Game #49 Zibanejad leads way to hit 200 points as a Ranger in win over Red Wings, Panarin wizardry and Shestyorkin improves to 3-1


Pavel Buchnevich gives Igor Shestyorkin some love following his third win. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

Last night, I went over to friend Jon’s to watch the game. We were a little behind, but eventually caught up to see the Rangers win over the Red Wings 4-2 at the World’s Most Renovated Arena. Credit goes out to my brother Justin for that nickname. Isn’t it the damn truth?

The most important thing here is the Blueshirts got off to the right start in the second half. They beat a bad team by jumping all over them. Even though they didn’t score in a dominant first period where they created so many scoring chances against a sharp Jimmy Howard, it set the tone. For a veteran nearing the end of his career in an awful season (entered with just two wins), he made some great saves. None better than robbing Filip Chytil with his glove right on the goal line.

Eventually, all the pressure finally got the desired results in a three goal second period. Mika Zibanejad was flying all night. On a bullet pass from Chris Kreider, he blew into the Detroit zone and centered for a cutting Pavel Buchnevich, who scored his ninth while flying into the back boards. It was a beautiful play by the trio who stayed together. Buchnevich deserved it as he was very visible throughout. If he plays like that, the goals will come. He wasn’t on the perimeter and was shooting the puck more.

In a game that marked the return of promising rookie Igor Shestyorkin to the net following a successful two game stint with Hartford, he was there when he had to be. He didn’t have to stand on his head. The Red Wings aren’t good. There’s a reason they’re a lock for the worst record and hoping to win the Alexis Lafreniere Sweepstakes. Despite a good top line that features captain Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and for now Robby Fabbri with Anthony Mantha out, they don’t play any defense and are very thin. If Howard (35 saves matching his number that he wears for idol Mike Richter) wasn’t good early, this wouldn’t gotten out of hand.

Detroit struggled with both the Zibanejad line and Artemi Panarin line at five-on-five. There was one long shift from Panarin, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast where the puck seemed to stick to them like a magnet. They did everything but score. This was back in the first. Jacob Trouba made a great keep too. For most of the game, he was paired with Ryan Lindgren. That would change eventually in the third.

If you go and look at the Detroit season statistics, they’re ugly. There are some real bad numbers. Especially when it comes to scoring, plus/minus and goals allowed. They’re ranked 31st in a lot of categories. It isn’t a coincidence that their 28 points over 52 games are by far the worst. It’s pretty sad when you think that this was once a franchise of excellence. Steve Yzerman is now the general manager looking to put it back on track.

The Winged Wheel aren’t the team that won four Stanley Cups in over a decade. Gone are the nostalgic days of Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Nick Lidstrom, Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov, Brendan Shanahan, Vladimir Konstantinov, Mike Vernon, Chris Osgood, Dominik Hasek, Luc Robitaille, Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Brian Rafalski, etc. Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm are still around. Valtteri Filppula returned to likely finish his career where it began. In fact, his next game is number 1,000. That’s tonight in the rematch in Hockeytown.

Getting back to the game, the Rangers continued to control it. A Zibanejad face-off win in the offensive zone led directly to Kreider neatly deflecting in an Adam Fox point shot for his 18th at 11:56. Just your classic hardworking Kreider goal where he gets position in front and finds a way to redirect a puck past a goalie. With a goal and assist, his two points give him 21 in the last 21 since Dec. 8. Twelve of his 18 goals have come since my birthday. He’s got four in the last five games. Kreider finished January with nine points (6-3-9) in 10 games. He’s up to 34 points (18-16-34) for the season while playing in all 49 games. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of scouts in attendance yesterday.

As he continues to perform well, the price is rising. Whether it’s deciding he wants to stay in New York or as a rental, it’s going to cost a lot. It’s nice to see him playing to capability. He and Zibanejad have a special chemistry together. Kreider has credited Zibanejad for making it easier for him to play his game. A nice kudos for one of the game’s most underrated top centers. We can no longer question that anymore. Just watch Mika play the game. He is a complete player now who makes players better while logging big minutes in every key situation. He was the best player on Friday going for a goal and two helpers to give him 200 points as a Ranger. That’s 90-110-200 over 246 games. He’s up to 42 points (19-23-42) in 36 contests this season. Not bad production for his cap hit which is a bargain of $5.35 million through 2022.

In the final minute of the second, Panarin created some magic as only he can. After Tony DeAngelo got the puck out to Fast, the Wonder Bread Man took a pass from Fast and put on a series of moves before somehow scoring his team-leading 27th on an unbelievable backhand top shelf on a stunned Howard with 42 seconds remaining. It was jaw dropping. Both Jon and I couldn’t believe it. Remember. We were behind watching this on his DVR. Justin was on the phone when we saw the awesome goal. I think by that point, the game had already ended. And we were only two periods in.

The things Panarin can do with the puck are astonishing. I felt a little bad for poor Red Wings defenseman Alex Biega, who was left naked on an island. Just a simple one-on-one where the Bread Man undressed him for a highlight reel goal. His 27 are four off his career best of 31 set in his second NHL year in Chicago while playing with Patrick Kane. And some people thought he was a product of Showtime. If you watched him closely, you knew better. He proved it under John Tortorella in Columbus. Now, he’s a MVP candidate on a mediocre team that’s going to need quite a push to make any kind of run at the playoffs. They’re up to 52 points with 33 games left. Nine behind the Leafs, who leapfrogged the Hurricanes, who were 4-3 losers to Vegas.

Through two periods with his team ahead by three, Shestyorkin calmly made 15 saves. There weren’t many big ones. He made a nice challenge on an attempt in tight. There also was his cool whip glove save that looks like art. It’s a whipping motion that allows him to snatch the puck out of midair. I’ve never seen any other goalie do it before. It’s unique. I’ll credit Alyssa Harrison (Follow on Twitter) for noticing it. She has a dynamite YouTube channel you have to follow. She does cool videos and even live casts commenting to viewers on Pens games. She’s a big Crosby fan. But she’s not a homer. See some of her countdowns including Worst Divers.

In a rare game where they didn’t take a single penalty, Brendan Lemieux drew one on an agitated Abdelkader over four minutes into the third period. He went for a hit along the boards missing Abdelkader, who didn’t take kindly. He took a very undisciplined roughing minor by wrestling Lemieux down. Play continued. It was strange because for a moment, we thought the whistle would blow. Instead, play kept going and Detroit could’ve been nabbed for a second penalty. Panarin was tripped at the blueline. Instead, only Abdelkader went.

On the ensuing power play, it didn’t take long for the Rangers top unit to make Abdelkader pay. Twenty-five seconds in, Panarin passed for DeAngelo, who made a nice pass for a wide open Zibanejad. He had enough time to settle the puck before firing a laser through a Kreider screen high short side by a helpless Howard for a 4-0 lead at 5:02. I called the goal before it whizzed by Howard. Sometimes, you can tell. The puck was in and out of the net that quickly. Like watching art.

As it turned out, they needed that goal. On a night David Quinn altered his defense pairs, the brand new Brady Skjei and Adam Fox tandem struggled in the third. They got victimized for two Detroit goals. Just when we started thinking the ‘S’ word for Shestyorkin, Larkin found Fabbri wide open with no one even close. He easily finished off his 12th (11th as a Wing since coming over from Blues) to end the shutout bid at 5:59. This was embarrassing. You had both Skjei and Fox covering down low while no forward bothered to pick up Fabbri, who couldn’t had enough time for a hero sandwich before moving in and beating Shestyorkin. Filip Chytil was not where he was supposed to be. Lemieux also was in no man’s land.

Still up 4-1 as me and Jon continued to chat, neither of us felt they were in trouble. It was the Red Wings. Sure. They try hard for embattled coach Jeff Blashill, who’s somehow survived the coaching casualties. But they’re terrible. However, if you let a opponent hang around and suddenly gain confidence, strange things can occur. Just ask Montreal fans about Detroit. Their team can’t beat them.

Exactly five minutes later on a play started by a forechecking Fabbri, veteran defenseman Trevor Daley managed to put the puck right on Filppula, who like Fabbri had all day to score his fourth on Shestyorkin to suddenly make it a game. There was still 9:01 left. This play was a total breakdown. You had Fabbri beating Skjei to the net as Shestyorkin misplayed the puck. When it went into the corner, Fox decided to go help Skjei which meant you had both defensemen away from the net front. A no no. No forward took Filppula. I think it was again Chytil’s responsibility. He has to learn.

The next few minutes were a total role reversal. You had the Red Wings coning in waves searching for the third goal that thankfully never came. Shestyorkin was at his best here making a few key stops to get out of trouble. He’s very composed for a new goalie at this level. There’s a lot to like. He improved to 3-1-0 while making 23 saves. Good stuff from the Russian. Йгор йграет хорошо.

In between the second Detroit goal, Lemieux drew a second penalty on Filppula, who hooked him as the Grate One skated into the Detroit zone. The Rangers didn’t score on the man-advantage. It didn’t come back to bite them.

They eventually recovered from the doldrums that hit after the pair of Red Wing goals. Quinn reunited Fox with Lindgren once things got interesting. Skjei went back to Trouba while DeAngelo and Marc Staal stayed intact. I thought Staal and DeAngelo were the most effective D pair. They didn’t make any glaring mistakes and were sound defensively. They each were plus-two. DeAngelo picked up two helpers giving him 27 for the season. His next point will be number 40. Does it come tonight in the rematch?

Most cool was with Detroit pulling Howard for an extra attacker, Shestyorkin went for it twice. He had two good opportunities at scoring an empty net goal. The first, there was enough time. But it didn’t quite get there. On the second with only a few ticks left, he shot the puck all the way down. With the crowd anticipating a possible goal, it went just wide as the buzzer sounded. Had it gone in, we both felt it wouldn’t have counted. The clock was running out.

It was still pretty cool to see a Ranger goalie almost pull it off. We’ve seen it from other goalies like Ron Hextall, Martin Brodeur, Osgood, Jose Theodore, Evgeni Nabokov and most recently Pekka Rinne. At 24, Shestyorkin will get plenty of target practice.

A couple of quick hits and I’m done.

I felt that Kaapo Kakko looked more like the player we saw for Finland. Throughout, he was more aggressive looking for his shot. He had three good ones that Howard stopped. He was around the puck more and put himself in the right spot. He also had a physical shift where he used his size and took the body in the offensive zone. We haven’t seen much of that. A good sign for Kakko.

Greg McKegg has one really good shift where he could’ve scored twice. The first attempt came off a two-on-one rush. The second, he was all set up with an open side but missed. The Keg Man works hard. It would be nice to see him get rewarded for a change. He only has one goal. Four points total. But only minus-four which tells you about his work ethic.

Brett Howden played on the fourth line. He got 12 minutes, but just wasn’t noticeable. Maybe that was due to how we watched.

I don’t see the point in having Brendan Smith play fourth line anymore. I know he does double duty as a penalty killing D. But it’s kind of ridiculous. No disrespect meant. He definitely works hard and is a team guy. But that’s your fourth line? It’s sad that the team feels it has no viable options. Phil Di Giuseppe didn’t even dress. Steven Fogarty and Tim Gettinger barely played. Vinni Lettieri is an afterthought. Boo Nieves, who probably could play the fourth line, doesn’t even get a sniff. It’s strange.

Meanwhile, Lias Andersson (remember him) was loaned out to HV71 in Sweden by the Rangers to continue his pro career. That’s good. We’ll see how it goes. Will it change anything? Probably not. But when you are fielding an NHL roster that includes McKegg and Smith on your fourth line, you’re telling me Andersson couldn’t have done better or filled such a role? What a screwed up organization.

They can continue to toot their own horn over all the D prospects and goalies including Tyler Wall. But at some point, the forward depth needs to improve. Vitali Kravtsov (4-4-8 in 22 GP) better be part of it. He’s still figuring it out with the Wolf Pack. Hopefully, Morgan Barron if he signs after his junior year at Cornell, is part of it. So too is Lauri Pajunemi.

That will wrap it up. Sorry for the late recap and review. I was tired last night. Plus I’m visiting my Mom later for a late lunch. I’ll be back later to do something on tonight’s second game of the classic home-and-home series that wraps up at Detroit. I know Henrik Lundqvist is in for our side. But will he be opposed by adversary Howard? Or does Jonathan Bernier go? We shall see.

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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