Defending champs make Lundqvist and Rangers sing the Blues


The Blues taught the Rangers a lesson last night in a 5-2 win. AP Photo credit St. Louis Blues via Getty Images

What started out well didn’t finish the same way for the Rangers. Following the 11th goal from Filip Chytil less than two minutes in, they got a rude awakening from the Blues. The defending champs gave them a lesson by scoring four of the next five to humble the Rangers 5-2 in St. Louis.

Chytil had been playing well coming in. Despite not having much to show for it in the past three games, he’s had good chemistry with Brett Howden and teenager Kaapo Kakko while centering the third line. He’s been carrying that line. So, it was nice to see him take a Ryan Lindgren pass in the defensive zone and skate into open ice and took a good wrist shot that surprised Blues starter Jordan Binnington high glove. It ended a three game goalless drought, giving Chytil 11 for the season. Not a bad number considering he started in Hartford.

The game also marked the return of Henrik Lundqvist to the net. After giving way to Alexandar Georgiev in Vancouver and then patiently having to watch rookie Igor Shestyorkin get and win his first two NHL starts at MSG this past week, the 37-year old veteran made his first appearance since losing at Calgary on Jan. 2. It has to be difficult for the franchise wins and shutouts leader to go through such a strange time. One year left on his contract that pays him an average of $8.5 million on the salary cap, this is a less than ideal situation with three goalies on the roster. If it continues to be less work for him and he struggles, would the prideful Lundqvist reconsider on waiving his no-movement clause?

It definitely wasn’t his best game. He allowed five goals on 29 shots. Granted. These are the St. Louis Blues. The best team in hockey. They’re skilled as well as big, strong and tough. Something Chris Kreider touched on in the postgame on ESPN Radio on my way back from visiting my Mom on the other side of Staten Island. Kreider also made sure to mention their structure along with how hard it is to play against them.

Regarding the five goals he gave up, I feel Lundqvist could’ve had two. The David Perron one-timer as seen above went high, short side with little wiggle room. You can tell by Henrik’s reaction that he thought he should’ve had it. He would also get beat cleanly by of all players, Robert Bortuzzo, who after serving a double minor for hi-sticking Micheal Haley, came out of the box and took a perfect Ivan Barbashev lead pass to come in on a breakaway and go low short side to tie the score.

As the power play expired, a miscommunication between Artemi Panarin and Tony DeAngelo led to a bad turnover with DeAngelo dusted as Bortuzzo moved in and picked his spot. It wasn’t a good night for Thursday’s hero. He finished minus-three for the game and partner Libor Hajek struggled mightily in his return while subbing in for a nicked up Marc Staal. I have no idea why David Quinn put those two together. Hajek should’ve played third pair with Adam Fox while moving up the more physically and defensively sound Ryan Lindgren to the second pair. It made no sense.

With 1:19 left in the period, Vince Dunn somehow was left alone by confused Rangers forwards for his seventh goal that went off Lundqvist’s glove. He previously denied a Dunn bid earlier on the shift. But the Rangers got lost in coverage by allowing Zach Sanford to find Dunn for the go-ahead tally.

Early into period two, Pavel Buchnevich took a hooking minor 21 seconds in. That’s always good to do when starting a period when your team has no momentum. Sure enough, Alex Pietrangelo and Brayden Schenn worked the puck around to an open Perron for a big power play goal at 1:26. Believe it or not, that was Perron’s 20th. He leads the Blues in scoring with 46 points. The well respected 31-year old veteran forward makes $4.75 million and is only a $4 million cap hit. What a bargain. He returned to the team that drafted him for the third time last year and helped them finally win a Cup. He fits in well.

The Chytil line struck again before the halfway mark. This time, it was Howden who was able to get enough of a great Chytil centering feed in front to beat Binnington for his sixth at 8:49. Buchnevich was on for that shift and picked up a secondary helper on the well executed play. Howden doesn’t finish much due to not having the best hands, but it was a nice reward for a hard working player. He definitely seems more effective on the wing as opposed to center, which has more responsibilities.

Unfortunately, the momentum that cut the deficit to one was shortlived. Less than two minutes later, some poor puck management between Hajek and DeAngelo resulted in Sanford and Barbashev hooking up on a give and go that Sanford finished off for a 4-2 St. Louis lead at 10:34.

When you’re getting beat by the secondary depth of the Blues, you got issues. Sanford had a goal and assist while Barbashev recorded a pair of assists. The bottom line is even without top finisher Vladimir Tarasenko, Colton Parayko and Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly not factoring in on the score sheet, the Blues are way deeper and better. There’s a reason they’re champs.

Overlooked scorer Jaden Schwartz, who had a big postseason last year, capped off the scoring by notching number 15 from Schenn and Oskar Sundqvist at 14:50. It’s just this simple. Schwartz wanted it more than Mika Zibanejad, who got beat for the goal due to Schwartz getting positioning to finish off the nice Schenn pass in front.

By the time I checked the score on my phone after dinner, it was 5-2 Blues. There wasn’t much left in the third from reading some Tweets. It sounded like a boring period. However, this happened at the very end.

Apparently, Jacob Trouba didn’t like seeing Dunn out looking for another goal in the closing seconds. The Blues were on a power play. It didn’t make much sense for Dunn to even be out there. Or to try that move. So, I understood Trouba’s frustration. He repeatedly slashed Dunn until the Blues offensive defenseman had enough and dropped the gloves exchange some punches with a fired up Trouba.

It definitely was a wild ending to a game the Rangers had lost. Words were exchanged. Even Panarin got involved and had something to say as the Blues all waited at center ice for the Blueshirts to go back to the locker room. The fiery DeAngelo had to be restrained too. You know he doesn’t back down. Even on one of his worst nights.

Well, the rematch isn’t until March 3 at The Garden. By then, the roster should have a different look. Hopefully, there’s carryover. I love seeing that kind of intensity. You never want to hang your heads. They got beat by a way better team last night. I admired the fight they showed at the conclusion.

Oh well. Now, the Islanders visit 33rd and 8th Avenue on Monday. It’s the first meeting of the damn season! Who made the schedule? A Cyclops. We’re talking Rangers and Islanders. Now, they’ll play two this week with the return match at Nassau Coliseum Thursday. Then, the third match is the following Tuesday, Jan. 21 back at Penn Station. Crazy.

What will they do between the pipes? We know full well Lundqvist’s recent history is bad against the top rival. Is he back in or do they go back to Shestyorkin. What about Georgiev? Is he gone? I am not sure what’s going on to be honest. There are rumors, but I don’t know how legit they are.

Let’s just wait and see.

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Filip Chytil, Rangers (11th of season plus primary assist, 10-for-17 on face-offs, +2 in 17:49)

2nd 🌟 Ivan Barbashev, Blues (2 🍎, +2 in 14:45)

1st 🌟 Zach Sanford, Blues (4th of season plus 🍎, +2 in 14:22)

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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