Game #35: Kreider’s pair spark Rangers in successful Duck Hunt

Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider had fun on Sunday at the Ducks expense. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

Early games aren’t fun. Especially if you lose. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case today for the Rangers, who had too much for a flu ridden Ducks team on short rest. The result was a predictable 5-1 home win. Anaheim played the day before and beat the Islanders in a wild and crazy 6-5 shootout win on Long Island. However, they were without their three best forwards on Kids Day at MSG.

A more rested Blueshirts took full advantage of the Ducks, who skated without captain Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell. They dominated early by outscoring the Ducks 3-1 in a lopsided first period. In a period they controlled by outshooting the wounded Ducks 18-6, they easily could’ve had twice as many goals. But they refused to shoot on the way too predictable power play that’s as cold as ice.

That didn’t matter. Filip Chytil and Brett Howden ended long scoring droughts. They connected 1:31 apart to put the Garden hosts ahead 2-0 before the halfway mark. It was a brilliant rush by Chytil off a Brendan Lemieux lead pass that allowed the slick Czech to get in on Ryan Miller and beat the American veteran netminder with a nifty backhand. That goal was his first in 11 games since tallying against Boston on Nov. 29.

A couple of shifts later, Howden put himself in the right spot to follow up a Tony DeAngelo rebound for his fourth which Artemi Panarin set up. It was Howden’s first point since Dec. 5 and first goal in 16 games. His last one came back on 11/20 versus Washington. Used on the third line due to Kaapo Kakko being out, Howden took advantage of the opportunity by playing on the wing instead of his customary center.

Even though they dominated play, the Rangers let the Ducks cut the lead in half when Sam Steel was allowed to stand in front and redirect a Ondrej Kase shot past Henrik Lundqvist at 9:58. Jacob Trouba blew the assignment. Once again, there would be no shutout for Lundqvist, who was fine on what was a light day. It’s possible Quinn goes back to him tomorrow for the Flyers. Over his career, he has a great record in back-to-backs. This could be an opportunity for him to get back on track.

Some feistiness between Ryan Lindgren and Max Comtois resulted in matching roughs. Right after, Chris Kreider got a takeaway in the neutral zone and turned on the jets to move in on Miller and beat him with his bread and butter move by tucking home a backhand off a beautiful fake at 12:16. His ninth goal was unassisted. Just an outstanding individual effort from a player who’s heating up. Kreider would score his second of the day later to give him eight points (4-4-8) over the last seven games.

Along with Panarin (20 goals) and Mika Zibanejad (12 G), Kreider is the third Blueshirt to hit double digits in goals. With him finally reunited with Zibanejad, he’s hitting his stride. That’s who he should’ve been playing with once David Quinn split up Panarin and Zibanejad. Panarin continues to have solid chemistry with Ryan Strome, who picked up his 23rd assist on a shorthanded goal by Zibanejad in the third.

For a second consecutive game, Pavel Buchnevich played with Panarin and Strome. The cohesive trio looks good so far. I’m glad Quinn kept them together along with Zibanejad, Kreider and Jesper Fast. It’s about time he allows his forward lines to gel. The only suggestion I have is for Buchnevich to be more selfish. He had some excellent scoring chances, but often deferred to Panarin. That’s also the main issue with the powerless play. Too much East/West crap which makes it easier for opposing penalty kills to intercept passes and clear the puck. They’re too predictable.

The second was a bore and snore fest. Neither team excited the younger crowd, which made the building sound like a library. At least there was some nastiness to keep some fans enthused. Over halfway through the contest, Howden got into a wrestling match with former Ranger Michael Del Zotto. He was giving it to Howden pretty good during that shift. So Howden went back at him during a scrum to cause matching roughing minors. I wish the officials would’ve let them go.

A few minutes later, Lemieux got an unsportsmanlike conduct for being Brendan Lemieux. It was ridiculous. Something Joe Micheletti pointed out on the broadcast. Lemieux sucked Ducks tough guy Erik Gudbranson into dropping his glove because he thought they were about to fight. Instead, Lemieux kept his mitts on and skated away. For some reason, the refs gave Lemieux a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct too. It should’ve been another sleep inducing Ranger power play. Gudbranson also got a misconduct. He was mad.

Prior to that chaos, a rushing Zibanejad got the puck over to Kreider in front for a nice deflection goal that gave him his 10th for a 4-1 lead. It was the only goal of the period.

Following a successful penalty kill of a DeAngelo tripping minor, the second concluded with even more craziness. During a heated scrum after the buzzer, a couple of Ducks jawed with Lemieux. That included enforcer Nicholas Deslauriers, who got upset when Lemieux gave him a chop with his stick to earn a roughing minor and a misconduct. He missed the first 12 minutes of the third period.

The Rangers killed off the Lemieux two-minute minor penalty to start the third. This also happened:

That was the Rangers’ NHL leading seventh shorthanded goal. Zibanejad got it from Strome. His shot from an angle snuck through a distracted Miller, who had to deal with a cutting Trouba right in front. It almost looked like he got a piece of it. Some reporters thought so. For now, it’s Zibanejad shorthanded from Strome at 1:16.

Eventually, things boiled over. Deslauriers and Micheal Haley finally went at it for a bit to earn fighting majors. You knew the crazy Deslauriers was going to find a dance partner. I’m surprised Gudbranson didn’t. He wanted to kill Lemieux for being his usual ornery self. Lemieux has to pick his spots. He has a bad reputation due to his last name. Being the son of Claude Lemieux is tough. He’s been screwed over in some games.

In the third, the Rangers got two more power plays. They predictably didn’t do anything on it to wind up 0-for-5. At some point, it has to change. They’re making it very easy on opponents who take liberties with them. Adjustments need to be made.

The next two games should be tough. They’re in Philadelphia to see familiar faces in Kevin Hayes and former coach Alain Vigneault. Then after the holiday break, return home to host the Hurricanes. I know they’ve had their number. But at what point do the Canes finally pay them back? They’re a good team.

In any event, tomorrow night is the first meeting of the season between the Rangers and Flyers. Who makes the schedule? They don’t see the Islanders until next year. Brain surgeons.

It would be a nice Christmas gift if they could go into Philly and turn the cheers into jeers like the tradition of booing 🎅. They could be in a foul mood if the Eagles lose to the Cowboys.

Whatever you celebrate, enjoy it with family and friends. Be safe. Have fun. Happy Chanukah to my Jewish followers. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays!

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Brendan Lemieux, Rangers (assist, 14 PIM, drove Ducks nuts, +1 in 10:01)

2nd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (shorthanded goal for 12th and 🍎, 7 shots, +3 in 20:31)

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, Rangers (two goals for numbers 9 and 10, 7 shots, +2 in 16:46)

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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