Inept offense problematic for Blueshirts in a throwback rivalry fight filled game, Lose 1-0 to tough Bruins


Pavel Buchnevich fights Jeremy Lauzon during a heated second period. Getty Images

This is the closest the Rangers came to scoring against Jaro Halak in another tough loss. Kaapo Kakko had the best chance when he was in on a two-on-one break. Trailing by a goal, the second-year forward made a strong move on Halak. He seemed to have him beat until Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo got his stick down to block the Kakko forehand deke which prevented him from tying the score. This is a different save below in the first period on Kakko.

Instead, the Blueshirts suffered another tough one-goal defeat. They were shutout by Halak (21 saves) and the Bruins 1-0 at The Garden. It was the third straight loss. The frustrating part is they competed well in the two-game series. All they have to show for it is one point from a 3-2 overtime loss on Wednesday. Despite that, they fought tooth and nail literally. It was a throwback game dating back to what the Original Six rivalry between Boston and New York once was. These teams tried to beat up each other.

There are two storylines coming out of this game. Number one. The Rangers are basically powerless. They failed horribly on six power plays including one at the end. That one was so bad, mad and sad that they literally couldn’t get the puck from the Bruins’ four penalty killers behind the Boston net. It went on for nearly 30 seconds to effectively kill the game. They didn’t get a single shot on Halak following Charlie McAvoy’s delay of game penalty that came with 62 seconds left. He was involved a lot physically.

Skating without Artemi Panarin for the first time this season, the Rangers started with Alexis Lafreniere on the second line with Ryan Strome and Kakko. The KZB Line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich stayed together for two periods until coach David Quinn broke them up. More on that later. Sparkplug Colin Blackwell returned to the lineup and worked with Brett Howden and Phil Di Giuseppe. The cohesive fourth line of Brendan Lemieux, Kevin Rooney and emerging right wing Julien Gauthier stayed intact. It wasn’t the bottom six that needed changing. They did their part with that “fourth line” again generating chances off the cycle. It’s pretty obvious that Quinn finally has four lines he can roll.

Elliotte Friedman via Twitter courtesy Getty Images

The second storyline was how heated the game got. You had plenty of battles throughout. The theatrics actually started at the end of warm-ups when The Rat, Brad Marchand wouldn’t leave the ice before Zibanejad. As Lemieux fired shots down ice at the Boston goal, it eventually turned into mind games between the entertaining Marchand and Zibanejad, who taped up his stick and gave a wave and nod towards him to exit. He finally did. But you got the sense the star left wing, who doubles as a pest enjoyed himself. It sure got covered by television networks.

There had been a lot of rough stuff between the old rivals during play and after whistles. It really picked up in a chaotic second period. With the game scoreless thanks to Halak robbing both Lafreniere and Strome on mid-air baseball bat tries, Jacob Trouba went for a huge hit on a vulnerable Jakub Zboril in the Bruins zone. He was against the boards and Trouba went high and caught him with a dirty hit that incensed the Boston bench. He was lucky not to get tossed. McAvoy immediately challenged him and Trouba was ready to go. He caught McAvoy with a right before the top Bruins defenseman could get anything off, taking him down. This resulted in two each for roughing with Trouba getting an extra two for his recklessness on Zboril. He was okay.

Following another successful penalty kill by the much improved Rangers’ PK unit, Jeremy Lauzon started a counter with David Krejci that resulted in Nick Ritchie scoring the game’s only goal at 9:27. On the play, a strong skating Ritchie was able to wheel around a sliding out of position K’Andre Miller and take the puck to the net. He got off one shot that Igor Shestyorkin stopped, but was able to sneak a rebound from behind the net off a frustrated Rangers goalie for a perfect bank shot. It definitely was one he admitted later that he should’ve had. In a tightly contested game like the rematch, those are usually the kind of fluky goals that decide the outcome. It went Boston’s way.

The real fun was just beginning. With his team clearly being outplayed in a flat second period due to an early power play outage and consecutive Boston power plays that swung the momentum, Lemieux decided to go with Bruins tough guy Trent Frederic. It didn’t last too long. What a fight it was. They got plenty of shots in a minutes time with even NESN broadcaster Jack Edwards acknowledging that Lemieux got the better of it. However, when they broke it up, an animated Frederic wanted Round Two, yelling at Lemieux, who purposely ignored him. He then wished him a Happy Valentine’s Day in the penalty box. Well, something to that effect. 😀

While the Bruins piled up the shots (18) on Shestyorkin, who had a great night aside from the one goal he let in, the intensity was through the roof. With Marchand up to his old shenanigans using his stick on Howden, he didn’t particularly like that. Eventually, he came together with Marchand and even challenged Connor Clifton. It was also during the stick swinging jousting that Sean Kuraly boarded Libor Hajek. Marchand and Howden got two each to crowd the penalty box area.

Another Rangers power play went by the wayside. After starting the game featuring Lafreniere on the first unit, Quinn or perhaps assistant coach David Oliver decided to replace Lafreniere with Strome. This isn’t a knock on Strome, who had good success there last year. But what the heck was the point of trying Lafreniere, who didn’t look miscast on their first power play? At least they got shots and chances on Halak, who could’ve pulled up a lounge chair on the next two powerless plays. Not one shot made it to the net. It was useless.

I also have seen enough of Buchnevich pass up shots while being wasted on the top unit. He has a good shot, but hardly uses it on the man-advantage. Instead, he defers to Zibanejad or Panarin. On one sequence, he was open in the right dot. Instead of shooting, he skated into nowhere and the Bruins cleared the puck down ice. Brutal. I have no problem with how Buchnevich competes. He is much different now from the perimeter player who avoided contact. That was proven later.

It was when he took a shove from behind by Lauzon into the back boards that Buchnevich finally snapped. Two nights after yapping at Marchand, he took on the very tough Lauzon in a lopsided scrap behind the Rangers net. To his credit, he hung in there and even got a couple of shots in there. But Lauzon easily won what was an interesting battle. Especially considering that it was Buchnevich’s first NHL fight. He showed a lot of character standing up for himself.

Speaking of which, where the heck was Kreider while this was going on? He was all but invisible until he laid a good hit on McAvoy late to force him into a minor penalty. Kreider has really been disappointing so far. Sure. He has four goals with a pair on the power play. However, he hasn’t done enough screening in front or battled opponents the way we’re accustomed to seeing. This isn’t the first time number 20 didn’t have the back of a teammate. I don’t understand it. I know they probably want him on the ice. However, there’s a time to step in. Friday night was one of those games. He needs to be more physically involved than he’s been. How does he not have one assist? Save the BS excuse that Zibanejad isn’t finishing. I don’t want to hear it.

It took a good shift by the third line with a couple of minutes left for the Rangers to threaten Halak. In particular, Gauthier had another encouraging game by driving hard to the tin on one chance and drawing a penalty on another. He is getting better. Too bad he only received a team low 8:17. That included a 45-second power play shift on the second unit in place of Lemieux, who was serving his fighting major. I know the special teams dictated it, but Gauthier deserves more ice time. So do Rooney and Lemieux with both making things happen at even strength while the higher paid players establish little.

At least Quinn told reporter Vince Mercogliano that he really liked the games from Lafreniere (2 SOG in 16:56 including 5:19 PP) and Kakko (3 SOG in 18:28 including 4:27 PP). Both were skating well and got good scoring chances on Halak, who was his usual stingy self against his favorite opponent. Halak now has won 23 games versus the Rangers. Nearly twice the amount against any other opponent. Read it and weep. I updated the statistics.

At least half the victories must’ve come as an Islander. He owned our team including Henrik Lundqvist head to head. It’s uncanny. Halak started his NHL career with Montreal carrying them to a Conference Final. He then went to St. Louis and briefly Washington before winding up in Long Island. Now, he’s a steady backup behind starter Tuukka Rask to give the B’s one of the best goalie tandems in the league. He has yet to lose in regulation this year. He stopped all 21 shots to improve to 4-0-1 with a 1.38 GAA and .938 save percentage. There isn’t much to add.

It was during the third when Buchnevich returned to action that he was taken off the first line. Quinn used Kakko instead with the 2019 number two pick playing very well. He made another strong defensive play to deny a Boston opportunity and start a transition. His game is so much better than ’19-20 despite his 2-1-3 scoring line. He really felt good about the game he, Lafreniere and Strome had.

There’s a lot to like about what he said in the postgame. There’s a confidence to it. His English has improved. You can see him evolving into a smart player who is understanding what the NHL game is about. He knows it isn’t easy to score goals at this level. But he’s working for his chances. Ditto for Lafreniere, who Quinn was pleased with. What would it take to see both Lafreniere and Kakko on the top power play over Buchnevich and Strome, who I feel is interchangeable on the second unit?

Would Quinn consider trying the kids with Zibanejad, who continues to fire blanks at five-on-five? It doesn’t have to be Kreider and Buchnevich automatically with Zibanejad, who’s working hard but not getting the results. Kreider is supposed to be a leader. I like a lot of what he has to say during press conferences. But he has to back it up. Right now, I’d demote him to the second or third line. That’s how irked I am. He’s better than what he’s showing. He’d be the first to admit it.

If Panarin can’t go on Tuesday against the Devils (yes, really), why not try Kreider and Buchnevich with Strome? Near the conclusion, Quinn bumped up Blackwell to the revised second line with Lafreniere and Strome while Buchnevich saw time with Howden and Di Giuseppe. He told Larry Brooks it was for “playing reasons.” Interesting stuff. I feel Buchnevich needs to be more of a shooting threat. Don’t be predictable.

As far as the defense goes, Adam Fox received over 27 minutes. He’s a workhorse who gets better all the time. Partner Ryan Lindgren took a tough Lauzon hit against the dashboard, cutting his right eye. It was clean. Lauzon definitely was concerned. But Lindgren was able to get back to the bench where the training staff patched him up. He didn’t go to the locker room for stitches. He’s a gamer. It’s hockey. He still topped 20 minutes. Miller replaced him for a couple of shifts to turn in over 22.

Neither Hajek or Anthony Bitetto did anything to hurt themselves. They have both been solid thus far. Though Martin opted to use Hajek more due to his skating. He’s looking much better. That’s a good sign. As for Trouba, he played a mean game finishing with a game high seven hits and six penalty minutes in 18:19. He still has a tendency to take undisciplined penalties when they need him on the ice. That must stop. It would be nice to see Trouba hit the net. Who will score again? Him or Zibanejad, who remains stuck on one goal in 13 games. I’m not joking.

At 4-6-3 with 11 points, the Blueshirts don’t have the look of a playoff team. It’s not due to the defense or penalty killing anymore. It’s not due to the support lines. They have that. They’re harder to play against and are willing to stick up for each other. It’s the offense. Aside from Panarin, nobody is getting it done. Not Kreider. Not Zibanejad. Not even Strome despite him being noticeable. These guys must hit the score sheet. Buchnevich needs to as well. He’s good enough to produce more in a contract year.

I didn’t want to go here. But the offense misses Tony DeAngelo. He sure was an effective offensive player at five-on-five and moved the puck well on the power play. Only Fox does that now. It’s hard to replace the offense he provided along with the transition. However, I don’t feel bad for him. He’s off the team because he was selfish. The longer it goes, the more I wonder if DeAngelo will find a new home in the NHL. Everyone knows the story. That’s why he only lasted a year in Arizona. The KHL could be his next stop.

With Kreider finally showing a pulse with 1:02 left in regulation by decking McAvoy, you better believe the Bruins will seek retribution in the next two games at the end of the month. They are back at home for Boston Feb. 26 and 28. Those should be circled on the calendar. There’s some unfinished business between Lemieux and Frederic. Plus Trouba and McAvoy. You know that next two-game series will be entertaining.

As far as where this team is now, I like a lot of things they’re doing. They held Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak off the scoreboard with one great save from Shestyorkin on Bergeron. But if you can’t score, you can’t win. Until the offense picks it up, they’re going to struggle. FYI the Flyers are up to seven players on the COVID Protocol list. They’re scheduled to host the Blueshirts next Thursday. Will it happen? How long before the league considers moving these games to a bubble? Only time shall tell.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Igor Shestyorkin, NYR (29 saves in hard luck loss, 17/18 saves in 2nd)

2nd 🌟 Jaro Halak, Bruins (21 save shutout, 4th career and 23rd win vs NYR)

1st 🌟 Nick Ritchie, Bruins (game-winner at 9:27 of 2nd for 5th goal, 6 SOG, +1 in 17:10)

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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