things change. That’s what some fans fail to understand. If they move on from Lundqvist, they’d be doing themselves and him a favor. It’s time.

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 New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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