Kreider is right about this loss being a learning experience

AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

It’s easy to get caught up in the end result. By the end of the night, the MSG scoreboard read: Devils 4 Rangers 3. It would be easy to point out the negatives of losing the first of eight games versus the Hudson rival. But that’s not the point.

Three games in, the ’21 New York Rangers are 1-2-0 with two points. They’re a work in progress. In the first game, they forgot to show up. The second was total domination to gain a split versus the Islanders. It showed what they’re capable of. Game 3 of 56 was a mixture of good and bad. Even with some of the mistakes that resulted in four Devils goals including a beauty from Jack Hughes, there was more good than bad.

The Rangers outshot the Devils 50-28 and out-attempted their Newark rival 81-46. On most days, that’s going to be good enough to win. They were done in by two Devils. Hughes, who was spectacular with his first two goals and a great setup for Miles Wood’s game-winner. Mackenzie Blackwood, who was remarkable in stopping 47 of 50 shots. He finally gave up an even strength goal in the third period to Filip Chytil, who was a bright spot in defeat. In particular, he and Kaapo Kakko earned more ice time in a dominant third that saw the Blueshirts tilt the ice.

Shots favored the Rangers 21-8 in the final period. However, they were only able to get the one goal from Chytil, who was able to come off the bench on a line change and follow up a Phil Di Giuseppe rebound that was all set up by a brilliant back pass from Pavel Buchnevich. He was shifted on to that line by David Quinn on the third. The improving Russian forward is making things happen. A good sign for him. He’s gotten off to slow starts in the past. He is 2-2-4 so far in the three games. Maybe he’ll find himself on the big top unit over an ineffective Ryan Strome by Friday at Pittsburgh. The power play connected twice in six attempts, but could’ve had more. They failed to tie it late.

When asked to assess only taking two of a possible six points at home, Chris Kreider chose to be more philosophical about his team’s start. Remembering that they are one of the NHL’s youngest teams, the 29-year old veteran talked about it being a “learning process” for the new players. He’s right. It’s still quite an adjustment for rookies Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller, who continues to look more comfortable as he gains valuable experience. Neither saw many shifts late with Quinn opting to ride his big guns. However, they each received over 14 minutes, which is fine.

I’d like to see Lafreniere more utilized on that power play which saw Kreider, Strome, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox log over seven minutes each. As time moves forward, the third-year coach will have to trust kids like Lafreniere, Miller, Chytil and Kakko if he wants the team to succeed. That means being willing to let them learn from mistakes without being punished. Which reminds me. Why is it always the same players who are made examples? I would expect Tony DeAngelo to return to the lineup on Friday. Perhaps veteran Jack Johnson sits. You can’t have both Johnson and Brendan Smith in the lineup. It’s not sustainable.

The thing is despite doing many things right, the Blueshirts found themselves on the wrong end due to costly mistakes. Not only from the easy target. But Jacob Trouba, who didn’t have a good night. Neither did partner Ryan Lindgren, who by the game’s conclusion was back with Fox. They each were victimized for two goals against including a jaw dropping highlight reel goal from Hughes. Having already tallied his first on a face-off win by rookie Yegor Sharangovich, he blocked a Trouba point shot and broke up ice flying past a chasing Lindgren to dust Alex Georgiev with a beautiful move, going backhand five-hole to make it 3-1 Devils.

He wasn’t done. After Zibanejad connected on a great Fox diagonal feed for his first on the power play to cut the lead to one, Trouba hi-sticked Hughes. The undisciplined penalty took only 22 seconds for Hughes to find just enough wiggle room to put a pass by Fox past an out of position Johnson to Wood, who was able to get enough of the puck with his stick to put it in off his skate. That made it 4-2. It matched his career high of three points (2-1-3). Hughes nearly had point number four on a setup feed of a P.K. Subban one-timer past Georgiev. However, a successful coach’s challenge overturned the apparent goal due to Kyle Palmieri being offside.

Despite the Devils’ best attempts to hand them back the game, the Rangers didn’t take advantage. Even if a couple of calls against New Jersey like the one on Mike McLeod were questionable which led to Kreider banking in his first goal off Ryan Murray, they kept taking foolish penalties. But a bench minor, a Ty Smith hold and a last gasp Nathan Bastian hook weren’t enough to come back.

At least Quinn finally realized both Chytil and Kakko were going. He rewarded each with more shifts in the final period with Kakko even getting power play duty. A makeshift line of Buchnevich, Di Giuseppe and Chytil combining for the only goal despite a strong edge in play. Blackwood stood tall in net by making 20 of his 47 saves in the third. He really did a great job as did a few teammates, who blocked 18 shots including a game high five from Damon Severson.

Lindy Ruff’s team did just enough to get the win. Sure. They held on. But they cashed in on Rangers mistakes and got better goaltending from Blackwood, who was named the game’s Second Star behind Hughes. It wasn’t Georgiev’s best night. He allowed four goals on 20 shots including a pair of rebound goals to Travis Zajac and Hughes. While it was far from his fault, he was replaced by Igor Shestyorkin, who turned away all eight Devils shots in period three.

So, Ruff got the better of Quinn in the first of eight big Battle of Hudson match-ups. He has to feel good about how his team’s played. They took three of four points from the Bruins and improved to 2-0-1 in three games against teams that are supposed to be better than them. Maybe adding the former Rangers assistant, who’s best known for the great job he did in Buffalo, is going to make them a better team. On this night, they had the two best players. Hughes and Blackwood carried them to victory.

Two of six points isn’t a good start for the Rangers. However, three games doesn’t make a season. Even if it’s only 56 matching Joe DiMaggio, there are still 53 left to play. All against division rivals including the Bruins and Sabres. Now, they must turn the page and get ready to play two at the Penguins this weekend. It’s part of a four game road trip that includes a stop in Buffalo following a big weekend for that city. Good luck to the Bills.

It promises to be interesting over the next few months. They must trust the process.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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