A few nights removed from losing to the Canucks in overtime to end their road dominance, the Blueshirts suffered a worse defeat in extras at the explosive Oilers. On a night Edmonton finally retired Kevin Lowe’s number 4, the Oilers came all the way back twice to burn the Rangers 6-5 in an electrifying and at times absurd game before a packed house at Rogers Place.
Three days after a tough 3-2 loss at Vancouver, the Rangers couldn’t handle prosperity against the dangerous Oilers on the fast ice in Edmonton. In a game reminiscent of the Oilers Dynasty days of Gretzky, Messier and Coffey when Lowe played and went onto win six Stanley Cups including the final one while teamed up with Messier in NYC, this was a wide open race track that favored superstar tandem Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Both had a goal and two assists with each making the difference late in regulation and overtime to steal a win away from the Blueshirts.
This was no way to treat backup goalie Alex Georgiev, who made his first start since Oct. 23 at Ottawa. A game he won following a forgettable season opening loss at Washington. This was only his third start. However, look who he faced. It’s no wonder he struggled.
The Rangers were in the game and basically had it until some undisciplined penalties to key centers Ryan Strome and Mika Zibanejad allowed Edmonton to regain momentum. The only two minors the veterans took proved costly. With a rusty Georgiev not having enough reps in net, he couldn’t shut the door on the league’s best offense. Edmonton’s top ranked power play went 2-for-2 against the normally strong Rangers’ penalty kill.
Despite putting five goals past the shaky Mikko Koskinen, the Rangers made far too many mistakes in their second consecutive loss. But at least they got a point. I’m kidding here. You know how I feel towards the National League Of Parity. This was a brutal loss any way you slice it.
The Rangers blew leads of 4-1 and 5-4 with the latter coming late when McDavid undressed four Blueshirts including Jacob Trouba and Patrik Nemeth, who really was turned into a traffic cone by the game’s best player. The highlight reel goal McDavid scored was unbelievable. After they hit the goalpost, the Oilers recovered the puck in the neutral zone. Then Draisaitl and Tyson Barrie sent McDavid on his way and he scored a goal of the year candidate by blowing past everyone before tucking a backhand past a down Georgiev with 2:59 left in regulation. Astonishing is one way to describe him. I’ve seen almost everyone. McDavid is the best offensive player I’ve watched. That said, the stick checking was abominable.
Defense optional. That’s one way to describe the third period. Prior to getting outscored 3-1 in a listless third where they were outshot 15-4, the Rangers were in good shape. After Filip Chytil and Zach Hyman each scored in a seesaw first, three consecutive goals from Kevin Rooney, Chris Kreider and Zibanejad (power play) had them completely in control. But given another man-advantage, the first unit couldn’t take advantage.
Coach Gerard Gallant might have made a mistake overusing the top unit with a back-to-back in Calgary Saturday night. He wouldn’t use the second power play. The refusal along with the questionable lineup decision to play Alexis Lafreniere on the fourth line are mind numbing. So is his stubbornness continuing to use Kaapo Kakko on the second line with Strome and Artemi Panarin. The third-year forward has no chemistry with them. He’s barely noticeable. With no points and only nine shots in seven games, it’s getting late early for the ’19 second pick. At some point he has to produce. He has played 121 games and has 19 goals and 40 points. After the preseason, that’s hard to fathom. So is demoting the 2020 first pick in Lafreniere without any specific reason.
With Gallant prioritizing winning over the important development of the kids, some of his decisions have been puzzling. You can justify it by pointing to the 6-2-3 record which is still pretty good. Especially when you consider how lackluster Panarin has been at even strength. Once a dominant player at five-on-five, he’s been lost. Even the return of his center Strome hasn’t helped. Through 11 games, Panarin has no goals and three assists at five-on-five. His lone even strength goal came in three-on-three overtime off a Zibanejad face-off win. This can’t continue.
Neither can the over reliance on Adam Fox to put up almost every point from the back end. He’s not a machine. At least Nils Lundkvist was finally back in after sitting out for seventh defenseman Jarred Tinordi. Lundkvist was good in his return. He assisted on Chytil’s second goal that opened the scoring at 1:53. He also was on for another goal and even got a regular shift with six minutes left before Gallant again sat the rookie in favor of Trouba and Nemeth. A suggestion I made due to the struggles Trouba and K’Andre Miller are having. It didn’t go as planned. Not when you stick check the game’s most lethal offensive player.
Of the pair from Hell, Miller had a nightmarish game. His inability to pick up Hyman on a rebound off a a clean Zibanejad face-off loss allowed Edmonton to draw even with 1:49 left in an otherwise good road period. It was his turnover at Vancouver that allowed J.T. Miller to come all the way down and score the overtime winner on a play where Panarin coasted back. Barclay Goodrow also went the wrong way which allowed Miller to score on a wraparound past Igor Shesterkin. It’s those kind of head scratching plays that are concerning.
A big positive was the play from Chytil. Having entered with only one goal on the season, he had by far his best game. Aside from sniping in the first period, he made a perfect pass for a Rooney goal that made it 2-1 at 2:52. It was the third for the underappreciated Rooney, who looks more and more like a steal. Hard to believe the Devils let him go. But Mike McLeod has replaced him. A similar checking center. Rooney was bumped up to the Chytil line with the complementary Sammy Blais (assist). They were probably the most effective line at five-on-five.
The only issue is with Gallant opting to play Lafreniere with Greg McKegg and Dryden Hunt. He claimed it wasn’t a punishment a day before the game. What the heck is it then? Is Lafreniere a finished product? No. He knows it and is accountable. However, it’s not the right way to handle a young player who went first overall with considerable hype a year ago. I didn’t see Lafreniere sulk during his shifts. While he was on for a goal against due to a failed Hunt clearing attempt, Lafreniere worked hard. Just not good enough to play 10 minutes. He had one good defensive shift when they got caught on and one effective offensive shift. More than you can say for Kakko, who at this point looks lost. I’d move him off the second line.
With a one-goal lead, a Goodrow outlet for Fox allowed him to find Kreider, who gained the Edmonton zone and beat Koskinen from the right circle for his team-leading eighth at 4:11. Not long afterwards, the Rangers went to work on the power play. Able to control the puck possession for the entirety, eventually Panarin worked the puck over to Strome, who made a nice pass for Zibanejad who deflected the puck legally with his skate for a 4-1 lead at 6:56.
A frustration Draisaitl interference minor on Blais could’ve been the kill shot. Instead, the Rangers first unit bungled the golden opportunity to put the Oilers away. One thing about Edmonton. If you don’t finish them off, they’ll come back with as many lives as Jason and Michael Myers combined. There was still half of regulation left. Not only were they sloppy on that power play, but gave up a couple of dangerous Edmonton shorthanded chances. That penalty kill got the home crowd back into it.
Sure enough, Strome hooked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. On the first Oilers power play, it looked like the Rangers would get the job done on the kill. However, a quick transition from the Edmonton top unit saw Nugent-Hopkins and Darnell Nurse get the puck up to a fast moving Jesse Puljujarvi. An improved player on this year’s Oilers, he gained the Ranger zone and fired a wrist shot past Georgiev short side high glove to cut the deficit to two with 5:19 remaining in the second.
That was the turning point. After the power play goal, the Oilers finished strong. They threatened for more. But the Rangers still took a two-goal lead to the locker room. They were still in control. All they had to do was have a good third and the game was theirs. They entered having outscored opponents 13-9 in third periods. It didn’t matter.
Once Zibanejad took a brutal tripping minor by taking down McDavid inside the Edmonton blue line, that spelled doom. It took only 36 seconds for the Oilers to cash in on another unnecessary penalty. With the dynamic duo of Draisaitl and McDavid dangerous, they finally got the puck up to Barrie at the point. From way out, he let go of a shot that snuck past Georgiev, who was slightly off his angle. While there was a player in front, it was one he could’ve had. Maybe if he’d played more, he would have.
The Oilers knew it was just a matter of time before they tied it up. With Georgiev leaking rebounds in front of a team that decided to back up, eventually that strategy got burned. It was Evan Bouchard and Duncan Keith who applied the pressure. On a long Keith shot that was unscreened, Georgiev was unable to control the juicy rebound. It went right to Puljujarvi, who put it home before Trouba could close him out to tie the score at 3:35. It happened that fast. Trouba was too slow to check Puljujarvi, who was in perfect position. He definitely needs to be split up from Miller, who might need a game off. I haven’t seen any improvement.
By that point, it was obvious what kind of game it was. A track meet. Exactly what nobody wanted to see from a Rangers’ perspective. Interestingly, the Blueshirts knew they could beat the spotty Koskinen. On a better defensive play from Trouba up the boards, the puck came to Kreider, who sent Zibanejad into the Edmonton zone. He simply stepped into a wrist shot from the right circle that Koskinen couldn’t stop for his fourth at 7:18. That allowed the Rangers to reclaim the lead with 12:42 left.
Aside from the Zibanejad minor penalty, the third was played at five-on-five. That included the final frantic five minutes. Trying to protect a one-goal lead, Gallant cut down his defense rotation to Fox and Ryan Lindgren along with Trouba and Nemeth. On what can best be described as a brilliant play from McDavid, or untouched by human hand (old high school reference), he got the puck and skated through four Rangers and then made Georgiev look bad to tie the game at 17:01. It truly was an awful display. Not just from Trouba and Nemeth. But the forwards which included Rooney, Zibanejad and Hunt, who is like the coach’s pet.
I wasn’t too confident it would even reach three-on-three overtime. The way the Oilers attacked a very conservative Rangers, who kept backing in, they nearly didn’t get a point. You had Warren Foegle fire a shot that grazed the outside of the net. Prior to McDavid tying it, Georgiev had to stone Nurse, who was allowed to cruise in. Where is the defensive system under Gallant? I know he wants to forecheck hard. But it’s getting ridiculous. The goalies have to fend for themselves. If Shesterkin wasn’t elite, they’d have three fewer wins. Smoke and mirrors.
Right now, it’s starting to feel like Igor Shesterkin is starring as Henrik Lundqvist and Adam Fox as Brian Leetch. They have to carry the load for this team to be successful. That’s not a winning formula. Not over a full 82 game schedule. Unless some of the players I called out start pulling their weight, it isn’t sustainable.
The overtime was very exciting. Of course it was. Prior to the start, I took Draisaitl to win it. He was due. My other issue with Gallant is using Trouba after Fox during three-on-three. Come on. If you can’t stick Lundkvist out in that, when the hell is he going to get extended time. He’s better than Miller, who looks like he’s being force fed by an arrogant organization full of PR spoken through Joe Michelleti and pompous talking head Larry Brooks. They make so many excuses. Veteran John Giannone wasn’t even allowed to ask Miller what happened on the Hyman goal during the first intermission. It’s sickening.
I’m at a crossroads with how the organization is run. Seeing Vitali Kravtsov put up three points including a highlight reel goal Kakko can only dream of scoring, didn’t exactly thrill me. Sure. It’s nice that Kravtsov can not look out of place in his KHL return at HC Traktor. What is he doing there? And why is Gallant putting Goodrow out in OT? It’s mind boggling. Lafreniere got to play three-on-three under David Quinn. Uh oh. Maybe he wasn’t the problem. Maybe it goes much deeper.
I actually felt bad for Georgiev on the Draisaitl winner. Zibanejad was in the wrong spot which led to a turnover. Nurse got the puck over to a wide open Draisaitl for the overtime winner with 1:33 left. As great as McDavid is, I think the world of Draisaitl. He’s an equally amazing player. If you let it get to extras, you get what you deserve. The Rangers did.
THREE STARS✨ OF GAME
3rd ⭐ Filip Chytil, NYR (goal plus 🍎, +2 rating)
2nd ⭐ Tyson Barrie, EDM (PPG plus 2 🍎)
1st ⭐ McDavid/Draisaitl, EDM (2 goals, 4 assists including game-tying and game-winner in overtime)