One positive characteristic about Gerard Gallant is he tells it like it is. Following a the latest win, the coach was honest in his assessment of the Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the stumbling Flyers last night.
They played great up until Dryden Hunt was called for a charging major and game misconduct early in the second period. By that point, Chris Kreider had made the score 3-0 when he converted his team-leading 16th goal of the season thanks to some great passing from Kaapo Kakko and Mika Zibanejad at 34 seconds into the second.
Over a minute later, Hunt who scored his third goal in a dominant first period, closed fast on a prone Justin Braun to send him into the boards and down. He was cut on the play. I thought it was going to be a boarding major. Instead, they ruled it a five-minute major for charging and ejected Hunt.
What I didn’t notice was that Hunt didn’t leave his feet. That’s why Gallant disagreed with the call. He took up for his player and explained it well after the game. Hunt plays a hard-nosed gritty style. It’s nice to see him get rewarded offensively. His goal in the first came off a good Artemi Panarin pass. Hunt made a strong move and beat Carter Hart for a 2-0 lead.
Even if Gallant had a point on the major penalty the Rangers killed off, he was correct in his assessment about the game. To their credit, the Flyers got seven shots on Igor Shesterkin during the five-minute power play. They did everything but score due to Shesterkin, who was the Rangers’ best penalty killer.
Chants of “Igor, Igor!”, filled the home arena for the number one goalie. The heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist continues to grow in stature at MSG. Even though he doesn’t speak much English, the 25-year old Russian has a dry wit. During the postgame, when asked about the chants, he said it gives him strength, but he has to keep from crying at the love to chuckles.
His best saves came during a sequence when the Flyers applied pressure in the later stages of the big power play. On a point-blank chance, Shesterkin got just enough of a shot with a stick to push it off the crossbar. Playing with Jacob Trouba’s stick, he then denied two more bids with tremendous blocker saves to cheers.
That kind of clutch goaltending illustrates why people are talking about Shesterkin around the NHL. In 17 games, he’s 12-3-2 with a 2.15 goals-against-average (GAA) and .935 save percentage. Those numbers aren’t even the best at the quarter mark. But when you look at what he’s doing while getting little to no help from Alex Georgiev (more on him later), you could make a case that Shesterkin is at the top of the list for the Vezina. If Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid weren’t in another category along with the ageless Alex Ovechkin, Shesterkin could be a dark horse MVP candidate.
Even in a period where the Flyers controlled the play due to the momentum they got off the extended power play, they never could break the concentration of Shesterkin. He stopped 15 of 16 shots in the second to keep the Blueshirts ahead by two. The only Flyers player to bear him was Morgan Frost, who converted in front after beating Alexis Lafreniere to the net.
Despite not being able to seize back control, the Rangers had a workman like mentality in a no frills third that eventually saw them skate without two forwards due to Barclay Goodrow taking a puck to the face. Luckily, Gallant provided an update by indicating he was okay. Playing with only 10 forwards, he mixed and matched to replace Hunt on the second line. Kevin Rooney and Lafreniere were used after Goodrow left the game.
In a game where Adam Fox wasn’t too good for a rare change, it didn’t matter. A Frost hi-sticking minor put the Rangers on an early man-advantage. After the first unit did nothing, out came the second unit. In a welcome change, they combined for their first power play goal to open the scoring.
Nils Lundkvist combined with Kakko to set up Jacob Trouba for a good one-timer from the point that beat Hart at 3:41. It was the third goal in four games for Trouba, who was the best defenseman last night. Interestingly, he already is up to four goals and nine points in 21 games. Last season, he had 12 points (2-10-12) over 38 contests. Gallant has been pleased with Trouba, who said the second unit didn’t press before finally getting one on the power play.
With the Flyers giving up plenty of room, that allowed Fox to move up the puck for Panarin, who gained the zone. He then found an open Hunt, who cut to the net and beat Hart short side for a two-goal lead at 9:32.
It easily could’ve been more. But a bad miss took a goal off the board. On what was a good play with Fox involved, the whistle blew before the Rangers scored. It was ruled an offside. However, none of the players believed it. The replay on MSG clearly showed that the play was onside. Unfortunately, you can’t challenge such a call. So, it remained 2-0. How the two linesmen and two refs missed it I don’t know.
In the same period that saw them outshoot the Flyers 15-11, Panarin hit the goalpost. Hart also made a big save to keep it within range. He was really left by himself due to the pitiful Flyers defense. Let’s just say it looked familiar. Alain Vigneault coaches them. They are down a lot of players, but have enough to play better like they did following the Hunt major. It was their seventh consecutive loss.
To start the second, the Blueshirts turned to some fancy passing that would’ve made the Harlem Globetrotters proud. After just missing on a scoring chance, Kakko took q cross-ice feed from Mika Zibanejad before centering for a quick Kreider diving snapshot that went inside the post to make it 3-0 at 34 seconds. How that happened so quickly in a new period was inexplicable. Terrific finish by the sizzling Kreider, who remains third in goal scoring trailing only Draisaitl and Ovechkin.
Although they didn’t convert on the five-minute power play, the Flyers played much better down three. They finally got on the board a few minutes afterwards. On a good passing play, Claude Giroux and Cam Atkinson combined to set up Frost in front for his first of the season. On the play, Trouba was occupied with a Flyer while Frost beat Lafreniere for the goal. That cut it to 3-1 with 10:23 remaining in the second.
They had other chances. But Shesterkin was there to keep them from making it more interesting. He was the Rangers’ best player in the lopsided period that saw them only register five shots on Hart. He finished with 33 saves to earn the game’s First Star. Thirteen came with the team shorthanded.
Although the third wasn’t a Picasso, the Rangers did what they needed to. As Trouba put it in the postgame, they turned it into a boring period. Sometimes, when your down a couple of skaters, that formula works best. Don’t forget the five-day layoff in between games. Something he referenced. Trouba said it was strange not playing. They have had two games postponed due to COVID hitting the Senators and Islanders. Both will be made up.
Aside from killing the remainder of a K’Andre Miller cross-checking minor to start the third, the Rangers also had to kill off two minutes for a rare Fox delay of game penalty in the final five minutes. Special teams was again a difference. They went 1-for-2 on the power play while the Flyers were 0-for-3.
One thing Gallant was pleased with was how his team defended. He liked how they took away time and space from the Flyers down the stretch. They effectively neutralized the Flyers. Shots finished 8-7 Rangers in a more defensive minded period.
On some sheer hustle with under a minute to play, Panarin took away the puck and scored his sixth unassisted into a vacated Flyers net. It was one of those shifts where Panarin put the extra effort in. Although he had two points which was nice, something is missing.
He hasn’t been the same player since Russia Gate. He also avoids contact more. Is that PTSD from the Tom Wilson incident? No clue. But when the game’s intensify next year, they need Panarin to be more physically engaged. He still leads the team with 23 points (6-17-23). It’s not as dominant.
In a game highlighted by Kakko picking up two more points (helpers) to continue his good stretch, there was something else I didn’t notice. Following the win, teammates congratulated Shesterkin. That usually means plenty of hugs. Except for one.
I’m not one to try to read too much into anything. But the look on Georgiev during the postgame celebration isn’t one of joy. Neither was his quick hand slap with Shesterkin. Normally, goalies are very close.
We’ve seen this over the years. Mike Richter had a good relationship with Glenn Healy. Henrik Lundqvist always was extremely close with his backups which included current Wild starter Cam Talbot and Carolina backup Antti Raanta. He treated Georgiev well and then handled himself with grace when Shesterkin took the mantle with Georgiev backing up mostly.
You’d think Georgiev would be a bit classier. This isn’t a good look for him. Neither was the stuff that came out last season with Tony DeAngelo. Former GM Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson went out of their way to take his side after the skirmish with DeAngelo. Maybe he was right all along. Despite how badly it ended, he remained a popular player with former teammates.
I’m not sure that’s the case for Georgiev, who’s been awful. He hasn’t been the same player since then. His play is very unsteady. It’s why Gallant has given Shesterkin the bulk of the starts so far. At the current pace, he’s going to be around 65 to 70 games.
Is it manageable? He’s never played over 39 in a season dating back to the KHL. Last season, Shesterkin played 35 games. As long as he can remain healthy, there shouldn’t be an issue. However, we don’t know how he’ll do playing nearly double the amount of games. He looks good.
There definitely is an issue with Georgiev, who made a trade request last off-season. Chris Drury shopped him with no success. He wants out. His body language isn’t great. His confidence isn’t high. Neither is his value.
I feel the Rangers need to cut ties with him. Keith Kinkaid has played well in Hartford. He’s a good team guy who doesn’t think he should be the starter. I’d rather have a player who wants to be here. If Georgiev is so good, then trade him to the Sabres. They’re starved for goaltending. I don’t care if it’s a sixth round pick. It’s time.
Finally, a quick plug. Sean McCaffrey has a great Rangers blog that is always entertaining. He recently attended the first game at UBS Arena won by the Rangers. He gave a full review and then had a Report Card on our team. While we don’t always see eye to eye on everything, it’s worth a look.
Also of note, Stan Fischler was in attendance at the game last night. The Hockey Maven has covered the sport for eight decades. A legendary writer whose books are excellent, Fischler is finally being recognized for his work. He will enter the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame with Paul Holmgren and Peter McNab this month.
It’s a well deserved honor for Stan. I interned for him at the beginning of the 21st century. That was a life changing experience. It was always a pleasure to be part of The Fischler Report which astonishingly enough is still published. He lives with his grandkids in Israel. What I admire about him is his enthusiasm and passion. He truly loves what he does.
At 89 years young, Fischler is a remarkable person. I wouldn’t have gotten to work for MSG working the Devils production truck where I met great people including the legendary Doc Emrick along with the classy Chico Resch. I wouldn’t have ever stepped foot at ESPN twice to work as a Remote Production NHL researcher. That was a great experience.
This is a man who’s done so much for so many. If there were more quality people like Stan, the world would be a better place. He had a good sense of humor. Those production meetings were fun. He would start with a joke that kept things light. I’m glad the Rangers recognized him last night. Congrats to Stan!
Normally, I do a three stars here. I’m going to leave that for another game. I picked Shesterkin First Star followed by Kakko and Panarin. Trouba was named a star by the media. Good for him.
The Sharks have been a pleasant surprise so far. They still have Logan Couture, who remains one of my favorite players. Timo Meier is off to a good start. Brent Burns still patrols the blue line, but isn’t as productive. Neither is Erik Karlsson although he scored his fourth goal in a recent win over the Devils.
Keep an eye on Staten Island native Kevin Labanc on the power play. James Reimer has assumed the starter duties and played well. They visit the Islanders tonight before facing the Rangers Friday. A back-to-back. Following that one, the Rangers host the Blackhawks Saturday night. Start time is 8 PM. Interesting. They’ll then visit Chicago on Tuesday before hosting Colorado on my birthday.
That’s all for now. A bit late with this game story. But I was tired last night after watching the final episode of The Sinner. What a great show. If you never watched it on USA Network, I highly recommend it. Bill Pullman was terrific as Harry Ambrose over the four seasons. It’s got a lot of mystery, intrigue and suspense. If you have On Demand, you can re-watch the final season in entirety.
Until next time, this is Derek Felix signing off. Peace.