Unlikely defensemen step up for Blueshirts, Gallant in protocol, Panarin back, dilemma for NHL continues due to Canada

On Saturday night, the Rangers defeated the Ducks 4-1 at The Pond. It might not be called that anymore. But that’s way better than whatever cockamamie corporate sponsor their arena is named after. To say I hate that crap would be an understatement.

This was a no frills game. Compared to the dismal loss at Vegas where they barely competed, the Blueshirts showed some mettle to break down the highly skilled Ducks, who boast American duo Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry. Both are outstanding. However, they found it difficult to find time and space.

Credit our team for that. Even while using fillers for the lineup due to the annoying protocol that shall never end, they gave a good account of themselves. Let’s give key character players Morgan Barron, Tim Gettinger, Jonny Brodzinski and Jarred Tinordi their due. They all played key roles in the victory at Anaheim.

Barron recorded his first NHL point with an assist while winning seven of eight face-offs in a shade over 10 minutes. Gettinger set a perfect screen on Ryan Lindgren’s key insurance marker as the power play expired in a dominant third period. Brodzinski filled in on the fourth line with Barron and Gettinger with Ryan Reaves and Julien Gauthier out due to the protocol. Tinordi scored his first goal as a Blueshirt. It proved to be the game-winner for the veteran defenseman. A nice moment.

To think that they only allowed Alex Georgiev to face 14 shots thanks to a lights out third that saw them forecheck and turn the Ducks’ zone into a shooting gallery. Anaheim backup Anthony Stolarz played well. But his team didn’t. They were completely overwhelmed.

Aside from a mistake by Nils Lundkvist when his pass down low was intercepted by Cam Fowler, who then led the Anaheim transition for an Isac Lundestrom goal, the Rangers didn’t make a ton of mistakes. There were a few turnovers, but they cleaned it up in the third. By playing mistake free hockey, they controlled the final 20 minutes. It was a breath of fresh air from what we saw in Vegas.

Was this win worth getting carried away over? No. The Ducks played like poo. They also were missing a few key players including top defenseman Hampus Lindholm, veteran captain Ryan Getzlaf and starting goalie John Gibson. It still didn’t fully explain getting outshot 20-3 in the third and 28-7 the last two periods. For the game, the Rangers held a 40 to 14 edge in shots, making it the first time since January 2006 that they registered at least 40 shots and held an opponent to 14 or less. That came versus the Penguins.

What was noticeable is that even though they fell behind on the Lundestrom goal, they had the better of the play. Georgiev made a couple of key stops, but wasn’t asked to do anything special.

A key forecheck from the top line allowed them to tie it up when Kaapo Kakko got to a Jacob Trouba shot and made a nice play around the net to set up Mika Zibanejad for his 12th with six minutes left in the second. Although he’s still not finishing or shooting enough, Kakko is a solid overall player who can make plays with the puck. I’m not sure what kind of goalscorer he’ll be. But he certainly works hard enough. He’ll turn 21 soon.

If there was a surprise, it was who scored the three goals in the third period. On a strong shift from Alexis Lafreniere where he forced Stolarz into a good save and kept the puck alive for the third line, Kevin Rooney moved the puck down for Fil Chytil. He hadn’t been noticeable at all prior. But this time, he made a smart pass up for an innocent looking Tinordi shot that took a favorable Ranger carom off a Duck allowing the puck to go in.

On the play, Chytil was in the vicinity. It allowed him to record his first point in nine games. Unlike previous games this season, Gerard Gallant opted to move Chytil to the wing on an all center third line that featured Rooney and the hard-working Greg McKegg. Maybe that’s where he belongs. I’ve suggested it prior.

Even more stattling was the offense from Lindgren. As a power play was set to expire, Turk wisely stuck his top pair out for the end. Adam Fox had had a much better game than the crap fest in Vegas. He was involved throughout making smart plays with the puck to set up chances. On a Barron win in the Anaheim zone, Fox got the puck over to his partner. Lindgren just waited and fired a simple wrist shot that went in thanks to a great screen from Gettinger for a two-goal lead.

Even after some undisciplined penalties from both teams including Lindgren, his teammates including Tinordi picked him up. Out came Lindgren from the box which allowed Barclay Goodrow to lead him in for an empty netter. It was his first career two-goal game. He was all smiles as were his happy teammates.

It’s always good to see a gritty, defensive defenseman get rewarded. Lindy as they call him, is a gamer. He seems to always be getting banged around or taking pucks to the face. Funny enough. The way he plays reminds me of Dan Girardi. The former gritty defenseman who always took his lumps and kept coming back for more. He wore number 5. Maybe there’s a parallel. Lindgren wears number 55.

If you like simple yet effective hockey where defense is played along with forechecking, then the Blueshirts supplied us with it. They didn’t need to put on a show like the younger Ducks. Zegras even tried another Michigan from behind the net. But his pass was too high for Sam Steel in front. He is an exciting player with a bright future. Saturday wasn’t the time for that kind of trick. He rebounded nicely with a goal, assist and shootout tally in a win over Detroit.

As they turn their attention to the Kings in LA, the Rangers know they’ll be without Gallant. He’s now in protocol. However, Artemi Panarin was cleared to return. He took practice with Ryan Strome and Goodrow. Lafreniere was on the third line with Rooney and Chytil. I liked what I saw from Lafreniere. He was very active. Getting shots is still a chore. But his confidence is growing.

Having Panarin back for the upcoming game at Staples Center presents an interesting dilemma for Kris Knoblauch. He’ll coach for Gallant. Similar to when he filled in for David Quinn. What to do with Panarin on the first power play. He shouldn’t be in the left circle over Zibanejad. That would be a mistake. Do they consider keeping Kakko up over Strome? Probably not.

Aside from the gruesome final two periods in the 5-1 blowout loss against the Golden Knights, they played well without Panarin. However, he’s the leading scorer and should provide a boost. The offense isn’t great. Would they ever consider a reunion with exiled prospect Vitaly Kravtsov? That remains to be seen. They don’t have to answer that for a while.

There is enough cap space for GM Chris Drury to make an upgrade. What that is remains to be seen. It’ll depend on supply and demand. Given how mediocre the West is, I don’t know what to expect. So, don’t get your hopes up for Tomas Hertl. Wouldn’t Corey Perry look good on this roster in retrospect? He sure has made a difference in Tampa.

With the unpredictable nature of Omicron, nobody knows what to expect. Especially from a league that continues to bend over backwards for its seven Canadian teams. Canceling games due to attendance doesn’t seem right. Postponing due to rosters being adversely affected is understandable. The Devils are not playing their next game versus the Lightning.

How the NHL plans to make up all these games I have no idea. May is looking more and more likely if they are all in for a full 82. How do you think the Islanders feel? They’re still waiting. It’s insane. Canada is making the rules and it’s hurting American teams due to the border.

There doesn’t seem to be a solution. The league deserves criticism for not preparing for this scenario. It was never going away. It might not. Not with different variants likely. How will they deal with it?

If you haven’t seen the 30 Days of 30, watch. So far, MSG has done a great job airing old games of Henrik Lundqvist. It really brings me back. I have enjoyed watching. It was a different game. Seeing those teams go up against the powerhouse Penguins and classic blood rival Devils is great. Those were fun times.

Even though we didn’t come out on top in 2012, I miss the old playoff format. We’ll likely never see another Rangers/Devils in an Eastern Conference Final. Is that good for the league? I doubt it. They’re preventing some potential heavyweight match-ups with the divisional format. Shouldn’t we get the best in the Conference Finals? I think so.

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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