The talk all day centered around what would happen following the ridiculous antics of Tom Wilson in an ugly loss on Monday. On just a wild and wacky Wednesday that saw both John Davidson and Jeff Gorton lose their jobs in stunning fashion, the Blueshirts showed a lot of guts against the tougher Caps.
Highlighted by a line brawl one second in that eerily reminded many of the classic line brawl the Rangers engaged in against the Devils in March 2012, they stood up to Wilson and the Caps. Players you wouldn’t expect to fight did. From the opening face-off, it was pandemonium at the World’s Most Vaccinated on 33rd and 8th Avenue. Kevin Rooney took on Nic Dowd at center ice. Colin Blackwell battled Carl Hagelin. The biggest surprise was Phil Di Giuseppe giving Caps tough guy Garnet Hathaway a good bout. The crowd loved it.
Of course, the fisticuffs weren’t done. In a crazy first period highlighted by six fights which crowded each team’s penalty box with 12 players combined, it was Brendan Smith who obliged a willing Wilson. He knew it was coming. A tough comer, he was held accountable for his actions on Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin, who is sitting out the last three games due to an injury. Smith isn’t in Wilson’s league. However, he hung in there and took his lumps. It was something the Players Player expected.
Even with Wilson off for fighting, it wasn’t done. This was old time hockey. As much redundant complaining as Pierre McGuire made alongside Kenny Albert due to the ridiculous NBC Sports
Crapwork Network narrative about how the clueless George Parros didn’t suspend Wilson, this was always happening. It didn’t matter if the polarizing Caps’ power forward dressed. There had to be a strong response.
Even Anthony Bitetto got into the act when he went with Michael Raffl. It continued with Ryan Strome showing his true character by going with Lars Eller. He gave up a couple of inches, but did well by getting the take-down. Fight number six demonstrated that Strome backed up his words on the lack of supplementary discipline. He is a gamer. We’ve seen him stand up for teammates. A good quality.
In total, the six fighting majors combined with an instigator on Smith along with a misconduct largely contributed to 100 combined penalty minutes in the memorable first period. Both Rooney and Wilson also earned misconducts due to Pavel Buchnevich taking a whack at an incensed Wilson. Buchnevich was physically involved. In a career year, he was more interested in jousting with several Caps. It didn’t end either with him responding to a few Anthony Mantha taps by deliberately cross-checking him in the face to earn a five-minute major and game misconduct. It was part of an ugly night that also saw Buchnevich take consecutive stick fouls (slashing/hi-sticking) late in the first. He totaled 19 penalty minutes to earn an early exit.
Somewhat curiously, Wilson didn’t return for the second due to what the Caps termed an upper body injury. Was it really or did Washington coach Peter Laviolette feel his team would’ve been better off without the Wilson distraction? He heard plenty of jeers from a fired up crowd of 1,800 who sounded like a lot more. While it’s true he landed against Smith, he did take a slash from a fiery Buchnevich in the upper body. Maybe they decided to sit him out as a precaution. Especially with Alex Ovechkin unable to play after only taking one shift Monday before leaving. A playoff team, their health is more important than a meaningless game at MSG. One that had plenty of significance for the Rangers, who played their final home game. They lost their last three.
In truth, the Rangers didn’t play good enough. As far as the hockey portion, a lousy second period where they only had three shots on goal, allowed T.J. Oshie to score two power play goals. Oshie returned after missing Monday’s game due to the passing of his Dad. On an emotional night of rough stuff, Oshie led the Caps to a 4-2 victory by recording his fourth career hat trick. That included an empty net goal with 1:40 left in regulation. It was followed with an emotional moment with Nick Backstrom giving him a hug on the bench. He’s one of those honest hockey players that isn’t detestable like Wilson and some other Caps. Getting the hat trick was special for his Dad.
Oshie’s pair of power play goals came due to Buchnevich penalties. The first was 12 seconds into the second period. On it, Brendan Dillon made a good outlet pass for Oshie, who broke in and used Conor Sheary as a decoy before fooling Alex Georgiev with a shot through the wickets for a 1-0 lead. His second tally came after the Buchnevich idiocy where he used his stick on Mantha like a weapon. This time, Oshie outmaneuvered Adam Fox to steer in a Dmitry Orlov rebound for his 20th at 8:26.
With absolutely nothing happening from the Rangers’ side, a face-off win from Nic Dowd back to Orlov resulted in a John Carlson point shot that Dowd was able to deflect past Georgiev for a 3-0 lead at 14:48. This was a simple play that started with Dowd beating Strome clean. It is another example of how inept the Blueshirts are on defensive draws. Dowd just got to the spot to tip in a Carlson shot for his 11th.
The shots in the dismal second favored the Caps, 14 to 3. Sadly, I knew that was the total because the shot total in the first was 11. It barely moved. The play wasn’t inspired. Even if they showed the exact fire necessary to retaliate for Monday’s shenanigans, the foolishness of Buchnevich seemed to take whatever momentum out of them. The Caps were better at attacking and took advantage of bad penalties while outshooting the Rangers 14-3. Three Damn Shots. It reminded me of that classic scene from Major League where Bob Uecker goes off about the Indians lack of hits.
On a night where plenty of Blueshirts showed up, one key player was a ghost literally speaking. Mika Zibanejad did his usual disappearing act against a good opponent. I can’t remember one good shift. He was Missing Mika. A phrase I can’t take credit for. I’ll give it to Sean McCaffrey of bluecollarblueshirts.com. He has some good nicknames. As much as I like Zibanejad, there are too many shifts where you don’t notice him. This isn’t about the production. It’s about consistency. New Team President and GM Chris Drury has a very tough decision to make regarding Zibanejad either this summer or next year. He will face similar decisions on Buchnevich and Strome.
As bad as the second was, at least they didn’t get shutout by Vitek Vanecek. A good play started from Zac Jones up to Filip Chytil allowed the center to find a wide open Alexis Lafreniere for an easy finish into an open side for his 11th at 1:15. It was some excellent passing from both Jones and Chytil to find Lafreniere, who continues to improve. There’s brighter days ahead for the 19-year old teenager.
Despite Vitaly Kravtsov doing some good things offensively along with Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers never came any closer. At least they played a respectable third against a shorthanded Caps, who were down one skater entering due to more Evgeny Kuznetsov nonsense. I wouldn’t be shocked if they trade him during the summer. He doesn’t seem to be as emotionally invested.
There was still some edge. You had Hathaway try to get at K’Andre Miller. Miller was fortunate not to suffer a severe injury. His leg collided with Mantha which sent him down awkwardly. It looked serious. But he was able to return, only missing one shift. He will need to improve his skating and defensive awareness. He’s definitely missed dependable partner Jacob Trouba.
You also had Oshie tapping rookie Morgan Barron after a good defensive play. Nothing came of it. Barron had a good game. Playing in the fourth line role, he scored his first NHL goal after Oshie netted the empty netter for his hat trick. On the scoring play, Libor Hajek passed for Jones, who made a great feed in the slot for a Barron wrist shot that beat Vanecek with 1:16 remaining. Jones scooped up the puck for Barron. A pretty cool moment seeing two young players celebrate a milestone. For Jones, the assist gave him first multi-point game of his career. He had two helpers and continues to get better.
As time wound down with some fans chanting, “JD, JD, JD”, for the very popular former Ranger, broadcaster and Team President, it was the final time the Rangers skated off the Garden ice until next season. One that should hopefully prove to be more normal with the anticipated October 12th start date. So, it’ll be a shorter off-season. But a longer postseason followed by the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, NHL Draft and free agency in late July/early August.
It’s hard to believe there’s only two games left on the 56-game schedule. Games 55 and 56 will come versus the Bruins. That’ll include the final game on Saturday afternoon at 3 PM. Thursday night will be the penultimate game. Both will be in Boston. It would be nice to not finish the year on a six-game losing streak. During the current four-game losing skid, the Rangers have been outscored by a combined 17-5. All against playoff teams. If they do go out in a whimper, it’s hard to see Drury retaining David Quinn. Even given their relationship, how can anyone justify keeping him?
That’s a story for another day. It won’t be long before we soon know. What we do is that it’s still important for the kids to keep gaining valuable experience they can take with them into the summer. That way they can better prepare for what’s ahead.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Brendan Smith, NYR (fought Wilson, 17 PIM in 13:42 for the Players Player)
2nd 🌟 Zac Jones, NYR (1st career multi-point game with 2 🍎, +2 in 18:40)
1st 🌟 T.J. Oshie, Caps (4th career hat trick, 19th, 20th, 21st goals, 7 SOG, 8 for 10 on face-offs in 22:06)