Lafreniere Leads The Way Past Flyers


This was a lot better than the previous night. On Garden Of Dreams Night, it was one of the kids who stood out for the right reasons. How appropriate considering all the good will MSG and the Rangers do for the Foundation that helps underprivileged children.

Alexis Lafreniere led the way with a goal and assist to help the Rangers post a 4-1 win on home ice in front of some of those kids at The Garden. His second multi-point game of the season was instrumental in helping the team respond to Thursday’s 3-2 disappointment that all but ended any playoff hopes. Even with the Sabres holding off a Bruins’ comeback, they’re still six behind with eight to go. Basically a Kentucky Derby long-shot at this point.

Let’s forget that part. Concentrate on what went right Friday night. For starters, the Rangers played more inspired hockey. At least they decided to give a better effort than the prior two forgettable games. Coach David Quinn spoke about how it was uncharacteristic for the team to not respond to a bad loss after Thursday’s discouraging defeat at the World’s Most Renovated Arena. Maybe it had more to do with the players realizing how crushing Tuesday night was. It was a big letdown.

There was only one change to the lineup. Quinn opted to go with Alex Georgiev in the second game of the back-to-back. Georgiev rewarded that trust by making 26 saves on 27 shots. That included some real gems in a busier third period where he turned aside all 11 Flyers shots. His best work came with the team protecting a one-goal lead. There were a few sparklers with Georgiev denying Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk to keep the Rangers in front. He’d also deny a couple of Flyers point blank after Lafreniere scored his ninth goal.

From the beginning of a more tightly contested game between the classic rivals, Georgiev was sharp. His best stop in the first period came on Jakub Voracek, who got the winner from the identical spot in the first game. Instead, Georgiev gloved the shot and Voracek gave him a stick tap as a show of respect. Steve Valiquette said when he played during his 46-game NHL career, that wasn’t common. A career we hear a lot about. I won’t cover it the way Long Island buddy Sean McCaffrey does on bluecollarblueshirts.com. He finds the humor in it along with the mindless heat craps maps, or as I like to call it. Chartographology. I at least found the segment funny with John Giannone joking around.

Whatever we think of the broadcast, MSG deserves a lot of credit for how much attention they pay to these kids. They sure deserve it. It’s always nice to see the cool features they air on how involved the players are off the ice helping out in the community. We don’t get to see it that often. One thing I love about hockey players is how kind they are. Whatever is happening on the ice or behind closed doors, they have good hearts. I’m glad they used model citizen Adam Graves for reference. There is simply no classier Ranger than him. He once was a guest speaker at our local Jewish Community Center dinner function when I was a teenager. Gravy as we refer to him is the ultimate person. I didn’t catch the feature they ran on Chris Kreider, but I’m glad he scored his 20th goal. He gets a lot of flak yet remains a good finisher for this team and an even better human being away from the rink.

To the fans who are able to support by bidding on Rangers items including autographed sticks and fancy voicemails from Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti, kudos to out to you. If I could, I would. Especially for the worthy cause. Every year, I donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and to the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. Hopefully one day when things are better, I’ll be able to give more to such great causes. We should always appreciate what we have. There are always people out there less fortunate. Especially these days. As passionate Rangers fans or whatever team you root for, it’s important not to lose perspective. Cheering for our teams should be fun. It’s a welcome distraction from everything else going on.

One noticeable difference in the first two periods of last night’s game was the lack of shots. Each team made a concerted effort to limit the scoring chances. There was more emphasis on defense and better structure. For example, the first period saw the teams combine for only 13 shots in favor of the Flyers (7-6). That was a sharp contrast from the wide open first they had 24 hours earlier where they combined for 25 shots.

There wasn’t much in the early going. Unless you prefer two to three combined shots in the game’s first part fun. It was expected after how much the Rangers got away from their structure. Even the Flyers buckled down. The most noticeable Rangers line was the fourth. Vitaly Kravtsov started with Kevin Rooney and the hardworking Brett Howden, who does a lot of things that don’t show up on the score sheet. They’re an effective trio due to the capability to forecheck with the skilled Kravtsov creating more opportunities. One such chance saw him have a two-on-one down low. But his pass didn’t work. It looked like he didn’t get good wood on it. He was very effective throughout.

On another strong shift, Howden got a step on former Ranger Kevin Hayes, who hooked him to lead to a power play. On it, the top unit didn’t get much established during the first half. However, they stuck with it. On a strong rush from Adam Fox, he got the puck over to Artemi Panarin. Instead of shooting as he had previously with his one-timer going wide and out of the zone, he opted for a wrist shot that was really a great pass for an open Kreider, who redirected the puck in past Alex Lyon at 6:02. The goal was his 20th and team-leading 11th on the power play. It’s the sixth time in his career he’s hit 20 goals.

For a player who’s critiqued due to his streaky scoring, Kreider is consistent. To think it’s only a 56-game schedule. He hasn’t missed a game. If this were a full 82, he’d be on track for his first 30 goal season. Is he perfect? No. But who else has this team produced that performed well during the postseason and scored as much as Kreider? He has 177 career goals including 58 power play goals. Kreider is 177-168-345 in 571 games all as a Ranger. He must be doing something right. One thing I know about him is the game doesn’t always come easy. He told me it once a long time ago when he was on Twitter. Getting off social media was the best thing he could’ve done. We are a tough fan base, who don’t realize how hard these guys work. That’s a lesson I learned from that experience.

Before Joe Tolleson could even announce the goal, here came the Flyers right back on a fluky goal from leukemia survivor Oskar Lindblom to even the game just 45 seconds later. On what amounted to a strange play around the net, Voracek was able to get the puck in front where it took a favorable carom off Lindblom and by Georgiev at 6:47. Libor Hajek was in the area along with Filip Chytil. This one was unlucky. I thought it might’ve also deflected off Chytil. Whatever the case, you had a tie score.

Proving how funny the period was, the Rangers replied back in timely fashion. Over a minute later on a sustained forecheck, Lafreniere was able to keep a play alive that led to the go-ahead goal from Pavel Buchnevich. On the play, the puck came to Lafreniere who absorbed a hit. While going down, he still had enough strength to put a good pass on Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad moved it to Buchnevich, who cut in and waited for Lyon to go down before beating him up top for his 20th at 7:56. It was a good play by all three, but wouldn’t have been possible without an active Fox leading the rush. His aggression created the goal. Something Micheletti noted on the MSG replay. The reason Fox is so good is that he finds open areas to skate into making himself available in the offensive zone. He leads all NHL defensemen in assists (38).

So in a period where shots were at a premium, the two sides scored on three of four which put the Rangers ahead 2-1 less than eight minutes in. Funny how that works. A little past the halfway mark, Georgiev made consecutive stops on van Riemsdyk and Travis Sanheim from distance. He showed excellent focus. Late in the period, some strong puck pressure from Lafreniere where he checked Ivan Provorov forced the Flyers defenseman to throw the puck out of play for a delay of game minor. It was good persistence from a more confident player, who in my opinion had his best game so far. Unfortunately, the power play got nothing done. The Rangers took the one-goal lead to the locker room.

The chess match continued in the second period. It was the Rangers who had a good surge in the early portion. Chytil made a nice move to create a good opportunity, but was turned away by Lyon. In a carryover from the end of the last game, Kreider played with Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. Quinn wanted to give Lafreniere an extended look with Zibanejad and Buchnevich. It sure paid dividends. Another in game adjustment was moving Kravtsov up to the second line. He helped create a chance for Rooney that Lyon stifled to keep it at 2-1. With Kravtsov up with Panarin and Ryan Strome, Colin Blackwell shifted to the fourth line. I’m in favor of seeing Kravtsov get more time on the second line on Sunday against Buffalo. That’s up to Quinn.

Following another splendid save from Georgiev to deny Couturier on a tip in try, the physicality intensified. There had been a few hits during the second. It was an incidental hit by Rooney on Couturier in which he braced himself for a leg on leg collision that caused a commotion. The gritty Scott Laughton came to Couturier’s aid and dropped the gloves with Rooney in a welterweight bout. Rooney landed early with Laughton connecting late for a draw. I didn’t mind the fight. It was understandable. Whenever there’s a leg on leg collision, there’s usually a response. Accidental or not. Each got five for fighting with no loss of man power.

If there was a key moment, it came following a Rangers’ bench minor. They haven’t taken many, but the look on Quinn’s face was vintage Scrooge. The smoke was coming out of his head. During the Flyers’ five-on-four, Couturier came very close to tying it. However, his wrist shot hit the goalpost and stayed out. On just a bad read in the neutral zone, K’Andre Miller took down Voracek for an easy tripping minor that handed the Flyers a five-on-three power play.

Despite being down two men, the trio of Zibanejad, Brendan Smith and Ryan Lindgren did a tremendous job. Zibanejad had a diving block to get a critical clear. It still came down to Georgiev, who made a few key stops including a huge one to stone van Riemsdyk. He was superb. Without his brilliant play, the Rangers don’t win. Particularly in the pressure packed third period.

During it, the Flyers picked up their play. Looking to funnel more pucks to the net, they certainly had the better of the play. When they weren’t forcing Georgiev to come up with tough saves like the huge one to rob Couturier, they fired high and wide. The Rangers were a little looser defensively. Fortunately, Georgiev was seeing everything extremely well. The only goal that beat him was a fluke. He easily could’ve had a shutout. That’s how locked in he was. His work earned him the game’s First Star. A nice reward for a good team guy.

On a strong offensive shift from the new first line, Zibanejad and Buchnevich were able to get the puck over to Lafreniere near the net. From a tough angle, he was able to score by putting the puck in up top for his ninth goal at 9:24. Just a great play from a very skilled player, who’s getting better all the time. For his work, he received 17:49 from Quinn. Lafreniere deserved it along with the goal. He quietly has been playing better for a while. You can see what the hype is about. He’s very good around the net and has been on the puck much more. In the postgame, he discussed his confidence level while sporting a full beard. The kid’s only 19 and looks like a lumberjack.

Following that goal which gave them breathing room, the Rangers had a couple of breakdowns that led to dangerous Flyer opportunities. In particular, Miller struggled on a couple of shifts. He let Jackson Cates get behind him for a clean look at Georgiev, who turned him away. He then denied Nicolas Aube-Kubel to get a stoppage. That two save sequence was incredible. Georgiev basically made consecutive stops while off balance and was able to keep the puck from getting through his five-hole. In fact, the Flyers thought they scored. Instead, there was no goal following the stoppage. That’s how good he was in this game.

Georgiev also had to contend with an attacking Travis Konecny banging into him following another save. That was due to Konecny beating Miller, who then gave the Flyers forward a light shove right into his own goalie. Fortunately, nothing came of it. There was a whistle and no penalty. Miller must make better reads and tighten up. He definitely needs some work. Hopefully, someone will teach him to use that size and play better positional defense. If he can improve those areas and bring more of an edge like Marc Staal, then I won’t be concerned. He’s certainly capable of better.

As for Zac Jones, I thought he looked more confident in his second game. The skating is superb along with the way he jumps into the rush. You can see why they’re excited about him. Only 20 and wearing number 6, Jones looks like a kid. Micheletti said he looks seven on the telecast. That was funny. Jones saw many shifts with Lindgren, who when he didn’t play with Fox, was better than the last two. Quinn tried Libor Hajek with Fox. That was okay. Jones also saw shifts with Smith. He played 13:42 and received 61 seconds on the second power play unit. He looks poised. There’s obviously a lot to like, but a long way to go.

Earlier in the game, Chytil had a breakaway that Lyon stopped. Throughout, he played well. Very active during shifts, this is the player that shows flashes of his potential. He would eventually get rewarded thanks to a good cycle. Hanging onto the puck while playing with Kakko and Panarin, Chytil kept moving until he found enough of an angle to surprise Lyon for a short side goal off his glove to make it 4-1 with 6:20 remaining. His eighth goal snapped an 11-game drought. All smiles, Chytil has a goal and two helpers over the last four. A positive sign.

That goal finished off the Flyers. In taking the eighth and final meeting, the Rangers finished the season series tied. Each team won four games. Now, they’re done with the Flyers, Devils and Penguins. What’s left of the eight are two with the Sabres, two against the Islanders, a pair with the Capitals and the final two versus the Bruins. Not to sound like a broken record. But the Rangers would give anything for that final two-game series to have playoff significance. With Boston still having 10 left including more games with the Sabres and Devils, I doubt that will be the case.

The Rangers’ next two are against Buffalo. They’ve played much harder since the coaching change. Keep an eye on Casey Mittlestadt and Rasmus Dahlin. Both are different players now. Sam Reinhart has quietly put together a good campaign. Don’t expect it to be easy. Boston has the Penguins twice.

That’s gonna do it for now. Thanks to my Wi-Fi, I didn’t finish this until now. See you all much later.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (20th goal, assist)

2nd 🌟 Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (9th goal plus 🍎 in 17:49)

1st 🌟 Alex Georgiev, NYR (26 saves on 27 shots including 11 for 11 in great 3rd)

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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