Kreider’s pair of power play goals and Fox’s amazing passing on display in Shesterkin shutout of the Blue Jackets, Lafreniere responds

After three days off, they came ready to play. Although the start favored the visitors, it was a Rangers Night at The Garden. Two nights before Halloween hits the Big Apple this Sunday, the good guys put together their most complete effort in a 4-0 shutout of the Blue Jackets. That earned them their first home win.

It was a great response to Monday’s disappointment against what now looks like an improved Calgary if their play in New Jersey and Pittsburgh is any indication. Chris Kreider scored a pair of power play goals while Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin (remember him?) each had three assists to highlight the third career shutout of Igor Shesterkin’s NHL career. He was stellar when he needed to be turning aside all 31 Blue Jackets’ shots to pickup his first shutout of the season.

Most encouraging, Alexis Lafreniere had a much better game. He scored his third goal while continuing to find chemistry on a reunited third line with Filip Chytil and Sammy Blais. They were strong throughout thanks to an aggressive mindset that generated more quality chances.

If not for some superb goaltending from Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus would’ve been blown out completely. He definitely was the busier of the two goalies for a good portion. Even though he allowed four goals on 37 shots to lose his first decision in five starts, Merzlikins had a good night. He also showed some class towards the end by waving his teammates off to let Shesterkin get the shutout, and then saluted him with his goal stick. A nice gesture by the Latvian netminder who’s dedicated the season to former close friend and teammate Matiss Kivlenieks. He passed away on the Fourth of July in a tragic accident.

Playing without Ryan Reaves (lower-body injury), the Blueshirts were bolstered by the return of Kaapo Kakko. Although he didn’t get on the score sheet, he looked sharp throughout while playing on the second line with Panarin and Ryan Strome, who also scored a nice goal to get things started. There’s no doubt about the unique chemistry Strome and Panarin have. They play off each other so well. Maybe they didn’t quite connect on Monday in Strome’s return. But they came close. Having Kakko back at full strength gave them a boost. Their line was very effective on the cycle at five-on-five, often pinning Columbus in.

At the start on Essential Workers Night, it was the Blue Jackets who came out aggressive. Both Patrik Laine and Oliver Bjorkstrand had to be accounted for. So too did rookies Cole Sillinger and Gregory Hofmann. A sharp Shesterkin kept Columbus at bay to give the Rangers a chance to settle down. Once they did, things opened up. Each team traded chances off the rush, but failed to score thanks to the goalies. It wasn’t until a subtle defensive play was made that someone finally got on the scoreboard.

On a Columbus shot, rookie defenseman Nils Lundkvist made a good play to break it up in front. His outlet for Panarin led to a quick transition up ice. Able to draw defenders, Panarin found an open Strome in the slot for a wrist shot that beat Merzlikins at 12:29. It was a good snipe for Strome, who earned his first goal of the year. More importantly, Lundkvist picked up his first NHL point with a secondary assist. A nice reward for the young Swede who made a good read that started the scoring play.

With the Rangers starting to tilt the ice, this time it was some more magic created by Fox that resulted in a nice goal from Lafreniere. Following some good pressure from the third line, Fox regained puck possession and then skated all the way around the Columbus net. Somehow, out of the corner of his eyes, he perfectly setup Lafreniere for his third at 15:31. This was a brilliant play from a brilliant player, who gets better all the time.

You begin to understand why Fox has a degree from Harvard. It’s the way he thinks the game. It’s so instinctive. Equally as instinctive was Lafreniere, who drove hard to the net for the put away that increased the lead to 2-0. He didn’t take coach Gerard Gallant’s criticism hard. Instead, he acknowledged he wasn’t good enough on Monday and promised to be better. The 20-year old former top pick is a man of his word.

Late in the period, Fox took a Hofmann slash to earn the team’s first power play. Although they didn’t score in the final 63 seconds of the first, the remainder carried over to the second period. Despite having some looks on it, they were unable to score that third goal on Merzlikins. If he saw it, he stopped it. The lone exception being the Strome tally where Panarin moved the puck to get him moving laterally. The Lafreniere goal was a layup thanks to Fox. If you thought this would be easy, Merzlikins made sure it wasn’t. He made a lot of tough saves during a lopsided second where the Rangers doubled up the Blue Jackets in shots 14-7. He stopped all 14 to keep his team in it.

Although they did some good things in the period, the Rangers only led by two entering the third. Again, a Columbus penalty carried over. Only this time, Jack Roslovic could only watch helplessly as that consistent net front presence Kreider struck for his fourth power play goal. Fox moved the puck over for Panarin on the right side where he was able to thread the needle for a Kreider redirection past Merzlikins for a huge power play goal at 1:19. All he did was get position and change the puck’s direction to score his team-leading fifth goal (4th PPG). They sure are finding creative ways to get the puck to Kreider. It’s working.

Before they could put the game away, the Blueshirts had to kill a rare Fox penalty for high-sticking. Max Domi took an accidental stick to draw a Columbus power play down three. However, even without Fox, the penalty kill came through. One of the best penalty killers on Friday night was defenseman Patrik Nemeth. After an off game in the loss to the Flames where a bad giveaway cost the Rangers a goal against, he bounced back with a stronger defensive game. In fact, Nemeth led all skaters with five blocked shots. This was more in line with how he performed on the successful road trip. There’s another one coming up with the Seattle Kraken first up tomorrow night.

With a little over half the third left, things got interesting when Domi came to the aid of a teammate after a Strome hit. He didn’t back down as that’s not in his vocabulary. So, he took Domi off with him for two minutes leading to more open ice. While on the four-on-four, Kreider was hooked from behind by defenseman Jake Bean. That handed the Rangers a four-on-three power play. After initially not being able to score on the first part, Gallant used his timeout to give his first unit a breather. Whatever they drew up worked. Like a good repeat, there was Kreider in front tipping home a Fox shot pass from Panarin for his NHL-leading fifth power play goal. His six pace the team.

It’s not a coincidence that Kreider is performing well under Gallant. He prefers grit to skill. But it takes both to score the goals Kreider is getting. They night not have a captain. But that’s not the truth. Kreider is the captain. He doesn’t need a ‘C’ on his sweater to prove it. Maybe Mark Messier should find other things to do than make comments about the team not having a captain. Is he around the locker room? I love Messier. But he’s wrong here. We know who created this controversy.

All that was left was the shutout. After killing off a Barclay Goodrow minor, it was obvious that the Rangers wanted the shutout for Shesterkin. Something Joe Michelleti alluded to at the conclusion with Sam Rosen all excited about it. Even if Merzlikins had the class to tell his teammates to call it off with over 10 seconds remaining. The crowd who attended got what they wanted. There sure were a lot of chants of, “Igor, Igor, Igor!!!!!” Why not? All he’s done is play extremely well. So far, so good.

One thought regarding honoring Essential Workers. They deserve it. But not just the fully vaxxed ones. Every single one that’s sacrificed for this city deserves that honor. It’s a joke how last year’s heroes have been treated by this state. There’s only one direction to point. The biggest jerk to ever run New York City. The new governor isn’t exactly someone I’m a big fan of either. But she pales in comparison to the slime who was in charge prior. I’m glad he’s getting charged for what he did. That’s poetic considering what I just wrote about yesterday. He and the other fraud should dress up as Tinman and the Scarecrow for Halloween. That would be appropriate. Thank you to all essential workers for your true commitment and dedication.

One other comment on what the Panthers decided. Giving Andrew Brunette the interim tag is the right move. They have a good staff leftover with NHL experience. Florida won again in overtime last night. They’re 8-0. Good job by the players speaking up in support of Kyle Beach.

Side related. Does anyone else find it ironic that the Hurricanes blew the doors off the Blackhawks? They won 6-3. Chicago remains winless. Of note, Tony DeAngelo had a Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, two assists and a fight. He’s got eight points so far for Rangers South. Not bad. Derek Stepan also scored his first. Both the Hurricanes and Panthers have not lost a game yet. Both are gonna be tough.


3rd ⭐ Adam Fox, NYR (3 🍎, +1 in 24:07 including 5:09 on PP)

2nd ⭐ Igor Shesterkin, NYR (31 saves for 1st shutout of season, 3rd career)

1st ⭐ Chris Kreider, NYR (2 power play goals, leads NHL with 5 PPG, leads team with 6 goals, game high 7 SOG in 16:56 including 5:09 PP)

The next four games are in the Pacific and Northwestern Time Zone with games at Seattle Sunday, Vancouver Tuesday, Edmonton Friday 11/5 and Calgary Saturday 11/6. The Rangers return home for the Panthers on November 8.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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