AP Photo by New York Rangers courtesy Getty Images
Statistics don’t always tell the whole story about games. If you were to look at the box score of tonight’s game, you wouldn’t have believed the Rangers wound up running away from the Devils to win comfortably 6-1 before fans at The Prudential Center in Newark.
In the third meeting between Hudson rivals, the Rangers took full advantage of the chances they got to earn their first win of the season against the Devils. In fact, it ended a three-game losing streak that dates back to last year versus New Jersey. They were due. Even if conventional wisdom says that getting outshot almost double (36-19) on the scoreboard isn’t the best recipe for success. It didn’t matter.
Highlighted by Chris Kreider’s second hat trick of the season, great goaltending from seriously injured starter Igor Shestyorkin (32 saves before leaving in the third), and strong special teams, the Blueshirts put four past Devils starter Mackenzie Blackwood (11 saves on 15 shots) to chase him. Kreider was the best offensive star. He continued his rampage by getting numbers 11, 12 and 13 to give him a ridiculous eight goals over the last five games. In Artemi Panarin’s absence, the true leader of the Rangers had stepped up to bring them back to NHL .500. At 9-9-3 with 21 points, they’re no longer out of it in the strange Patrick (East) Division. They suddenly are within six points of both the third place Flyers and fourth place Bruins.
Let me preface this by stating the obvious. If not for a world class performance from Shestyorkin, who was utterly brilliant during a lopsided first period, they don’t win this game. Unlike previous head-to-head match-ups against Blackwood, he got the better of it. The Devils were way better than the Rangers in a first period that saw them get the game’s first goal from overdue number one center Jack Hughes and hold a 14-6 edge in shots. Hughes nearly had a pair, but his early opportunity went off the goalpost. The same post Dmitry Kulikov hit during the first as well.
Outside of the third and fourth line along with K’Andre Miller and Adam Fox, the Rangers were badly outplayed in the opening 20 minutes by a Devils team that wanted to end their losing streak. Oddly enough, the only shot that beat Shestyorkin was of the fluke variety. On a long Sami Vatanen outlet pass that took a strange carom, the puck bounced right to Hughes in front for the game’s first goal. He beat Shestyorkin point blank for his fifth at 7:12. It was his first goal in six games.
But in a period where the Rangers could get nothing going, Shestyorkin stood up to the challenge by turning away Devils’ scoring chances with relative ease. He was so calm in net that even some very bad defensive breakdowns that lead to dangerous chances didn’t bother him. Focused is how to describe the 25-year old Russian netminder who still earned the Broadway Hat despite being forced to exit the game with 5:52 left due to a “lower-body” injury.
What a shame too because it didn’t look good. Facing an odd-man rush led by Damon Severson, he went to push off on a high shot and took a funny stretch that left him in writhing pain. He was helped off the ice by Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay while unable to put any weight on one leg. It looks like either a groin or an ACL. Hopefully, it’s not the latter because that would be a long-term injury. There’s also the possibility it’s a knee. We’ll wait and learn more tomorrow. Regardless, Shestyorkin won’t be back for Saturday’s afternoon rematch. It looks like the goaltending will fall largely on the shoulders of Alex Georgiev. He made three saves in relief the final 5:52.
Obviously, the injury to Shestyorkin overshadowed a great game from Kreider, who wasn’t buying the narrative about struggling teammate Mika Zibanejad. As expected, he stuck up for Zibanejad when asked about him. The much maligned first center again had a tough night. He was so quiet during the first that coach David Quinn benched him for over 10 minutes in the second period. Number 93 missed a few shifts while Filip Chytil got the call in his place. The encouraging part was when he returned to action, Zibanejad responded well. He did wind up setting up Alexis Lafreniere for the sixth and final goal late in regulation. Zibanejad played only 13:04 for the game. His minutes have decreased over the past few games.
When pressed on what he wasn’t seeing from Zibanejad by Rick Carpiniello of The Athletic, Quinn indicated that he didn’t like his center’s game early. He felt that Zibanejad is letting the stats affect him. If you saw Lafreniere on the bench following a goal next to him, it’s true. While the budding rookie who also made a great pass on a Pavel Buchnevich goal for a two-point game was beaming, Zibanejad looked like Zibanesad or Zibanemad. He’s mostly been Zibanebad. For whatever reason, it’s not going well for him.
The good news is the brilliant play of Kreider along with the marked improvement from Lafreniere have sparked the team. Buchnevich has also had a revival with his goal and assist giving him nine points (4-5-9) over his last eight. With Ryan Strome chipping in with two more assists to give him a line of 2-7-9 in the last eight, the Rangers are finally getting production from key players. That should buy Zibanejad some time to get his game in order. It has also allowed Quinn to mix and match with the top six that’s still without Panarin and Kaapo Kakko. It’ll be interesting to see what he decides if they have Kakko back for Saturday.
With pseudo Jesper Fast replacement Colin Blackwell able to be plugged anywhere in the lineup, Quinn has managed him well by using the gritty forward in the top six and on the power play. His impressive play has moved him ahead of the puzzling Brendan Lemieux, who just might be the odd man out for the Expansion Draft when the Seattle Kraken pick from an unprotected list. Lemieux took one of those needless offensive zone penalties 180 feet away from the Ranger net in the third. He also upset P.K. Subban with a tough hit that saw the veteran defenseman skate off with back pain. He stayed in the game.
It’s hard to explain what happened in the second. It wasn’t so much that the Rangers played well. However, they were better than that mess of a first period. They still were susceptible to the Devils transition due to lapses in D coverage. Particularly from Brendan Smith, who struggled with the speed of the younger Devils. He misjudged a Kyle Palmieri rush allowing him to cut inside and make a power move towards Shestyorkin, who turned him away. There also was a big save on a Hughes breakaway later.
If something changed, it was the execution of the special teams. A lazy Palmieri slashing minor when he knocked out Chytil’s stick turned the game around. On just a great rush from their end following a Devils clear, an on-rushing Buchnevich dropped off the puck for Strome at the right side. He made a perfect centering feed for a cutting Kreider, who beat Blackwood for his 11th at 8:28 on the power play. Just a great play by all three with Strome executing a great pass for the Kreider finish. It was Buchnevich who replaced an ineffective Zibanejad on that power play.
A little over six minutes later, another strong transition resulted in the second Kreider goal of the period. After Strome missed on a good opportunity wide with a shot, the puck was recovered and passed back to Ryan Lindgren. He took a point shot that somehow Kreider was able to deflect home. The later Devils replays broken down by MSG analyst Bryce Salvador showed how Kreider was able to score the goal. Damon Severson didn’t tie him up, allowing Kreider enough time to set up in front and redirect the puck for his 12th at 13:57.
By that point, the Blueshirts had taken control. Even a Libor Hajek cross-checking minor with 5:03 remaining didn’t swing the momentum. Instead, the Devils found it very tough on the power play due to the aggressiveness of the Rangers on the penalty kill. They were kept to the perimeter and hardly even got shots through on Shestyorkin. The penalty killers which include ex-Devil Kevin Rooney, Brett Howden, Zibanejad and Buchnevich, did a good job taking away lanes. They also got key clears.
Despite a 9-6 edge in shots, the Devils trailed by a goal after two. The third was one no one could’ve predicted. It certainly stunned Ken Daneyko on the Devils television feed. To summarize, the Devils imploded. They got outscored 4-0 in a forgettable period. The crazy part was the Rangers scored their four on only seven shots with two beating Blackwood and a couple beating reliever Aaron Dell.
Sloppiness was on display from the beginning. As Hasan mentioned in his quick assessment of what went wrong, Pavel Zacha committed an awful turnover in front of his own net. After he lost the puck, Chytil intercepted it and fed an open Kreider for a quick one-timer that got by Blackwood just 23 seconds into the third. That gave him his second hat trick of the season and fourth of his career. He’s doubled it up recently with his torrid play. He might not have a ‘C’ on that jersey. But by now, everyone knows who the captain is of this team. He not only says what they have to do to become successful. But is getting it done as a leader.
It was a few minutes later that Lafreniere made a good defensive play to stop Hughes in his own end. After denying the Devils’ top threat, Lafreniere came away with the puck and created an easy goal for Buchnevich. Skating in and gaining the New Jersey zone, he drew attention long enough to make a bullet pass across for an open Buchnevich, whose one-timer beat Blackwood to chase him. It was his seventh from Lafreniere at 3:57 that gave the Blueshirts a 4-1 lead.
Not long after, Mike McLeod delivered a dangerous hit from behind on Smith into the boards. Not pleased about it, Smith dropped the gloves with McLeod for a brief scrap. Each received five minutes for fighting. Somehow, McLeod didn’t receive an extra two for the hit from behind. An obvious boarding which amazed Daneyko, who admitted that he got away with one.
A Lindgren hooking minor handed the Devils another chance on the man-advantage with less than 13 minutes left. They did manage to get some setup time. But few attempts got through. It was again the Rangers penalty kill that did a good job. They adjusted their strategy by taking away rookie Ty Smith. He’s a good shooter who the Devils like to run the top of the power play through. He attempted some shots, but they were blocked. Only one shot made it to Shestyorkin, who made a nice kick save.
Like I said earlier, the special teams were a noticeable difference in this game. While the Rangers went 1-for-2 on the power play, the Devils took the collar in four chances. That really impacted what happened. It didn’t matter that they had so many more shots. With the penalty kill strong and Shestyorkin even stronger, it all contributed to a great third period for the guests.
McLeod would later cut across the crease and bump into Shestyorkin for a goaltender interference minor with 6:54 left. Before he made his way to the box, Kreider had words for him. That’s exactly the kind of response needed when that happens. McLeod plays a chippy game. He was obviously trying to create some energy for his team. But you can’t let him run around without letting him know about it. Smith did following the cheap hit. So did Kreider even with McLeod off for a penalty.
Even though they didn’t convert on it, the Rangers added insult to injury soon after it expired. Smith finished off his second from Phil Di Giuseppe and Rooney to make it five unanswered goals. Just 62 seconds later, it got even uglier for the Devils when a persistent Zibanejad took a puck away and passed across for a Lafreniere laser that was in and out of the net so fast, Dell never had a chance. It was a lethal wrist shot high cheese. Lafreniere is up to four goals and three assists with the points coming now.
Unfortunately, the win came at the expense of Shestyorkin. He went down at the 54:08 mark due to trying to prevent a Devils odd-man rush. It falls on the defense for the injury to our goalie. Only a forward was back on the play. They relaxed. That was costly. I don’t know how long he’ll be out for. But my dire feeling is we might not see Shestyorkin again this year. I hope I’m wrong.
It was a nice win. A rare blowout even if it was a bit eerie given what happened. The game was close until the last period. Then all hell broke loose. Losing a good starter like Shestyorkin stinks. Don’t forget the accident he got into last year with Buchnevich. He went down and Georgiev took over and did a good job. They got back into the race. They’re gonna need Georgiev to deliver here. If not, the season will be a short one.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (4th of season plus 🍎, confidence is growing)
2nd 🌟 Igor Shestyorkin, NYR (32 saves on 33 shots before leaving with injury, brilliant on a bittersweet night)
1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, NYR (goals 11, 12, 13 for 4th career hat trick, second of season)