Howden’s Revenge: Former Ranger keys Golden Knights comeback win, Zibanejad has best game so far, Georgiev strong in shootout loss

Revenge is a dish best served cold. That’s exactly the lesson Brett Howden taught his former team. The much forgotten fourth liner had a big game in helping the Golden Knights come back to pull out a 3-2 win over the Rangers in a shootout at MSG Friday night.

As fate would have it, it was the fourth line center who had his best game for Vegas by scoring a goal and winning a key face-off to set up the tying goal that forced overtime. In fact, Howden was named the game’s Second Star when the night ended. Well deserved.

While it wasn’t so much that they played poorly, the Rangers didn’t put the hammer down against a team playing the second game of a back-to-back. After not having their strongest first period with Howden able to get his third by beating Kevin Rooney to a rebound following a good Alex Georgiev save, the Blueshirts responded with a more inspired second period.

Using a key penalty kill of a Mika Zibanejad penalty late in the first that was sparked by some splendid work from Rooney and Barclay Goodrow, they turned it on in the second. Playing a much quicker pace by skating and attacking a tired opponent, the Rangers turned things around.

On the opening shift of the period, Zibanejad used defenseman Zach Whitecloud as a perfect screen to fire a good wrist shot past Vegas backup goalie Laurent Brossoit to tie the score just 17 seconds in. It was his third goal in five games and made it two straight with a goal. An encouraging sign for the streaky top center.

The play was made possible thanks to a smart transition up ice. After receiving a pass from Jacob Trouba, K’Andre Miller moved the puck up for Chris Kreider, who made a nice tip pass to send Zibanejad into the Vegas zone for his seventh of the season. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

As expected, the Rangers were without Artemi Panarin, who’s listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. He didn’t take the morning skate. The team’s leading scorer wasn’t the only regular out. Rookie Nils Lundkvist sat out his fourth straight game due to illness. While they continue to term it non-Covid related, I’m guessing that he has the flu. Given the crazy weather we have, what else could it be? Libor Hajek skated in his place on the third pair.

Also getting the start was Georgiev, who was outstanding after getting Wednesday’s win off at Arizona. Keith Kinkaid admirably filled in. While Igor Shesterkin did practice, it looks like the plan is to give him a few more days to recover. With the next game not until next Wednesday against Montreal at home, I wouldn’t expect to see Shesterkin until after the Christmas break. The next game following December 22 isn’t until Dec. 27 versus Detroit.

Without Panarin, Gerard Gallant reinserted Filip Chytil into the lineup. He initially started on the left wing of the third line with Goodrow in the middle and Julien Gauthier on the right side. However, with his team unable to establish much in the first period, Gallant moved Chytil to the right side of the second line with Ryan Strome and Alexis Lafreniere. Hunt dropped down to the third line. A better match.

Another interesting note is that the game had only one referee with Pierre Lambert calling the game by himself with the help of linesmen Bryan Pancich and Ryan Dansby. For whatever reason, the other assigned ref Kendrick Nicholson didn’t work. Was it Covid related? For whatever it’s worth, I thought Lambert did a good job. It isn’t easy in today’s faster game for one ref to work. While he did miss a couple of calls, he didn’t get in the way of a good game.

Early on, Georgiev had to get over to deny Howden from a tough angle. Howden centers William Carrier and Keegan Kolesar. They’re your typical grind line that the Golden Knights use. Even without Ryan Reaves, that checking line still works pretty consistently. Howden not only shined throughout, but won 7-of-10 face-offs in 12:17 of action. He was the best Golden Knight on a deep roster that features Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Chandler Stephenson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo.

On a strong shift by their fourth line, Vegas took the lead when Kolesar got the puck to Carrier, who cut in and forced Georgiev into a tough save. Howden beat Rooney to put in the rebound for his third at 6:49. Sure. It figured he’d score in his Garden return. There were some boos. But nothing overwhelming.

With Vegas continuing to control the pace early, Zibanejad hooked Evgenii Dadonov to put the Golden Knights on the power play. It was at the middle point of the first that the game began to swing. Buoyed by some aggressive penalty killing from Rooney, Goodrow, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren, the Rangers had the puck in the Vegas zone to kill off precious time. Georgiev made two stops on the power play before Zibanejad returned.

A couple of better forechecking shifts helped the Rangers turn the tide. On a gritty cycle from the combination of Goodrow, Hunt and Gauthier, a Hunt shot through traffic was deflected by Gauthier off a screened Brossoit, who still made the save. That was the best shift of the period.

After getting outshot 12-9, it was the Rangers who responded well in the second frame. With Zibanejad flying, he took a Kreider one touch pass and let go of a good shot through Whitecloud that found twine to even the score. The shot had some giddy up on it. His seventh at 17 seconds changed the momentum.

The Rangers continued to come at the Golden Knights in waves. By limiting the turnovers that plagued them in a flat first, they were able to generate sustained pressure inside the Vegas end. Able to attack more vigorously, Zibanejad drew a slashing minor on Nicolas Roy.

While on the power play, the first unit which again included Kaapo Kakko instead of Panarin was able to move the puck around the box well. After a near miss from Zibanejad for Kreider, this time he took a Strome cross-ice pass in the left circle. Without any hesitation, he swung the puck between two Vegas players’ skates for a great Kreider tip in for his 11th power play goal at 10:25. His team-leading 18th gave them the lead.

After Kreider scored, a Pietrangelo high-stick on Zibanejad during a delayed penalty handed the Rangers a second consecutive power play. Unlike the first one, they were unable to score. That would prove significant.

In a dominant second where they outshot the Golden Knights 11-4, Brossoit held his team in it. The Rangers never were able to find the knockout blow they needed. It would come back to haunt them.

In a game where Zibanejad was going with a team high seven shots and a dominant night on face-offs (15-for-19), the Blueshirts never got another goal. They defended well with a hustling Lafreniere breaking up a counterattack by making a diving play and then clear. When he got back to the bench, he was bent over. That kind of effort doesn’t go unnoticed.

On another defensive play, Hajek rushed back to stop a Vegas chance following a sloppy turnover from Patrik Nemeth. Hajek had a solid game in 13:16. He definitely didn’t hurt his cause.

When the Golden Knights got good shots on Georgiev, he was splendid. He really made some good saves throughout and deserved a victory. Unfortunately, his teammates couldn’t quite get it for him.

Hanging onto a one-goal lead in the third period, the Rangers tried to protect it. It wasn’t intentional that they played more cautiously. Something both Gallant and Zibanejad alluded to in the postgame. But it just happened. Instead of coming with the same attack they showed in the previous period, they allowed the Knights to hang around.

While neither side accomplished much of anything in the first part with shots favoring Vegas 2-1, the Golden Knights were more effective on the forecheck. Even as Georgiev made some stops, you knew this strategy was doomed.

Eventually on a key defensive draw, a rare Zibanejad loss to Howden led to the game-tying goal. After Howden won the face-off back to Nicolas Hague, Chytil gambled by going for the steal. Instead, he missed the puck which allowed Hague’s pass over to an open Dylan Coghlan to get through. Coghlan drove a shot high to the far side past Georgiev to tie the game with 5:16 remaining.

It happened that quickly. Chytil’s mistake resulted in the Coghlan tying goal with a good screen set in front. That goal definitely hurt. But in a conservative period they only got two shots on Brossoit while Vegas had 10 on Georgiev, the Rangers paid the price. You don’t let good teams hang around. They never put Vegas away.

There were a few iffy moments late. But the Rangers and Golden Knights would require overtime. The three-on-three was unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

It was electrifying. Without Panarin, Gallant went with four different sets of forward tandems. That included Kakko and Lafreniere, who both earned time. Even Chytil and Gauthier saw a late shift. Astonishingly, there were 11 combined shots in the overtime.

Each side created a number of chances to end it. The best came when Pacioretty had a breakaway on Georgiev. One-on-one with the Rangers’ backup, he tried to go five-hole. But a patient Georgiev shut it down and then denied Pacioretty on a point blank rebound to create a buzz in the crowd. He’s not usually good on breakaways. But that’s how locked in he was.

Zibanejad just missed connection with Kreider on a tip try. On another opportunity, Kakko got a step with under a minute left. But he was too predictable by going wide. That allowed him to be taken off the puck. He likes to hang onto the puck and go around the net. Similar to the style he succeeded with on the wider ice surface in Europe. I would’ve liked to seen him take the puck hard to the paint like Gauthier.

After such a breathtaking three-on-three, it went to a shootout. In it, Gallant picked his best three shooters. After Georgiev got across to deny Roy on the backhand, Brossoit got a piece of a Kakko shot with his blocker. In Round Two, Georgiev again stoned Pacioretty to more cheers. But Brossoit took away Zibanejad’s forehand by making the glove save.

It came down to the third round. In it, Marchessault made a smart move by skating in on the left. Instead of going high glove, he went stick side for the only goal. In the last attempt, Strome tried to go low on Brossoit who turned it aside to give his team the win.

Even though they lost to get only a point, both Gallant and Zibanejad had some good takeaways. They played a good game against an elite team. Of course, they should’ve won. But this is a game they can build on. I really liked how Zibanejad played. Kreider also had two points.

Now, they will get a break. With the Omicron variant being passed around like a plague, it’s probably better for the Rangers to have the time off. They played a tough stretch of games. While it wasn’t what they hoped for due to going 1-2-1, they still have a good 19-7-4 record through 30 games. That’s 42 points. Not a bad place to be.


3rd 🌟 Alex Georgiev, NYR (28 saves on 30 shots including 26 of 28 at even strength)

2nd 🌟 Brett Howden, VGK (3rd of season plus 🍎, 7-for-12 on draws, +2 in 12:17)

1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (7th of season plus 🍎, 7 SOG, 15-for-19 on draws in 21:50)

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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