Well, it took long enough. The Rangers officially have their first winning streak of the season. In defeating the listless Devils by doubling them up 6-3, they made it a clean sweep of the two-game series in Newark this afternoon.
Their third consecutive win put them over NHL .500 (10-9-3) for the first time. Winners of four of the last five, things are looking up. Three of those victories have seen them score six goals. That included the two games versus their Hudson rivals at The Prudential Center. They outscored the Devils 12-5 to even the season series. The road team has won all four meetings. Four games remain.
While it’s a positive development for the Rangers, the Devils have astonishingly dropped nine straight home games. That in itself is absurd. Their last win on home ice came against the Islanders on Jan. 24. In fact, the Devils went 0-5 on their five-game home stand. They didn’t earn a single point with every loss coming in regulation.
The latest defeat dropped the Devils to 7-11-2. After a promising start that included a 3-2 triumph at Boston on 2/18, they’ve lost eight of nine since. This one was actually than the final score indicated. Remarkably, they were more competitive in Thursday’s 6-1 loss than today’s 6-3 defeat.
Sloppy is how to describe the first period by both teams. Particularly the Devils, who picked up where they left off less than 48 hours ago. They took ill advised penalties and frequently turned over the puck, leading to Rangers goals. It was a poor effort. For the game, the Devils had 26 giveaways. The Rangers weren’t much better either winding up with a ridiculous 24. Many coming in a cringe worthy opening 20 minutes.
Before the game was two minutes old, defenseman Sami Vatanen hi-sticked Brendan Lemieux drawing blood for a double minor. The Rangers were only too happy to cash in on the first half of the four-minute power play.
On just an Alex Georgiev outlet pass, Adam Fox carried the puck through four motionless Devils penalty killers and went in and beat Mackenzie Blackwood through the wickets at 2:06. Token resistance allowed Fox to cruise in for the breakaway goal. His second of the season. It was Fox’s first goal since Jan. 22 at Pittsburgh. Ironically, that’s where the Rangers travel to next for games tomorrow and Tuesday night.
With their fragile opponent struggling to establish anything aside from a bakers dozen of turnovers, the Blueshirts took full advantage of the poor start by the Devils. On just another awful giveaway by Pavel Zacha, Kaapo Kakko stole the puck along the wall and got it to Chris Kreider. He quickly fed an open Ryan Strome in front for a backhand goal at 7:15. It was Kakko’s first point in his return.
The Rangers could’ve easily had more. With the Devils continuing to mishandle pucks and play lousy defense, they had some glorious chances to increase the lead to three or four. There were odd-man rushes and break ins. But Blackwood was able to stifle both Filip Chytil and Brendan Lemieux to keep the deficit at two.
That would pay off. In what can best be described as a lapse in concentration, the Rangers gave up two consecutive goals over a brief 17-second span. On the first one, a Jesper Bratt forecheck allowed Zacha to pass up top for a P.K. Subban rising one-timer that snuck past Georgiev high blocker at 14:54. It was one he should’ve had.
On the following shift, the Devils fed off the momentum to tie the score. On a defensive breakdown, Nathan Bastian found Mikhail Maltsev behind the Rangers defense. He broke in and beat Georgiev with a good wrist shot over the right pad for his third goal at 15:11. Yegor Sharangovich started the scoring play to earn a secondary assist. He played well along with Maltsev and Bastian in the game. They were the best line for the home side.
But before they could keep the momentum, the Devils again fell apart to hand the lead back to the Rangers. Less than two minutes later, Julien Gauthier sent Chytil on a two-on-one with Kevin Rooney. He made a perfect backhand feed across for a Rooney go-ahead goal with 2:54 remaining in the wild period. It was the former Devils’ fourth. He continues to play well in a supporting role under David Quinn.
Thankfully, the ugly hockey played in the first ended with the Rangers ahead 3-2. They outshot the Devils 14-5. But only were up a goal. To be honest, that was one of the worst periods you’ll ever see in an NHL game. I wouldn’t recommend revisiting it. In a first intermission interview with Devils reporter Erika Wachter, Subban called himself and the team out for how badly they played. He didn’t pin it on coach Lindy Ruff. It was pretty telling. Ruff didn’t pull any punches afterwards.
As expected, the second period was lower scoring. However, it got off to a rough start for New Jersey. On a Pavel Buchnevich forecheck, he got the puck to K’Andre Miller. Miller then fed an open Libor Hajek at the point for a good wrist shot that found twine thanks to a great Alexis Lafreniere screen on Blackwood. He never saw it. Lafreniere jumped up making it impossible for the Devils starter to track the puck. Hajek’s first came at 1:05 from Miller and Buchnevich to make it 4-2.
A Dmitry Kulikov hold on Chytil put the Devils on the penalty kill. They were able to successfully kill it off.
The Rangers tried a different look with Strome on the offside and Mika Zibanejad at the left point. Strome got one good set up to Kreider in the slot for a shot that deflected wide. It’s obvious that Quinn is looking for more. Zibanejad continues to fire blanks like he did on the third power play a bit later. He also passed up a shot in the first period that allowed the Devils to clear the zone.
At least Zibanejad is still good at killing penalties. He and Buchnevich were standouts on a good kill of a Miller tripping minor penalty when Zacha caught the rookie defenseman flat-footed. The Devils didn’t do much on that chance. They were too passive, allowing the aggressive Rangers foursome to limit shots on Georgiev and get key clears.
When he was called upon, Georgiev was sharper in the second making 12 saves in a strong period. His best one came on Jack Hughes, who he denied on a rebound in tight. He did a better job staying square to the shooter. For the game, he stopped 24 of 27 shots to pick up the win. With Igor Shestyorkin out due to a mild groin strain, it’s his net for now. He’ll be in there again Sunday for Part One against the Pens. They were 4-3 winners over the Flyers this afternoon.
To the credit of Blackwood, he made some important saves as well to keep the game within striking distance. The Devils continued to give up two-on-one opportunities. It mystified Ken Daneyko. There was a goalpost hit by a wide open Strome. Strome wound up tallying twice including the empty netter that sealed it late. He could’ve had a hat trick.
Throughout the game, the third line of Chytil, Rooney and Gauthier was particularly dangerous. They were all over the puck attacking a struggling Devils defense. In the final period, Chytil would get his first goal since returning due to a strong play from Gauthier.
On a face-off in the neutral zone, Damon Severson gave up the puck to Gauthier. Gauthier skated around the net before setting up Chytil in front for his third goal in eight games. He was able to go to the backhand and beat Blackwood high short side for a 5-2 lead at 8:38. The improving 21-year old Czech recorded a goal and assist to earn the game’s First Star.
The rest of the period was irrelevant. Nothing really happened. Georgiev made some saves. He also had help from the quick stick of Miller, who made a great defensive play to get a piece of a Kyle Palmieri rebound that left him bent over in dismay. Miller still makes mistakes, but is so fundamentally sound, it’s scary. Once he matures, he has the tools to become a first pair shutdown defenseman with offensive potential.
With time winding down, Bastian was able to beat Georgiev on a weird shot that might’ve changed direction with 2:12 remaining. Travis Zajac and Jesper Bratt earned helpers on Bastian’s second goal that cut it to 5-3. That’s as close as they got.
With Ruff lifting Blackwood for an extra attacker with two minutes left, Strome took a Fox pass and scored into an open net with 1:13 left to put an exclamation point on the win. With 11 points in the last eight games, Strome is up to 17 (8-9-17) for the season. He’s really picked it up and is proving he can produce without Artemi Panarin. Another lazy narrative from a misguided faction of ‘fans’ who need their eyes checked.
All in all, the Blueshirts did what they had to do. They took two games from a rival that’s really struggling. The Devils were lousy today. At least they competed for two periods the other day. They were worse in the rematch. Uncompetitive.
Give credit to the Rangers for winning the games on the schedule. That’s a requirement. You don’t get any freebies. Even if these two games felt like it. Their top players excelled sans Zibanejad, who might never score at five-on-five again. Good thing Buchnevich, Kreider, Strome, Fox, Lafreniere and Chytil continue to perform at a high level.
They’re winning without Zibanejad doing much. What if he scores one? Will it turn around his year? This disappearing act isn’t helping him for his next contract. A year away from unrestricted free agency, he might have to wait until sometime next season to see if the Rangers want to keep him. Strome continues to do all the things necessary to justify his two-year contract that also expires in 2022. Things could get interesting.
In regards to where things are, give the team plenty of credit. Led by Kreider, they’ve figured out how to win without Panarin. Who knows how much longer he’ll be out due to the outside distraction back home. I thought he’d miss at least six games. Tomorrow would make it seven. We’ll see if his status changes for the upcoming week.
At least I don’t have to link up the classic Major League 2 video about a “winning streak.” They took care of that.
Now, it’s time to find out where exactly they are against better competition. It’s the Pens for two in the Steel City followed by two more versus the Bruins on March 11 and 13 up in Boston. The Rangers are a combined 2-3-3 against those opponents. Basically, they’ve won twice and lost six. Let’s see if they can improve.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Julien Gauthier, NYR (2 assists, +1 in 18 shifts-9:38)
2nd 🌟 Adam Fox, NYR (2nd goal of season plus 🍎, +1 in 22:57)
1st 🌟 Filip Chytil, NYR (goal plus 🍎, +1 in 14:25)