Bread Man dominance of Islanders latest example of how great he is, Rangers send message to blood rival in 6-2 domination


The Bread Man Delivers by dominating the Islanders with five points in the Rangers’ best win of the season. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

By show of hands, who had the Rangers getting six past Semyon Varlamov? Better yet, who had the Bread Man absolutely humiliating the Islanders with a signature two goal, three assist, five point performance? Who saw this coming? Admittedly, I sure as heck didn’t. Look at my prediction:

At least I can mock myself when I’m totally wrong. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ The first official meeting of the Battle Of New York wasn’t low scoring and definitely didn’t go in favor of the second place Islanders. Instead, it was total domination by a focused Blueshirts, who saved their best game of the season for tonight. The end result was a well deserved 6-2 home victory over their biggest rival at a lively Madison Square Garden.

Even though I wasn’t there along with Justin, our Dad was and got to enjoy an old fashioned rivalry in a rare ass kicking by our team. Let’s face it. The Islanders are a very good team under a great coach in Barry Trotz and legendary Hall of Fame GM Lou Lamoriello. They usually get the better of the Rangers on Broadway. So, I was realistic about the game. They’re very detail oriented due to a tight defensive system they play under Trotz. Not the highest scoring team, that’s how they must play.

Funny enough, it was already 1-0 Islanders before I walked in to watch after making a smoothie. Jordan Eberle was able to come off a face-off win and maneuver around and tuck the puck in by Monday’s starter Alexandar Georgiev. The forgotten 23-year old made his first appearance since losing a tough decision at Vancouver 2-1 on Jan. 4. Following the loss, Igor Shestyorkin was summoned from Hartford. He then impressed everyone by winning his first two starts. Both at MSG. Then Henrik Lundqvist returned to the net and was less than stellar in a 5-2 loss in St. Louis.

The goalie situation is something that’s being discussed by everyone right now. There’s been rumors of Georgiev being the odd man out. The well respected Elliotte Friedman had a recent report on Saturday night that the Rangers are open to listening to offers on Georgiev. However, they don’t want to give him away. A second or third round pick isn’t what they want back.

Prior to coach David Quinn wisely announcing that he would get the start versus ah opponent he’s had success against, I wasn’t sure if we’d see Georgiev again in a Rangers jersey. Having three goalies all up with the team isn’t easy for anyone. However, I am not in favor of trading him.

I prefer John Davidson have the talk with Lundqvist. This isn’t an ideal situation for him. Regardless of where he is career wise, he’s an all-time Ranger who’ll have his number retired. Does he want to stay in a rebuild without any likely playoffs due to his loyalty and love for being a popular New York figure? Would he reconsider waiving the big No Move Clause to chase a Stanley Cup? It isn’t happening here.

If they cannot convince him to leave, they’re on the hook for one more year at the unfriendly $8.5 million cap hit former architect Glen Sather generously handed out when Cam Talbot was still here as the dependable backup. The back end of such long-term contracts almost always turn out this way. Look at what’s happening in Chicago with core defensemen Duncan Keith and most notably, Brent Seabrook. At least they won three Cups. Even what they pay captain Jonathan Toews is insane. He is still productive. But only Patrick Kane is aging gracefully.

If Georgiev does go, it better be for an NHL forward who is a equally young, up and coming player. Not any pick or fourth liner either. That’s the only way a trade is acceptable. They have over a month still to determine what happens. With the Bulgarian playing well despite a nine day layoff, does he get the rematch on Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum? I don’t see how they can go back to Lundqvist when he looked out of sorts this past weekend. Either give Alexandar The Great another start or let Shestyorkin get his first taste of the unique rivalry, which didn’t disappoint at 33rd and 8th Avenue.

Well, unless you were an Islander fan. As I was told unsurprisingly, there were plenty of dark blue and orange in the crowd of 17,403 which at last check, isn’t even a sellout. Sad times for Dolan. That’s what he gets for jacking up prices at M$G. When a beer runs basically 19 dollars, that sums it up. I think the cost of a hot dog is like eight bucks. Are you kidding me?!?! I don’t eat at the Garden on the rare occasions that I go. Unless it’s a pretzel, save your money.

It’s always interesting to see how this team will respond to some adversity early on. They got scored on 18 seconds in on a simple Nelson face-off win to Eberle, who had way too much daylight to score his fifth. That was the only bad moment for the Panarin line with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. Same for Brady Skjei and partner Jacob Trouba, who got faked out by Eberle on the game’s first goal.

Rather than hang their heads and let the Isles take over, the Blueshirts stood up and fought back literally. On a face-off in the neutral zone, Micheal Haley stood in and took his lumps against Islander heavyweight Ross Johnston. One of the toughest fighters, he got some good early shots in. But Haley did a good job coming back to earn a draw. This told you it wasn’t going to be one of those games.

Then, before the linesman even dropped the puck for the next face-off, Brendan Smith fought Matt Martin. He didn’t do as well as Haley. But the confusing part was when both participants got automatic game misconducts due to a NHL rule. Apparently, there can’t be two straight scraps unless the puck is dropped. Blame the linesman. They delayed and then Martin and Smith went at it. This wasn’t quite the classic line brawl. Can you believe it’s almost eight years since that happened? I ran out of the bathroom to see the three fights. Unreal scene and a much different crowd.

Only Brandon Prust should’ve been a regular when the Rangers and Devils faced off in the disappointing Conference Final. That would be the one I left the house following the Adam Henrique overtime goal and walked to my old grammar school yard and sat in the darkness quietly thinking to myself for an hour before calling up Robert “Kraze” Davis to congratulate him on his team’s revenge. I am a good sport. He called it prior to the playoffs too. But his team didn’t quite get it done against the Kings. A team both Devils and Rangers fans hate equally.

Following the consecutive fights, it was all Rangers. They were the aggressor throughout. Playing a more straight ahead style that included a consistent forecheck along with players thinking shot first, they made life extremely difficult on the Islanders and Varlamov. Following a good stop on Panarin, Fast beat Nick Leddy to a loose puck by getting his stick on it to rebound it past Varlamov for a tie score at 8:14. Despite mild protests from both Leddy and Trotz that Fast knocked his stick out, it wasn’t that. He got the puck for his eighth. Part of a three point night (1-2-3) that earned him the game’s Second Star.

After the goal, the Rangers really started to control the flow. They used their skating to pin the Isles in for long stretches. One such sustained shift earned cheers from the home fans. The other noticeable difference was how they defended. They didn’t back up like usual. Rather they took away time and space by standing up at the blueline while getting their sticks on Islander passes and shots to go the other way. This was a focused team. Every defenseman got the job done along with willing forwards.

Despite a 17-7 edge in shots, they still were tied after a period. Give Varlamov some credit for keeping his team in the game. Eventually, the Isles starter would crack. The relentless pressure from the Blueshirts was too much. Trotz also didn’t have his best night behind the bench. He waited too long to pull Varlamov.

It was a very good shift by the top line that led to the go-ahead tally from the now on fire Chris Kreider. On some excellent puck possession from Skjei, he set up a Panarin shot from the point that Kreider was able to redirect home for number 15 at 5:06. The refs said it was a good goal despite Kreider’s stick being dangerously close to crossbar height. If it had been over, there could’ve been a reversal. Following a video review, they confirmed the goal as called to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Had it gone the other way, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Usually, it’s all about the original ruling. That’s what happened.

With the Islanders reeling, it was the Blueshirts who continued to be a couple of steps ahead. They kept firing shots at Varlamov, who did a good job. They were up to 26 halfway through the contest. In particular, the 21-year old rookie tandem of Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox had a superb night. Quinn matched them for a majority against the superb Mat Barzal line. Barzal is the Isles best player and leading scorer. They really did a good job against him.

While they took care of their end, that allowed the ultra talented Fox to step up offensively. On another dominant shift by Panarin and Fast, Fox hustled to keep a puck alive at the Isles blueline. He then maneuvered around and totally faked out Varlamov by surprising him with a sharp angle shot to catch the Islander netminder off his near goalpost for a crushing goal that made it 3-1 with 8:49 left in the second period. The assist gave Panarin three points for the fourth consecutive home game. He was just getting started.

After toying with a bewildered rival, they took their foot off the gas pedal the last few minutes. Suddenly, the Islanders mounted their best attack on Georgiev. Having not been tested frequently, it was surprising how composed the second-year goalie was. His best sequence came on a crazy flurry started by Derick Brassard. He made four saves in a row including one on Josh Bailey. That was tremendous goaltending from the Rangers wins leader this season. He got plenty of love. If he doesn’t make those big saves, the game could’ve swung. Altogether, the game’s Third Star finished with 32 saves to improve to 11-9-1.

After being outshot 16-8 due to the late Isles’ onslaught, it was important for the Rangers to realize they couldn’t get away with that to win this game. The Islanders are a resilient hockey club that doesn’t quit. They had to reestablish momentum. They did and showed up with a terrific third that reinforced why this was the best game so far.

This period was all about Panarin. A player the Islanders targeted last summer by even offering him more money, he chose the Rangers and Manhattan over Long Island. I thought they’d make life difficult on him. Instead, they could be seeing the Bread Man in their nightmares until Thursday’s rematch off The Meadowbrook Parkway. That should be interesting.

A bad turnover inside their own blueline allowed Panarin to break away from a training Scott Mayfield in the first minute of the third. Even with Mayfield hustling back, Panarin faked out Varlamov by looking forehand and then going backhand to create an angle that didn’t seem possible. The puck beat Varlamov high to the short side for a 4-1 lead at 49 seconds. That gave him four points. He wasn’t done.

On some splendid hustle from Fast on a back check in the neutral zone, he moved the puck up to Strome, who in turn found a cutting Panarin alone where he beat Varlamov through the five-hole with a simple wrist shot for his fifth point. It was his team best 26th goal and gave him a jaw dropping 67 points over 45 games. There’s never been a better free agent signing by the Rangers in franchise history. He’s doing things I didn’t think were possible. This still isn’t a playoff team. The man is putting himself into the MVP conversation. It’s truly amazing.

Only Jaromir Jagr was like this in the record breaking ’05-06 season when he led the team to its first postseason since ’96-97. That year, Number 68 had a single season franchise record 54 goals with 69 assists and a single season best 123 points in his age 33 year. He turned 34 on February 15. If ever a player deserved the Hart that didn’t get it, it was Jagr that special season. Joe Thornton won it after dominating for San Jose following a trade from Boston. Astonishingly, Jagr is still scoring goals back home at 47 going on 48 in Kladno, Czech Republic.

With 37 games remaining, how many more goals and points does Panarin have on his sizzling hot stick? He has 21 points over his last nine games. We’re talking Connor McDavid level here. Almost NHL ’94 video game stuff. What if they were a better team? The Wonder Bread Man is fast approaching his previous career bests in goals (31), assists (59) and points (87). Both the apples and points were achieved under John Tortorella last season in Columbus. The 31 markers were with Chicago in Year Two during ’16-17. With this being his age 28 season, there should be more exciting years to follow. For what they’re paying him ($11.64 million AAV), he’s worth every penny.

There aren’t enough adjectives to describe Panarin right now. He’s making Strome a whole bunch of money. Speaking of which, he hit 30 assists with the primary helper on the Bread Man’s second of the game that shouldn’t been the end for Varlamov. Strome BTW needs four more assists to set a new career high. His 42 points are eight off his career best set with the Isles in ’14-15. A restricted free agent, Strome is going to command a lot more than the $3.1 million he is listed at. Maybe he can hire Panarin as his agent. I don’t think Fast would protest. He’s benefitted too in a contract year. Do they re-sign him? Many tough decisions loom ahead.

It was a point blast from Trouba on the power play that put a then down Varlamov out of his misery. Fox (goal, two helpers) and Filip Chytil set it up. Even though he only had one assist, Chytil played one of his best games. He was flying all night long and could’ve had a pair of goals if not for Varlamov earlier on. He really is blossoming into a good young player with promise.

I wish I could echo the same for Kaapo Kakko. The 18-year old Finnish right wing continues to look green due to his style of holding onto the puck too long. He passed up on some more shooting opportunities again. Instead, he aimlessly carried the puck behind the net which didn’t lead to anything. Confidence remains an issue. I know they don’t want to do it. However, I really feel a stint in Hartford could do the kid wonders. As long as he understands why. They don’t want to further damage his confidence.

Even though Nelson was able to deflect in a seeing eye Eberle shot for a power play goal two and a half minutes later with Marc Staal in the box for tripping, it didn’t matter. They didn’t celebrate the goal as it came with the game already decided. That didn’t mean there wasn’t some unfinished business.

A Nelson hit on a crouching Mika Zibanejad drew a crowd very quickly with 5:09 left in the action. He knew where Zibanejad was and came high to deliver the check. That led to more fisticuffs between the rivals. A aggravated Kreider quickly grabbed Nelson and roughed him up. Somehow, he got four minutes for roughing with a misconduct while Nelson received only two despite an illegal cross check to Zibanejad. While that was going on, you had Johnston punching away at the much smaller Tony DeAngelo. Despite the size differential, DeAngelo wanted more of Johnston. He sometimes is too brave. I like the bravado. Just be careful. For their part, both Johnston and DeAngelo received 12 minutes each. Matching roughing minors and misconducts to end their nights.

Afterwards, the teams skated out the remaining five minutes without anymore chaos. What about Thursday? We’ll just have to wait and see. I’d imagine Thomas Greiss will be in net for the Isles. He relieved Varlamov. It could depend on how they do against the lowly Red Wings later tonight.

For the Blueshirts, it sets up perfectly. They don’t play again until the rematch. Then, have Columbus and the Islanders again next Tuesday. It couldn’t set up any better. What will happen in the next two meetings? Hopefully, more fun and excitement for our fans. Winning at their arena would be perfect.

If you want to follow a passionate Rangers fan blogger with a different perspective, please give Sean McCaffrey a follow. A thank you to Sean (NYCTheMic) for plugging our blog on the sheer lunacy of a biased and out of control blogger, who crossed the line. We’re all fans of this team here. Even though he is the biggest proponent or opponent of Lundqvist referring to him as Lundswiss (hilarious), McCaffrey would never root against Henrik in a game. That’s the difference between our blogs and the other one that for now on shall remain nameless due to their agenda. We support the team no matter who wears the Ranger logo. Even Pavel Buchnevich, who I’ve critiqued.

If you’re a true fan, you root for whoever puts on that sweater. Go read Sean’s latest on BlueCollarBlueShirts.com. An avid and great campaigner of forgotten legend Frank Boucher along with the Cook brothers, etc., he has a unique perspective on the history of the franchise. It didn’t just begin in 1994 as MSG (Dolan) would have you believe. They seem to only go back to 1971. Why is that? Thankfully, they honored Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell before they passed away. What’s the deal with Boucher? Or is this something to do with the last No. 7, Rod Gilbert? I’m afraid to ask.

Tonight was great for many reasons. So, I went a bit longer on it. And paid back Sean McCaff. Thanks for your support.

Battle Of Hudson Three Stars:

3rd ๐ŸŒŸ Jesper Fast, Rangers (8th of season plus 2 ๐ŸŽ, +3 in 18:46)

2nd ๐ŸŒŸ Adam Fox, Rangers (6th of season plus ๐ŸŽ, +3 in 18:20)

1st ๐ŸŒŸ Artemi “Bread Man” Panarin, Rangers (goals 25 & 26 with 3 ๐ŸŽ, becomes first NYR since Bathgate with four straight games of 3 points or more on home ice, 6 shots, +4 in 18:57 with the best leg kick since CM Punk)

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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