Marc Staal battles a Canuck along the boards. AP Photo credit Vancouver Canucks via Getty Images
Encouraging is that unlike the first two games, they played well in Vancouver. However, the Rangers still managed to lose a tough one to the Canucks 2-1 in British Columbia. They went empty by going 0 for 3 on the Western Canada road trip. It was disappointing.
Despite outplaying their old Western rival they beat in ’94 to win the Stanley Cup on Retro 90’s Night at Vancouver, the Rangers could only muster one goal on 37 shots against Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks starting goalie who was elected to his first All-Star Game, was the difference throughout finishing with 36 saves. He went 2-0 versus Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev by stopping 74 of 77 shots in a clean season series sweep. He improved to 6-2-1 for his career versus the Rangers.
It wasn’t so much that Georgiev was bad. He stopped 25 of 27 sent his way including 14 of 14 in a busy second period. However, the two goals he allowed were preventable. The first was a bad rebound of a Loui Eriksson shot he sent right on the stick of Antoine Roussel for another early goal scored by an opponent at 1:46.
In the third period of a dead even game, it was mostly Blueshirts. They carried most of the play by forechecking deep and generating quality scoring chances. For one night at least, coach David Quinn rolled four lines. They outshot Vancouver 14-6 in the period. But Markstrom made some big time saves to give his team a chance to steal it.
That they did. Following a bad icing from Brady Skjei, Vancouver captain Bo Horvat won an offensive draw back to rookie Quinn Hughes. He passed for teammate Tyler Myers, who snuck a slow high wrist shot over a kneeling Georgiev for the go-ahead tally with 1:29 left in regulation. It was one of the rare times the normally stand up goalie was caught down by a good shot that beat him stick side. A crusher for sure.
For a second game in a row, the top line of Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast were held in check. When the wonder Bread Man doesn’t hit the score sheet, it’s problematic for the team. They don’t have enough scoring depth to offset it. Panarin has been bread and butter the whole first half. His 22 goals, 33 assists and 55 points easily outdistance Strome (11-26-37) for the team lead in scoring. Hopefully, he can find his form when they return home this week.
Mika Zibanejad also went without a point for a second consecutive game. If he and Panarin aren’t doing the scoring, the Rangers will be hard pressed to find consistent offense. On a night they were much better defensively while establishing a consistent attack, it went for naught due to Myers’ late heroics.
The only offense came from Pavel Buchnevich. He’d been in another scoring slump. However, after taking a vicious hit in the corner, Buchnevich went to the net and was the beneficiary of a fantastic strip and dish across from the underrated Chris Kreider to tie the score at 7:59 of the first. Kreider made the whole play possible by using his big frame to steal the puck and find an open Buchnevich for a put away into an open side. That gave the 24-year old Russia n his seventh goal (first in seven games). He ends the first half with 23 points (7-16-23) including a goal and assist in his last two. Will it finally get him going?
As for Kreider, he has picked it up. While the dozen goals in 41 contests aren’t great, the 14 assists give him a respectable 26 points, which ranks fifth in team scoring. Don’t forget he sacrificed some of that for the ultra skilled Panarin. Since being reunited with Zibanejad, the 28-year old American has played better. From Dec. 8 on when he scored a goal in a win at Vegas, Kreider has 13 points (6-7-13) with a plus-four rating over the past 13 games. Exactly a point-per-game.
He’s back to being the player he can be. No matter what happens on February 24, Kreider has been one of this team’s most dependable performers for nearly a decade. Some fans take him for granted. Not everything he does during shifts shows up on the stat sheet. Or beloved Corsica. If they do move on from him come next month’s trade deadline, he will be sorely missed. There aren’t many players like him who can do the grunt work. His leadership will also be missed.
Of course, the organization has to do what’s best for the future of the franchise moving forward. If only Jeff Gorton didn’t commit so much money towards Skjei. In a perfect world, I’d keep Kreider. But his price is going to be around the same ballpark as former teammate Kevin Hayes. We’re talking at least six years at a likely AAV of $7 million. He’ll turn 29 by the end of April.
With other decisions on Group II free agents Strome, Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux, whose straight forward physical style is missed, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Fast can be re-signed for an affordable cost of three or four years for around $3.25 million on average. He’s also up like Kreider. Do the math. They can’t keep everyone.
If Lundqvist ($8.5 million) and Marc Staal ($5.7 million) were coming off the books this summer instead of next year, that would free up enough space to keep almost everyone. Nothing should change for either senior Blueshirt. I’d like to see what AHL All-Star Igor Shesterkin can do. They also have to decide on Georgiev, who’s been alright. But there’s only so much he or an aging Lundqvist can do. Shesterkin is the real deal. I hope we see him soon.
Ironically, last night was Kreider’s 500th game as a Ranger. The former ’09 first round pick taken number 19 is closing in on 300 career points. His assist gave him 151 to go with 145 goals for a nice total of 296 points. Remember when he came fresh out of Boston College where they won a national championship, and he debuted during the 2012 NHL Playoffs? He had yet to play an official regular season game, but fit in well scoring five big goals while adding two assists during the club’s run to the Eastern Conference Final. He went 5-8-13 two Springs later in the gut wrenching Stanley Cup loss to the Kings. It was his tying goal in Game Five from USA buddy Derek Stepan that saved the Rangers against the Capitals in Round Two.
Throughout it all, Kreider has been here for all of it. Maybe he didn’t quite hit the 30-goal mark or 60 points as I believed he would. Go look at his goal totals. 21 in ’14-15. 21 in ’15-16. 28 in ’16-17. He had 16 in 58 games during ’17-18 where he recovered from rib resection surgery due to a blood clot. He had a refreshing new outlook following it. You know he hits 20 if he doesn’t miss 24 games that season. In ’18-19, he hit 28 for the second time in his career. His 52 points were one off a career best 53 set in ’16-17.
Is Chris Kreider a great Ranger? No. However, he has been a very good player, who improved under former coach Alain Vigneault. The net front presence became his trademark along with screening netminders and tipped pucks for goals. Nobody is better at that than him. They keep a stat for it. You think there won’t be a lot of interested teams if he’s available. The Pens lost top finisher Jake Guentzel for the rest of the regular season. They could come calling. So could the Avalanche or Blues.
The point of emphasis is that more fans should appreciate Kreider while he’s still a New York Ranger. I critiqued him like many too. However, I understand what he brings. There haven’t been many successful Rangers first round picks. He got to see former teammate JT Miller last night. After not fitting in with Tampa, Miller has been a much better player in Vancouver. He plays top line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser while playing a similar role to Kreider. He has 40 points (15-25-40) in 42 games. I’ve seen criticism over Kreider not having similar production. Has he ever played with that kind of talent? Miller didn’t exactly light it up with Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos. He never showed up for any playoffs either.
This is one of the biggest issues I have with our fan base. They’re so unappreciative. So arrogant that it defies logic. If Kreider was Russian like Buchnevich, he’d be beloved. I’m not making this up. There is a inner circle of people who call themselves ‘fan bloggers.’ Only they’re hardly objective. One such nuisance is still trying to argue for Buchnevich over Strome due to some lazy excuse that he’s played with Panarin. Who’s more valuable? The $3.1 million bargain who’s formed splendid chemistry while shifting to center, or the inconsistent moody right wing, who doesn’t always bring it. There’s only a two-year age gap. These people who swear only by metrics and nerdy charts should be outlawed. They don’t watch each shift and aren’t objective.
Buchnevich doesn’t play a lick of defense and avoids physical contact like the plague. That means he must produce. Otherwise, he’s a wasted investment that Gorton should look to trade. This isn’t criticism either. It is the truth. Strome can play center while being trusted at five-on-five, power play and penalty kill. Buchnevich is used in the top six at even strength and on the power play. If he showed more of an impulse to shoot the puck like his strong finish last year, his production would go up exponentially. His goal boosted his confidence as he was one of the three best Blueshirts on Saturday.
Now, let’s see if Buchnevich can follow it up. If he does, then there will be cause for excitement. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be a 25-goal, 55-60 point player. Quinn has given him every opportunity. Right now, his current pace is 14 goals and 46 points. He has to do better than that. That’s why fans are so divided on him.
I want to praise the Vancouver Canucks for bringing back the classic skate jerseys that defined them in the 90’s. I’ve always felt that cool logo along with those futuristic colors were their best uniform. Picture Pavel Bure flying down the ice for a clean breakaway goal on one of his patented forehand dekes. Or Cliff Ronning making a perfect pass across to Greg Adams for a one-timer past Mike Richter. Or captain Trevor Linden dragging Leetch while scoring a nice shorthanded goal. Or Kirk McLean making a sprawling save as he did throughout their surprising run 26 years ago. Those were cool teams.
Don’t forget Alex Mogilny once wore that Jersey and scored over 50. Too bad Bure was out hurt. They had some good rosters. I never understood why they moved on from that era by changing the logo when Mark Messier traded in his Blueshirt for a Canucks jersey. Neither decision ever made sense. The roster would be destroyed when Bure was traded to Florida in a move for Ed Jovanovski. Mike Keenan also wound up there after his shortlived disaster with the Blues. Yikes.
I guess it just goes to show you what a low down dirty rat Keenan was. He was negotiating with Detroit supposedly while the Rangers were still trying to win their first Cup in 54 years. Crazy. Then, the chants of “One More Year”, at the Canyon Of Heroes parade in City Hall while you could tell Keenan was gone for St. Louis. Forcing that regrettable trade involving Esa Tikkanen and Doug Lidster with Iron Mike for classic underachiever Petr Nedved. A player Messier couldn’t stand. Plus they had that
asshole nut job Colin Campbell taking over so he could treat Alex Kovalev like crap. What a buffoon. He was carried by Gretzky in ’97 along with Richter and Leetch. I think that’s part of why Messier left. It wasn’t his team anymore. He couldn’t be upstaged.
It’s hard to believe I rehashed that wild and crazy era of Rangers hockey. One in which they should’ve wound up with at least another Cup if not for some awful moves by Neil Smith sans Messier.
Maybe the Canucks having a throwback night is why. It’s a lot more fun to write about than the current Rangers, who dropped their third straight game. They’re headed for another season without playoffs. That’s the reality of where they are.
I’m most looking forward to today’s gold medal game between Russia and Canada at the IIHF Under 20 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic. That should be fun. Alexis Lafreniere tries to bring Canada back the gold against a experienced and talented Russian roster that got a breathtaking overtime winner from Ivan Zubov to stun Sweden 5-4.
That’s where I’m at. If you get up, put on NHL Network and watch it. It’ll be fun. Nils Lundkvist will be on the TV along with Karl Henriksson in the bronze medal game versus Finland earlier. Lundkvist looks to have a bright future on Broadway. He’s good. Another right defenseman.