Shestyorkin to start tomorrow versus Kings, more Panarin 24/7 TV MSG redux, keep Kreider, Ovechkin chases Gretzky


With all the love Artemi Panarin has received, how come the Rangers and MSG don’t celebrate their history before 1970?

When Sunday hits, it’ll be Igor Shestyorkin back in net to take on the Kings. David Quinn revealed the news to reporters following Rangers practice. He indicated that the rookie has been the best of the three goalies lately.

Good. Shestyorkin deserves to play more. It’s only been five games that he’s started thus far. However, despite a complicated three goalie system, the poised 24-year old Russian has stayed sharp. The latest example was a very good 27 save performance in a 5-3 win over the dangerous Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

It was a game I attended along with Justin and Dad. You can refer to my fun game experience here that included meeting a great Leafs fan with good perspective on what ails his team. Ironically, they quickly went out and traded for Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford to address the lack of goalie depth and lack of sandpaper.

While the Leafs battle the Panthers and other teams for the playoffs, reality is setting in for the Blueshirts. Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Sabres was mind numbing. On a night they should’ve been the more rested and prepared team, it was the opposite.

Instead, an opponent that lost at home to the god awful Red Wings seemed to have more energy and desire. It was Buffalo that played an intelligent and patient checking game that frustrated the Rangers. They got the game’s first three goals due to lackluster play from our team. The final score wasn’t indicative of what happened. A late Rangers rally fell short. They stunk for over 55 minutes.

It was a huge reminder of where this team is in this rebuild. You can go Gaga over Artemi Panarin like the whorish MSG telecast did last night. He’s an outstanding star player. Even with the points becoming harder to get due to teams staying back to take away time and space, the Bread Man still made a brilliant backhand feed for a Mika Zibanejad goal to prevent a shutout. He’s a magician with the puck.

As nauseating as the broadcast was of Panarin 24/7 TV, at least he deserves the accolades. It’s so hard to be successful in New York City. This is what he wanted. The big stage. Something Rick Carpiniello mentioned during a too short second intermission segment. I like Carp. He’s been around the Rangers beat forever. Just as long as Larry Brooks. The difference is Carpiniello is more professional and personable. He’s a good guy. You can see his work on The Athletic. His game reviews remain the best. Though Vince Mercogliano is definitely trending in the right direction. He’s the new guy who does a good job covering the team.

For the season, Panarin is up to 27 goals with 45 assists for 72 points. He paces the Blueshirts in all three categories along with plus/minus (23), power play points (6-12-18), even strength points (21-33-54), shots on goal (167) and shooting percentage (16.2 percent). Mind you the Wonder Bread Man has done this in 52 games. I want to correct myself. I said 53 games in the review last night. The Panarin celebration on MSG Network was over the top even by their standards. It was maddening. Get ready to puke.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Let’s hang his number 10 jersey to the rafters. If you don’t know by now, that’s my gallows humor. Don’t take it to heart. Even in a bit of a slump with no goals and two assists over the last four games, Panarin still ranks fifth in the NHL scoring race. He trails Nathan MacKinnon (74 points), David Pastrnak (75), Connor McDavid (80) and Leon Draisaitl (83). Behind Panarin (72) are Brad Marchand (69), Jack Eichel (68) and the underrated Jonathan Huberdeau (68). The explosive Auston Matthews also is at 68 after getting his 40th goal and three helpers in a Toronto 5-4 overtime win over Anaheim last night. So, now you have both Matthews and Alex Ovechkin leading the league with 40 goals. Pastrnak is still at 38. That’s your Rocket Richard race.

Don’t forget Ovechkin needs two goals to become a member of the 700 Goal Club. He flew by Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman. They’re in the rear view mirror as the Great Eight chases Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals. Something that once was unthinkable. With 14 goals over his last seven games including a ridiculous three hat tricks, he shows no signs of slowing down. He’s currently eighth all-time. Next up is Mike Gartner, who had 708 goals. Ovechkin should definitely get 10 more goals for 50 to tie Gartner. He likely will pass him the way he’s going. The top six are Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741), Jaromir Jagr (766), Gordie Howe (801) and Gretzky (894).

It’ll be fun to see if Ovechkin can do it. He’s amazing. How come the Caps aren’t celebrating all his achievements on an ode to Ovi broadcast? Sorry. I couldn’t resist. You’d think Panarin was the greatest thing since sliced 🍞. Maybe the Rangers should be sponsored by Panera Bread. Why not? It would make sense. They even created a new luxury box suite for the Bread Man.

With all this going on, do you think Henrik Lundqvist is jealous? How come they didn’t have any quotes from the 👑 on Panarin last night? Chris Kreider had some nice praise. He wants to try to stay. Hopefully, the discussions with him and his agent go well.

If Kreider actually does work out a deal to re-sign before the trade deadline, that would be shocking. It’s better for him to wait as he’ll have more negotiating power. But he is the number one rental player available. So, you have teams who would love to add him for a deep run. With a real shot at his first 30 goal season, things are pointing upward. I would love to see him get it. He’s worked hard.

Since 12/8, he’s over a point-per-game with 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points over 24 games. That good stretch turned around his year. He now ranks third in goals (20), second in power play goals (8), tied for second with Zibanejad in shooting percentage (15.4), fourth in shots (130), fifth in points (38), third in hits (96) and third in penalty minutes (58).

As I’ve said repeatedly like a Taylor Swift song on the radio, is this a player you want to trade? They do and they only hurt themselves in the next couple of years. You cannot replace him. It’s not just about statistics. Kreider brings the intangibles that you need. The nice combination of size, strength and speed along with skill makes him a unique player. Now a five-time 20 goalscorer, the 28-year old former ’09 first round pick has been one of the best players the Rangers have selected in that round. Find me another player who’s been just as productive in both the regular season and postseason. That eliminates former Blueshirt JT Miller, who’s having himself a career year with the Canucks.

I’ve referenced how long it’s been since this team drafted a player who scored 30 in a season. Ryan Callahan came close as did Kreider. You have to go all the way back to Tony Amonte, who not only had 33 in ’92-93. But went for 35 his rookie year in ’91-92 as a 21-year old to finish third behind Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Bure for the Calder Trophy.

In fact, Amonte finished with 84 goals and 99 assists for 183 points in 234 games before moving onto Chicago where he starred alongside Jeremy Roenick and eventually Alexei Zhamnov. The Rangers don’t win the Stanley Cup in ’93-94 without Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan. What if they could’ve kept Amonte? Would they have still won? Could they have been even more successful? We’ll never know the answer. Amonte wound up with 416 goals and 900 points.

It’s basically like wondering what if the arbitrator had ruled in favor of the Rangers for the rights to Eric Lindros. The package would’ve included Amonte, Alex Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov, James Patrick and John Vanbiesbrouck. Plus first round picks and $20 million. Of course, they didn’t win. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the Flyers, whose package included Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Steve Duchene, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, a number one pick (Jocelyn Thibault) in 1993, future considerations (Chris Simon) and $15 million to the then Quebec Nordiques. We know how that all turned out.

On Hockey Day In Canada, there are plenty of games being played today. Just not the Rangers, who will look to rebound tomorrow at 6 PM versus the Kings. Let’s see how Shestyorkin does against them. I’m glad it’s not Lundqvist vs Jonathan Quick after what happened at the loathsome Staples Center of Horrors. As you can tell, I have no love for the Kings. They do play hard for coach Todd McLellan. I couldn’t name more than five or six players. Those I’m familiar with.

In five starts all at The Garden, Igor is 4-1-0 with a 2.61 GAA and. 922 save percentage. He’s allowed 13 goals on 167 shots. That’s very good for a first-year player. At some point, they have to run him out on the road and see how he handles a hostile environment. The Islanders would’ve been the perfect test in the last of the three game week series prior to the All-Star break. Instead, Alex Georgiev got his third start in three games versus them and lost.

After Sunday, the Rangers hit the road for three at Winnipeg Tuesday, Minnesota Thursday and Columbus on Valentine’s Day. That’s a tough three game slate over four nights. The perfect opportunity for Shestyorkin to finally play on the road. In fact, the Rangers are away from MSG eight of the next 10 following tomorrow’s match. The only home dates are Feb. 16 vs Boston and Feb. 22 vs San Jose. They also have road games at Chicago, Carolina, the Islanders, Canadiens and Flyers on 2/28 to conclude the month.

Once we pass the trade deadline on Monday the 24th, the season will be almost over. The roster will change. We don’t know who will go yet. Let’s not speculate. I’m hopeful they’ll do the right thing for the future of the franchise.

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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