Mika Zibanejad gets some love at the bench from Brendan Smith, who was the Rangers beat defenseman in a awfully tough 3-1 loss to the Blues. AP Photo credit via Getty Images
Let’s be real. When John Davidson announced that Igor Shesterkin was out for two to four weeks due to a rib fracture he suffered in a car accident with Pavel Buchnevich in Brooklyn, the season all but ended. Combine that with Chris Kreider blocking a shot that led to a fractured foot versus the Flyers and the playoffs look like a wing and a prayer.
Right now, nothing is going right. They’ve now lost three in a row all in regulation to better teams headed to the postseason. If it wasn’t bad enough the Flyers swept them over the weekend, tonight’s 3-1 loss to the defending champion Blues was a reminder of how hard it is to make the playoffs.
It wasn’t that the Rangers were bad. They weren’t. They competed tooth and nail and inch for inch at five-on-five against one of the league’s best. There wasn’t a lot of space and hardly any specialty teams. Two goals were scored on the power play. But the lone one at even strength came from the detail oriented and stingy Blues with over 10 minutes left in regulation.
Brayden Schenn was able to beat Alex Georgiev on a wrap around to break a tightly contested 1-1 tie in the third period. That was enough to do in the Blueshirts, who let another opportunity slip away to gain ground in the wildcard race. Especially with the Islanders in free fall having dropped a fourth in a row by a ugly count of 6-2 to the suddenly alive Canadiens. It doesn’t matter if they don’t win. They’re running out of time.
On a night where at one point the teams played nearly 11 minutes straight without a stoppage during the fastest second period you’ll ever see, the Rangers couldn’t find enough real estate to beat Jordan Binnington more than one time. Only Mika Zibanejad was able to. He kept his torrid play going when he took a nice feed from Ryan Strome to score a power play goal for a 1-0 lead in the first period. Pavel Buchnevich did a great job behind the net setting it up. He was one of the best skaters along with Zibanejad and Brett Howden.
On a night St. Louis focused on bottling up Artemi Panarin, this was the kind of playoff caliber game they’ll learn from. As much as it stinks that they lost, there were some positives. The Kid Line of Howden, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko played well. They put together some good shifts at even strength. If only one of the young trio could’ve scored. Kakko nearly tied the game with over two minutes left in regulation. But his rebound which seemed destined for the back of the St. Louis net went off Binnington and wide.
It was a frustrating game even though it became entertaining following a bland first 10 minutes. Let’s just say the style was not the most appealing. Shots were at a premium. It felt like you had to work extra hard just to find one. The Rangers were credited with their first shot on goal for a dump in. Yikes. Even scarier, Greg McKegg got the first real shot on Binnington. Holy moly.
This isn’t a game you need a box score for. That’s how mind numbing it was. After it felt about as thrilling as watching paint dry or as close friend Brian Sanborn once sarcastically said to me, “Eating paint chips,” eventually the action picked up.
Brendan Smith drew a penalty out of sheer hustle thanks to some hard work with Chytil. Sam Rosen mistakenly thought it was Chytil who drew the penalty, getting the 2’s confused. I’ll let it slide. Who would think Smith would be the one skating like that and getting taken down? Truth be told, he was their best defenseman on this night. That included getting two big scoring chances and drawing the penalty Zibanejad scored on.
You cannot make this stuff up. Give credit where it’s due. Smith played a very good game. He actually was one-on-one with Binnington on a give and go. But the Blues goalie denied him. When Smith looks faster and more decisive than Jacob Trouba, that’s not good. I’ll say it again in the New York Lotto voice-over: “Eight million dollars!!!!!”
At least Zibanejad continues his roll by scoring his career high 33rd goal from Strome and Buchnevich. He is scoring all these goals and showing bursts of speed that just turn defenders to dust. Mika is blossoming in front of our eyes. Even without Kreider, he’s trying to carry this team. Why on earth did David Quinn think it was a good idea to play Phil Di Giuseppe on the top line again? He plays hard, but can’t be more than a third liner on this roster. That’s being generous. Give me Julien Gauthier already.
The issue for the Rangers became when they didn’t convert on a late power play that spanned the end of the first and start of the second. Those are always tough to score on. I was hoping they’d find a way to go up two before the first ended. But they didn’t take enough shots. In particular, Panarin was too passive. He didn’t have it. Too many passes that didn’t find the mark. Sometimes when facing such a good defensive opponent like the Blues, simple is more effective. He had a bad game.
I already singled out Buchnevich, Zibanejad, Howden and Smith. I will also give Kakko credit for doing some good work on the forecheck. He’s getting better. If only he could’ve buried that late chance.
The problem for them was at some point, the Blues were owed a power play. Sure enough, they called a tacky one on Strome. It was a reputation call. For most of it, it looked like the Rangers would get it done unlike the gloomy Mike Bloomberg and his ridiculous campaign slogan on an ugly Super Tuesday. Georgiev made a pair of great saves on Jaden Schwartz to rob him.
However, a broken play resulted in Colton Parayko getting to a loose puck that came right to him and bombing a shot right by Georgiev top cheese. That tied the score. It was a bad break. But sometimes, that’s the breaks. Parayko is one of the most underrated good defensemen in hockey. Big and imposing, he’s a shutdown D who has a heavy right shot. If you leave him open, beware. He made the Rangers pay.
The rest of the period was a playoff clinic. It was lots of skating, checking, back checking and defense. There were no whistles for the longest time. Rosen and Joe Micheletti raved about it. This was a playoff style game. Yes, the refs missed some calls. One in particular definitely aggravated the crowd that included my family.
Ultimately, the difference was small. Even with Quinn finally giving it the old college try by moving Panarin up to the Zibanejad line with Buchnevich, nothing got done. He attempted a couple of passes in front that missed connection. The really crazy part is this was the strange game where Smith and Marc Staal (seriously) got quality opportunities. It was exasperating.
Georgiev would allow Schenn to come around the net and sneak a wrap around off his skate for a 2-1 Blues lead. It was his 25th goal. The fourth time he’s reached that figure, doing it twice with the Flyers and now twice with St. Louis. He won a Cup with the Blues. Similar to how Jeff Carter and Mike Richards won Cups in LA. A bit of bad Flyers history.
There weren’t many chances to tie it. You had the Kakko chance that felt like an eternity. A gaping net or so it seemed awaited the snake bit rookie. But he missed. Apparently, Binnington got enough of it to push it wide. How I don’t know. He didn’t have to make many big saves unless you consider Smith a sniper. I wish I were kidding.
Eventually following some good Blues pressure, Quinn was able to lift Georgiev for an extra attacker. There was no chance they were scoring. What they really needed was the refs to call the Blues for taking down Adam Fox after he made an unbelievable defensive play to break up a three-on-one. It couldn’t have been a more obvious penalty. He was tripped up and mugged. The fans let them hear it. Rosen and Micheletti sounded incredulous.
It was a terrible missed call. They needed that power play. I knew when it wasn’t called, the game was over. But I’d felt that was after Georgiev gave up the bad goal to Schenn. I’m sure he wanted it back. That’s the Blues style. They get the greasy goals. I sound like the classic Mickey character (Burgess Meredith) from Rocky. That’s how I’d describe St. Louis Blues hockey.
They added an empty netter to finish it off. I think it was Schwartz. It was. I didn’t bother looking at the score sheet. Too tired. This was a painful defeat because the Islanders lost. I understand where this team is. I was realistic about tonight. I figured it would be really tough to win. And that’s how it played out.
There’s nothing left to add. I took out some frustration on my Instagram. A rare moment I discussed the hockey team on IG. I don’t do it often. But that’s how much this game meant. The playoffs are looking so far away. Kinda like the classic Dire Straits song.
The next game is only the Capitals invading MSG on Thursday. Only Ovechkin. At least it’ll be more up and down. Maybe they’ll surprise us. I’m afraid they’ll be looking up further at the standings by that point. It’s looking grim.
Kevin Owens poses with Adam Graves. That was the highlight of the night. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images
Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟
3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (power play goal for career high 33rd, playing unbelievable hockey)
2nd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers (set up the one goal with an 🍎, the best Ranger forward)
1st 🌟 Colton Parayko, Blues (got the big tying goal on the power play and was very good defensively, so overlooked)