All-Star Kreider leads the way as Shesterkin eats Sharks up for shutout in return, Braden Schneider scores in NHL debut

Following a brutal loss to the Kings on Monday night in Hollywood, the Rangers bounced back by besting the Sharks in an entertaining 3-0 win in San Jose. The victory allowed them to split the Western part of the five-game road trip.

Better than that, Chris Kreider backed up his second All-Star selection by leading the Blueshirts with a pair of goals to the key victory at the Shark Tank. Not only did he net his team-leading 22nd and 23rd goals. But he also scored his first career shorthanded goal which proved to be the game-winner. Even more, the leader of the club also sealed it with an empty netter for the 200th goal of his career. All scored as a New York Ranger!

After a disappointing 3-1 loss in LA where they were severely outplayed by the Kings, it was Kreider who made some strong points about not playing with enough consistency. A mistake prone game resulted in them hanging a loss on Alex Georgiev, who wasn’t to blame. It was uncompetitive like the Vegas debacle.

The 30-year old veteran led by example in the character win over a good Sharks team who similar to the game at MSG, competed hard. However, they couldn’t score on Igor Shesterkin, who like his performance in the home match was perfect in stopping all 37 shots for his fifth career shutout (3rd of season). Not a bad way to return following the annoying protocol that now has Alexis Lafreniere out of action along with coach Gerard Gallant.

Even if it’s understandable why the league is taking the conservative approach to players who are positive, the cases are asymptomatic and several are starting to speak up about the strict rules that keep them out for a minimum of three games. Both Ivan Provorov and Claude Giroux, who both recently returned for the Flyers, vented their frustration over minor issues with the advanced flu. That’s basically what Omicron is. Especially if you’re vaccinated as almost every player is. Whether they decide to adjust the rules, I don’t know. I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

In a league that has bent over backwards to cancel home games for the seven Canadian markets due to a border and attendance issue that impacts revenue, we will continue to see more cancellations. How they plan to complete an 82-game full schedule remains to be seen. It is what it is.

It’s as sickening as the false propaganda with these Vaccinate NYC commercials. Who are they kidding? At least that’s not half as annoying as JB Smoove and those God awful Caesar’s Sports Book ads. More like Sports Crook! They can take those despicable gambling ads and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Promoting degenerate crap is more harmful than helpful. Lying to an easily influenced younger generation when prop betting is as bad as it gets. Rant over.

As for the game which also prominently featured the NHL debut of Braden Schneider, it was an entertaining brand of hockey. If you love the combination of skating, rushes, goaltending filled with edge and scrums, this was a very fun game to watch. It had a bit of everything including a scrap when things picked up during the second period.

Unlike the game Shesterkin and Georgiev combined on for a shared shutout on Dec. 3, this time the Rangers’ starting goalie went all the way. He was tested throughout by the attacking style of the Sharks. It marked his first game since Jan. 2 when he shutout the Lightning with 38 saves. He missed the last four due to Health and Safety Protocols. Georgiev did a good enough job in the two wins while not getting much help in the two defeats.

What was so impressive is how calm Shesterkin looked. He had an 11 day layoff, but you wouldn’t know it by how well he played. The Sharks got three good scoring chances early on. Shesterkin denied two straight and then got enough of a Tomas Hertl opportunity to push his shot wide. Hertl was able to get that due to Fil Chytil getting knocked off the puck in the San Jose zone. That lead to Ryan Strome taking the game’s first penalty.

As dangerous as they can be with a power play that features Timo Meier, Logan Couture, Hertl, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, San Jose can also turn the puck over. Entering play, they had given up five shorthanded goals. The Rangers made it six. On a subtle defensive play from Adam Fox, he forced a turnover that sprung Mika Zibanejad and Kreider. Zibanejad passed for Kreider, who buried the first shorthanded goal of his career 11 seconds into the penalty kill. It was a huge lift.

In his first full year killing penalties, Kreider has shown good defensive instincts. He’s made smart reads and gotten chances due to his game-breaking speed. It felt like he would get one eventually. That he finally did was further confirmation of the standout player he’s been in this breakout season. Without the 23 goals with over half on the power play, where would this team be?

The chemistry Kreider and Zibanejad have is uncanny. They have such a comfort level. They nearly had another goal shortly after. If only Kreider had been a bit more selfish. He was in, but tried the pass across for Zibanejad that was intercepted. Shoot the puck! Especially with all the success he’s having. It’s a great development that Zibanejad is finally scoring. They need him to.

Although they were outshot 10-6, the Blueshirts held a one-goal lead after the first period. Shesterkin continued to stifle the Sharks. He was especially good at keeping his composure. Some of the stops he made weren’t as easy as they looked. That’s the sure sign of a great goalie. Imagine if he didn’t miss time. He could challenge Andrei Vasilevskiy in wins. There are many good netminders. For this season, the top three in my opinion are Vasilevskiy, Juuse Saros and Shesterkin. I could care less that Shesty isn’t an All-Star. It’s better off. Tristan Jarry (Pens) and Freddie Andersen (Canes) were selected.

Up by one, the Rangers got physical with the edgy Sharks. It was during the opening 20 minutes that Chytil got blasted by defenseman Mario Ferraro. He has the look of a tough skating hard-hitting defenseman who is a throwback. Even though a number of newer Blueshirts caught my eye, I thought Ferraro was the best San Jose defenseman in this game. He hits hard and blocks shots. Ferraro also pinched in for a chance that was denied by Shesterkin.

If there was one thing that really irked me along with other Ranger fans, it was the dirty hit from behind by Adam Raska on a defenseless K’Andre Miller into the back boards. I was disgusted that he only received two minutes for boarding. How ridiculous. Miller’s teammates including partner Jacob Trouba had his back during a scrum. This cannot be a two-minute minor penalty!

Do you think one reporter had the guts to ask Kris Knoblauch about that call? Kelly Sutherland is a good referee. He correctly called no goal on a tricky redirection that Shesterkin gobbled up without the puck going in. A play they later reviewed. My issue is with how the league interprets boarding. Why isn’t what Raska did a five-minute major? It should be reviewed by NHL Player Safety. Will it be? Unlikely because after Miller returned from concussion protocol, that meant he was okay. He’s lucky he can absorb such a reckless hit.

The battle level intensified. On another shift where they really went at each other, Meier didn’t take kindly to a Trouba hit. They josted and then Meier swung and missed. Both got minor penalties. Although I didn’t mind the officials letting them play, I felt Meier initiated it with his punch that caught air. There was no loss of man power.

In a very active period that saw both Shesterkin and Adin Hill come up with key saves, the Sharks went after Trouba. It was obvious they targeted him. Given his reputation for delivering clean hits, fine. But on a night where former first round pick Schneider debuted by playing like a seasoned veteran instead of a 20-year old rookie alongside Patrik Nemeth, Sharks tough guy Jeffrey Viel challenged Trouba to a fight. After taking his lumps, Trouba fought back before it was broken up with 6:36 left. Advantage Sharks.

Any time you take a dependable player like Trouba off the ice for five minutes, it’s a win. Rather than give Schneider a look with Miller, Knoblauch and assistant coach Gord Murphy kept him and Nemeth intact on the third pair. They probably didn’t want to put too much pressure on the kid. Certainly understandable.

Instead, they double shifted Ryan Lindgren with Miller. He also continued to take shifts with Fox. They worked Nemeth in when they could. But he mostly stayed with Schneider, whose steady presence made them an effective tandem. At no point did Schneider panic with the puck. He is polished. The Canadian kid makes smart subtle reads in the corners and doesn’t make any glaring mistakes like we’ve seen out of Libor Hajek and Zac Jones. I feel like Nils Lundkvist got a raw deal. But if they’re not going to play him, then it’s better he gets consistent ice time in Hartford.

Somewhat curiously, Trouba didn’t take a shift after returning to the bench. There were only two-plus minutes left in the period. Thanks to the stellar play of the goalies, the game remained 1-0 Rangers after the second. A one-goal game with a period left was a good place to be. But given that the Sharks can score at any moment, it was guarded.

Without Lafreniere, Chytil was again featured on the right wing. He played in a top six role on the second line with Strome and Artemi Panarin. Panarin had a rough game in LA. His line was caught on for two goals at five-on-five and were victimized on an empty netter. In this one, he was better. Chytil had his moments. After setting up a Zibanejad goal on Monday night, he recorded another assist on a milestone for Schneider.

On a brilliant play by Panarin at the San Jose blue line, he got the puck over to Chytil. He then fed Strome, who patiently waited before finding a pinching Schneider for a good wrist shot from the point that beat Hill at 1:27 of the third period. What a moment that was for Schneider. His first career NHL goal in his first game. It eerily reminded me of a goal he scored for Canada in the ’21 U20 World Junior Championships. He made a great read and hit the net. Congrats to the kid!

If you loved that, how about the surprising play of Anthony Greco? A Queens native who grew up rooting for the Rangers, the emergency recall was impressive on the fourth line. Wearing number 28, the 28-year old journeyman of only one NHL game was everywhere. Not the biggest in stature, the generously listed 5-10, 178 pound right wing was buzzing around Hill in the final two periods. In 9:44 of action, he had five shots including a couple of cracks at his first goal. But Hill denied him.

It wasn’t only Greco who stepped up. The Hartford gang all played their part. That included Tim Gettinger, Jonny Brodzinski and Morgan Barron, who looks like he belongs on the roster. They fit in seamlessly due to their strong work ethic. Familiarity with Knoblauch helps. He wasn’t shy about using them. The trait of a good young AHL coach with a bright future.

Greg McKegg also took a regular shift in a third line role. He also got some penalty killing time. The Rangers were 2-for-2. There wasn’t too much special teams. Three total power plays with each side taking the collar. Don’t forget the Kreider shorthanded goal. That allowed our side to get the upper hand and be in control throughout. It’s always better to play from in front on the road. Especially at a good atmosphere in San Jose. They have great fans.

Unsurprising was the amount of pucks Shesterkin saw in the third. The Sharks had a 17-12 edge in shots as both clubs attacked. When they weren’t at each other’s throats that is. For two teams that play on opposite coasts, you would’ve thought they were rivals. That’s how hardly fought the game was. Too bad there won’t be another one unless the unthinkable happens. Being that one of my closest friends is a loyal Sharks fan, I’d sign right up. It would be a dream.

Shesterkin made a strong stop on a driving Meier, who was able to get around Miller for a good scoring chance. He held the near goalpost and kept the puck out to bail out Miller, who’s hit a rough patch. It happens. He’s still learning. Luckily, Trouba had a steady game. Overall, he’s been the best defenseman this season. Not a knock on Fox, who is an All-Star. Trouba is playing the Ryan McDonagh role on this team. McDonagh does that in the shadow of Victor Hedman with the Lightning.

Leading by two, Trouba took an interference minor with exactly three minutes to go. Instead of going for the 6-on-4 that risks the opponent shooting for the empty net shorthanded, the Sharks instead used the first half to go with the more conventional five-on-four. I prefer that strategy down two. If you get one, then you can pull the goalie at even strength.

With Fox doing a good job on Karlsson and Burns throughout by limiting their time and space, the Sharks got nothing done. Eventually, they lifted Hill for the two-man advantage. The Rangers were up to the task. After Trouba returned, it became a 6-on-5. It didn’t matter.

On a smart defensive play by Kevin Rooney to clear the zone, Kreider was ahead of everyone. With only Karlsson trailing, he easily fired the puck into the open net for the exclamation point. Number 23 for the team’s MVP. When asked which goal he liked more by MSG reporter John Giannone in the postgame after scoring his 200th career goal, a grinning Kreider didn’t hesitate by indicating the shorthanded goal had more meaning. What a leader he’s become.

There isn’t anything else to add. The role players played well. Shesterkin shined in his return. Kreider continued his special season. And Braden Schneider showed more poise than any of the other kids while debuting with Nemeth. It was a very good win.

The Flyers are next on Saturday in Philadelphia. How tired will the Rangers be from the flight? You know it won’t be used as an excuse. That’s not this team. They really should win against an opponent who isn’t good. But they better show up ready. Until next time, see ya around.

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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