Blueshirts blow one in epic fashion to The Walking Dead, Ovechkin wills Caps to comeback win, Groundhog Day for Zibanejad and a wasted effort


It takes a lot to get me angry. Last night’s game was one of those WTF just happened moments. For 53 minutes, the Rangers had complete control against a Walking Dead version of the Capitals. They so dominated at five-on-five that it seemed destined to be an easy Keith Kinkaid like shutout for Alex Georgiev.

Ultimately, Alexander Ovechkin had other ideas. His two identical goals on rebounds from in front against the Rangers top pair of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren doomed them. Instead of following up a 9-0 rout of the Flyers with an impressive 1-0 shutout, the Blueshirts lost in epic fashion 2-1 to an all-time great in Ovechkin, who willed his dead team to a comeback victory at home.

This was indicative of what kind of season it’s been for the Rangers, who too often snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was brutal. When you play as well as they did for so long with token resistance from their bewildered opponent that’s somehow in first place, it definitely had to stun the team. They got beat by a truly special superstar. There’s no shame in that. It’s just the way it happened nobody could’ve predicted. It was like March Madness. You had a couple of big upsets in the college basketball that rivaled it.

Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating. To be blunt, these ’21 Rangers aren’t world beaters. They just got back to NHL .500 the other day by turning the Flyers into pumpkins. That was an anomaly. For starters, it was so uncompetitive that if it had been a prize fight, the referee would’ve stepped in and stopped it. They scored seven goals in the second period highlighted by Mika Zibanejad recording a natural hat trick and a record-tying six points in a period. Something that even impressed hated former Islanders legend Bryan Trottier. You knew that wasn’t going to happen again. To the Flyers’ credit, they went into Nassau Coliseum and got off the deck to beat the Islanders 4-3.

I know how this will sound. I don’t find the Caps all that impressive. Sure. They’re winning with regularity lately. That was their seventh in a row. You can’t argue with the results coach Peter Laviolette is getting. Most notably, Ovechkin is hot. You knew he’d heat up eventually. By scoring twice more after passing Phil Esposito for sixth on the NHL all-time goal scoring list, he is now up to a five-game goal streak. Over that span, the Great Eight has six goals plus a helper giving him seven points. He has half of his 14 total goals since March 7. Ironically, that win over the Flyers started their winning streak.

It’s true. When Ovechkin scores, the Caps are a much better team. Prior to his recent tear, he wasn’t having a good season. But in the blink of an eye with the 35-year old legend, that sure changed. He’s one of the game’s most charismatic superstars. I also put him in the top five of greatest finishers. Rank them however you want. He’s up to 720 goals and counting. By tallying two more, Marcel Dionne is officially on notice. Ovechkin needs 11 to tie him for fifth all-time. Never underestimate Ovi.

I don’t often say this. But the only reason the Caps won the game was due to Ovechkin. He found a way to will his team to an undeserved victory. Great players often do. With the Rangers defense blanketing him in his office, he made a key adjustment to tie the game with 6:42 left and win it with 3:33 remaining in regulation. Twice over a 3:09 span, Ovechkin beat Fox and Lindgren to loose pucks for easy rebound goals. Although the latter wasn’t easy, he made it look that way. The essence of a great finisher.

It’s easy to pin this loss on Georgiev for the pair of rebounds he gave up. But on the first one, he was clearly screened and didn’t pick it up until it was too late. So, the rebound of a good Evgeny Kuznetsov shot (speaking of invisible players) was predictable. All Ovechkin did was spin-off Fox and outmaneuver him to find the loose change for the game-tying goal at 13:18. The second one was on Georgiev for failing to handle an unscreened John Carlson shot. Off his angle, he left a bad rebound for Ovechkin to scoop up and in one motion move to his backhand and put in with Lindgren unable to do anything.

It was sweet revenge for Ovechkin, who earlier in the game got absolutely leveled by a clean Lindgren hit that seemed to wake up the Caps. This was another one of those great open ice hits that became a story due to a complete overreaction from an opponent. Apparently, clean hard hits aren’t allowed in the modernized NHL anymore. With Ovechkin in a rare prone position, Lindgren separated him from the puck with a splendid body check right to the chest that broke his stick. Of course, he didn’t react to the hit, instead going to the bench for a change.

That’s because unlike so many of today’s soft as molasses players, Ovechkin is old school. He plays the game with ferocity. If he absorbs a big hit like he used to against Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, he’ll return the favor with the kind of wrecking ball hits that make him a fan favorite. No wonder I own a Russian Ovechkin jersey. It’s in По Русский! Not English. Ovi is easy to respect because he plays the game honestly. I wish I could echo the same for some of his teammates.

I’m referring to the annoying fraud Brenden Dillon. A big and strong defenseman who likes to deliver cheap hits like the one he deserved a penalty on earlier in the game, this fake tough guy had to respond to the Lindgren hit as if it was dirty. One thing about Lindgren, who predictably was cut by accident when he took a puck to the face while on the bench at the start of the second period. He is tough. There’s nothing fake about him. He hits hard and plays good hard-nosed physical hockey. He also can be accountable if necessary. He’s the opposite of Dillon. A veteran who sought retribution by exchanging words and going after Brendan Lemieux, who didn’t like it. Why he wound up with an identical unsportsmanlike conduct is beyond me. It was crappy officiating.

I’m glad both Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti called out the garbage thinking of these modern players. Rosen was incensed. It’s ridiculous that clean hits can’t be accepted without something foolish happening. What ever happened to responding by just hitting back on the next shift? The game is physical. There’s a big difference between a good old fashioned hit and one that crosses the line. I didn’t even think the heavy hit Tom Wilson delivered on Brandon Carlo was as bad as it was interpreted. On that subject, Wilson served the seventh and final game of his suspension mostly for reputation and for Carlo unfortunately being in a prone position with the big hit causing injury due to his head being exposed to the boards. Wilson is expected to return for the Caps in Saturday’s rematch.

I thought what Dillon did was completely uncalled for. He deserved the only penalty which would’ve gave the Rangers a power play. At the time, they were nursing a one-goal lead courtesy of a beauty from Artemi Panarin on the power play back in the first period. The goal was set up by Ryan Strome, who continues to produce.

With Nicklas Backstrom off for tripping Brett Howden for just his third minor penalty as noted on the Washington feed which I watched for that period, a Fox shot hit the crossbar past Vitek Vanecek. The puck came right to Strome, who made a perfect pass across for a Panarin one-timer that just snuck by Vanecek, who got a piece of it. It gave Panarin goals in three straight. In four games since he returned from his mysterious Russian exile due to the garbage rumor his former scrub coach made up, the Bread Man has been brilliant. He has seven points (3-4-7) and trails leading scorer Pavel Buchnevich by a point for the team lead. For the season, Panarin is 8-17-25 in 18 games. He’s played in 87 games as a Ranger during the regular season and registered 40 goals with 80 assists for an impressive total of 120 points. The Wonder Bread Man delivers.

If there was a sore spot in a well played game for our side, it was the lack of finish from Zibanejad. He really needed to follow up his big game with another goal, assist. Instead, it was back to business as usual. Despite getting some ‘good looks,’ he couldn’t put the puck past Vanecek, who had a great game. He finished with 32 saves. That included some big ones on Zibanejad, Strome, Fox and Jacob Trouba. Even his first save was a good one when he denied a pinching Brendan Smith off a good Strome pass from behind the net halfway through the first.

Regarding Zibanejad, he drew a penalty and had three shots. His line with Buchnevich and Chris Kreider buzzed during shifts. But never created a goal. He also had a great chance on a power play in the third. With the team still ahead by one, Strome made a sneaky good pass in front for Zibanejad, but his deflection wasn’t on net. If he hits it, they score and go up 2-0. It’s probably a different result. That power play came early on in the momentum turning third. He drew the tripping minor on the loathsome Dillon 31 seconds in. He had the one good chance and blew it. Strome put the puck exactly where it needed to be. Like Groundhog Day for Zibanejad. He might be the Swedish version of classic Bill Murray character Phil Connors. If I were him, I’d destroy my alarm clock and shatter 100 sticks. They aren’t working with regularity. I hate the song, “I Got You Babe.” Sorry Sonny and Cher. It’s the movie.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Kid Line had some good shifts early. Kaapo Kakko actually had more than a shot on goal. He wound up with three including a tricky wrist shot from the right circle turning into a tough Vanecek save. He was better. If only Alexis Lafreniere had made a better saucer pass for an open Kakko in the first. It would’ve been a breakaway. Instead, it was behind him and he couldn’t handle it. It was like a hot grenade. The Caps feed mentioned that Lafreniere practiced that exact pass before the game with better success. Oy. Do it in a game and it could lead to a goal. Production remains an issue for the two youngest players.

Here’s the frustrating aspect of Friday night. At one point, the Caps were held to 11 shots. They hardly tested Georgiev, who made a couple of good saves in the first two periods. The second was so strange that it felt like an exhibition. There was hardly anything happening until Lindgren caught Ovechkin. Then Dillon acted like a punk. Lemieux let him know about it. The refs then butchered it. Because why the heck not. It’s sickening that this is what passes for hockey. What a bunch of chicken crap. You can tell the mood I’m in when I am so blunt. It really ticks me off. Imagine how Ron Duguay feels. He had a tweet that indicated positivity on how well the Rangers were playing. I responded. Unfortunately, my reply turned out to be prophetic.

It isn’t so much that I thought he was wrong. They played that well overall. From a defensive standpoint, they gave the Caps nothing. But for whatever reason, you had the fourth line out for both Ovechkin goals. I believe Laviolette had Ovechkin double shift to gain an edge. The Rangers still had the top pair out. They just didn’t get it done. You don’t expect Ovechkin to get his goals in front like that. But there’s a reason he is sixth all-time.

It’s not good that Howden, Lemieux and the normally reliable Kevin Rooney wound up on for both goals against. Especially over three minutes apart. Was it just Laviolette getting a match-up on the fly? He has the last change. If you don’t think that stuff matters, then you don’t know hockey. Ovechkin still victimized Fox by out-Foxing him. And he got the better of Lindgren on the bad rebound Georgiev left to exact revenge on the scoreboard. That is how you get the ultimate payback.

I can’t speak for other fans or bloggers like my good buddy Sean McCaffrey of BlueCollarBlueshirts.com. If you want as honest a take on these games along with the sarcasm mixed in with classic Photoshops and lots of history on our team, Sean is worth the read. He doesn’t pull any punches. His blogs also go longer and into every fine detail including his love for Statmastah Steve Valiquette. 😁 When it comes to staterrific and scienterrific along with Chartographology which are three words I invented due to my good friendship with JPG, Sean absolutely loves Valiquette’s approach to analyzing these manifestos. If you don’t know by now I’m kidding, then you don’t get my sarcasm.

Following the second Ovechkin rebound goal with 3:33 left, the Blueshirts were shell shocked. They were done. There was no chance they were tying it. You could tell by how they reacted to it. It was the Caps who kept attacking with their checking line generating a good chance that a sprawling Georgiev stopped to at least give his team an opportunity.

However, he didn’t get to the bench until less than a minute was left. The Blueshirts were so bad at the end, it made me wonder if they will ever score a six-on-five goal to force overtime. They suck at it. This was organized chaos. Only 47 seconds were left when the extra attacker came on. And no. Kris Knoblauch didn’t send out Kakko, who I actually thought had his best game in weeks. If you never give him the chance, how will he ever grow as a player?

I honestly agree with New York Post columnist Larry Brooks. He wrote a scathing column that was extremely truthful about where this team is. The kids need to be put in a better position to succeed. Forget the playoffs. Anyone who actually thinks that’s realistic hasn’t paid attention. This team has messed up so many winnable games that you’d have to be high as a kite to believe they’re going to catch Boston and finish in the top four. They’re not beating out the Islanders, Caps or Pens. And you know Boston will swing a trade to bolster their paper thin scoring after the Perfection Line.

The truth is this is still about the younger players and where they are in their development. As much as everyone wants to crown Fox and Lindgren, games like tonight happen. Call it unlucky. Call it whatever you will. Or maybe call it the Rangers firing blanks when they should’ve buried the so-called playoff contending Caps. They match-up well with them. This should’ve been win number three of three. Instead, it’s a bad loss. The fourth meeting is later today at 7 PM.

Igor Shestyorkin is close to returning. If there’s a God, he’ll be back in net because they need him. I know a lot has been made of his injuries. Don’t forget they didn’t start until that very unlucky car accident. One where we should thank our lucky stars both him and Buchnevich were alright. Afterwards, there was the mysterious injury that kept him out of two games versus the Hurricanes in the Preliminary Series. Then the mild groin strain sustained when he tried to get across on a Damon Severson chance. Blame the defense for that. They took the last few minutes off in a blowout win.

We do need to see Shestyorkin at 100 percent playing the bulk of the starts. That way we can find out if he can handle a workload. He’s clearly the best goalie they have. If he’s not ready, it’s a flip of the coin between Georgiev and Keith Kinkaid. That doesn’t inspire much confidence. At 12-13-4, it is what it is.

It’ll once again be Knoblauch with Gord Murphy and Associate GM Chris Drury running the bench with David Quinn and his coaching staff unavailable due to COVID Protocol. We’ll see if they make any changes. Maybe we see Julien Gauthier get back in.

That’s all for now. See you later.

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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