It all worked for the Rangers in an 8-4 thumping of the Pens. AP Photo by New York Rangers via Getty Images
Some nights, everything works. That was indeed the case for coach David Quinn. Every lineup tweak paid off as the Rangers thumped the Penguins 8-4 at 33rd and 8th.
How dominant were they offensively? Eight different players scored. The Rangers put up a four spot on both Pittsburgh goalies. They chased Pens starter Tristan Jarry by scoring four times on 11 shots in an explosion first period. Even though the Pens had 45 shots on Igor Shestyorkin, it was the Rangers who were opportunistic by scoring their eight on 25 shots. Casey DeSmith was treated similarly with New York scoring four more on 14 shots in doubling up the Pens.
In hammering their old Patrick Division rival, they kept themselves within striking distance of the Bruins. Boston were 4-2 winners over the Flyers to stay five up on the Rangers, who jumped into fifth place. With 18 games left, they are 18-15-5 with 41 points. The Bruins have 46 with 20 games remaining. The Rangers have to keep winning. It’s a simple formula.
Given how they embarrassed the Pens, you have to think they’ll be out for redemption on Thursday. They were very bad defensively, hanging out their goalies to dry. That even included Sidney Crosby getting caught by Pavel Buchnevich, who went around him for a shot that Mika Zibanejad rebounded past Jarry for his 13th goal. At that time, it made it a 2-0 game.
For as much criticism as Quinn has received for his lineup decisions, tonight was a huge success. The line tweaks worked. That included season revelation Colin Blackwell getting a gift for his 10th goal when his pass banked in off Mike Matheson to open the scoring at 1:35. He also would later add an assist making him one of nine Rangers to record at least two points.
While the offense was clicking on all cylinders due to say a different approach that actually included shooting the puck on the power play, Igor Shestyorkin was good again during a first period that saw the Pens outshoot the Rangers 18-11. It didn’t matter due to the poised rookie netminder who finished with 41 saves in his fourth consecutive start. He also was credited with a shot on goal.
With the Rangers’ end taken care of by their emerging first-year goalie, they went to work by taking apart the Penguins. A good opponent that entered third in the East Division with 50 points. You wouldn’t have known it.
Even Crosby, who’s been on a pretty good roll, was susceptible. A lazy turnover inside the New York blue line allowed Buchnevich to steal the puck. With the future Hall Of Famer back, Buchnevich wisely attacked Crosby by skating around him to get a good shot on Jarry. The rebound came right to Zibanejad, who finished a backhand upstairs for a two-goal lead at 7:28.
The Pens continued to unravel. Over two minutes later with the Rangers on the power play, Chris Kreider and Adam Fox got the puck over to Artemi Panarin in the left circle. With no other option, he used a defenseman as a screen and fired a high shot short side for the first of three power play goals. It was a good shot by an unselfish player who too often thinks pass. This was a welcome change.
Following Jared McCann getting one back on a Pittsburgh power play, Matheson and Alexis Lafreniere got into it during a scrum. Each received two minutes for roughing. After Matheson started with him, Lafreniere stuck up for himself. A good quality for a young player to have. He would go on to have a good game scoring his sixth goal during the second period.
With his team ahead two in the final minute, Zibanejad drew a holding minor on Brian Dumoulin. That would prove to be big. Just 11 seconds into the man-advantage, Ryan Strome shot the puck for a change and got the desired result for his 12th. On the scoring play set up by dynamic tandem Fox and Panarin, Strome took a low wrist shot that Jarry never tracked due to a great Chris Kreider screen. He didn’t get a point, but his net front presence was as good as an assist.
Leading by three, the Rangers relied on Shestyorkin during a lower scoring second. After killing off a Ryan Lindgren hi-sticking minor penalty, they got some huge insurance from Lafreniere over halfway through the contest. On just a dominant offensive shift from the 19-year old top pick, he was able to put in a rebound from Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko at 12:20. That made it 5-1.
But before they could relax, Matheson surprised Shestyorkin with a wrist shot past his glove 16 seconds later to make it 5-2. That was it for the scoring in the period, allowing the Rangers to take a three-goal lead into the third period.
Having already connected twice, the Blueshirts made it a hat trick of goals on the power play. With Jake Guentzel in the box for a hold, it was the second power play unit that came through. Following the top unit reverting by being more deliberate instead of in shoot first mode, Kakko recovered a loose puck and Blackwell passed up top for a Jacob Trouba shot. His shot took a favorable bounce when it went off Kris Letang and then Kakko’s stick for his first power play goal of the season. His sixth from Trouba and Blackwell made it 6-2 with 13:50 left. With an assist on the Lafreniere tally, Kakko fared well on the third line producing a goal and assist.
With the team easing up, Guentzel was able to get one back less than two minutes later for his 17th from Matheson and Letang. But with Buchnevich off for tripping to hand the Pens a power play, it was the Blueshirts who continued to toy with their opponent.
On an outstanding play from a hustling Zibanejad, he outworked a couple of Pens before finding a wide open Fox for a shorthanded goal at 10:22. That gave the emerging Fox three more points. With five goals and 31 assists for 36 points, he’s now tied with Victor Hedman for tops in defense scoring. You better believe Foxy is a Norris candidate. He deserves all the accolades he receives.
How bad were the Pens? On the very next shift, they watched Panarin send Chytil and Buchnevich on a two-on-one break. Chytil easily set up Buchnevich’s 15th for an 8-3 lead with 9:14 remaining. Buchnevich leads the team with 13 even strength goals. His other two have come shorthanded. The assist gave Chytil a two point game. It was also Panarin’s fourth point. The Bread Man went 1-3-4 to hit the 40 point mark. Truly astonishing given all the time he missed due to that Russian hoax.
Dumoulin closed the scoring by getting his first of the season with 1:24 left. Let’s just say the Rangers didn’t exactly put the clamps down. It happens in games like these. It’s only human to let up. They lit up the Pens for eight goals on 25 shots with three PPG’s and a shorthanded goal. So many shots went in that it turned Quinn’s decision to stick Blackwell on the second line while sliding Kakko back down to play with Chytil and Lafreniere look like a genius move. That line played well.
So too did Vitaly Kravtsov despite getting fourth line duty with Kevin Rooney and Phil “One Goal” Di Giuseppe. Kravtsov didn’t register a shot, but nearly came out with the puck from behind the net to create a chance. He seems to know where to go including defensively. Kravtsov also is physically involved. So, no points. But enough positives to like what we are seeing from the 21-year old wearing the cool number 74.
Even Trouba had two assists in the victory. This was a nice win. Even if Quinn warned that he didn’t like the way they played defensively. A valid point. For the time being, the Rangers are still in the playoff hunt. They can’t afford any slip-ups. There’s no reason not to stick with Shestyorkin for Thursday’s rematch. It’ll be the eighth and final meeting between the teams. The Rangers will look to even the season series in regulation wins. They’re 2-3-2.
Both the Flyers and Rangers are an identical 18-5-5 through 38 games. But the Rangers hold the first tiebreaker with three more wins in regulation (15). Along with a much better goal differential, that has them in fifth place.
With a day off to prepare for the MSG rematch, the Rangers will have the Pens again Thursday while Boston is at Washington and the Flyers visit the Islanders. They’ll see their bitter Long Island rivals this weekend.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (13th goal plus 🍎, 3 SOG, 12 for 22 on draws, +1 in 18:05)
2nd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, NYR (1-3-4, 2 SOG, +2 in 15:31)
1st 🌟 Adam Fox, NYR (shorthanded goal for 5th with 2 🍎, +2 in 22:12)