Strong quotes from Zibanejad and Kreider tell the story of an ugly Rangers’ loss to legit Hurricanes

Two nights removed from a strong come from behind win over Toronto, the Rangers were listless in a 6-3 loss to the Hurricanes that wasn’t as close as the final score. They were dominated for long stretches by a legit playoff contender who taught them a lesson.

The play was so lopsided on the first period that the Rangers barely registered any real shots on Freddie Andersen. The official shot total was four. But half came off dump ins. Those don’t really count.

While they could do nothing against the very fast attacking Canes at five-on-five, the Carolina hosts had no trouble coming at the Rangers in waves. It didn’t matter that Gerard Gallant opted to start Alex Georgiev in Raleigh. The loss wasn’t about the goalie. But rather how dominant the Hurricanes were.

It was a point not lost on Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Even though they each had a goal and assist with Zibanejad getting another on the power play while Kreider got number 26 on a rebound, both veteran leaders were very truthful about their opponent.

“I don’t feel like we got up to the level we needed to,” Zibanejad explained after his first line was so ineffective that Gallant benched Kaapo Kakko in favor of Ryan Reaves to add more grit. “This was maybe the best team we’ve played against, they took advantage of our mistakes.” 

He wasn’t kidding. The Hurricanes are a very tough team who can aggressively forecheck you to death with their speed, skill and superb passing. Add in the grit and depth they possess and it can be a long night if you’re not on your A game. They hit the Blueshirts right in the mouth like a well oiled football team which is ironic with Divisional Weekend on tap.

One of the big storylines was Tony DeAngelo facing his former team for the first time since the off ice incident with Georgiev that lead to his dismissal last year. Unlike his stint with the Rangers where he did have on ice success, DeAngelo is all business now. However, I’m sure he absolutely loved every second of his big game against his former team.

DeAngelo has moved on from last year’s controversy. He now fits perfectly while teamed with Jaccob Slavin on the Canes’ top pair. He’s seamlessly replaced Dougie Hamilton for much cheaper. How did Tony D do? He was the game’s First Star with two assists and a power play goal that was highlighted by an on ice postgame interview where the fans chanted his name. Not bad for a guy they ran out of town for ridiculous stuff that had nothing to do with hockey.

As if to confirm that he’s a key part of the success of his new team, DeAngelo let go of a point shot that Vincent Trocheck redirected for a power play goal to give them a 1-0 lead. The Canes not only can beat you at five-on-five where they got four of their six goals on 34 shots. But also on the man-advantage as well. They were a perfect 2-for-2.

With the Rangers in witness protection during an ungodly stretch where they didn’t have a single shot on goal for 14 minutes, the Canes pounced on an Adam Fox mistake in the neutral zone to go up two. With Sebastian Aho closing fast, Fox lost his balance and then the puck. Aho turned it into a two-on-one with rookie Seth Jarvis, who was able to receive a nice feed and easily beat Georgiev for a 2-0 Carolina lead at 17:21.

By the time Jacob Trouba sent a long shot on goal before the buzzer sounded, the Rangers were down two and outshot 11-4 while being thoroughly outplayed. It was one of the worst periods of the season. This came in Game 41 at the halfway mark against a serious contender. The Canes aren’t the Leafs, who were called “soft,” by their coach Sheldon Keefe.

The start of the second wasn’t any better. Off a face-off win from Steven Lorentz, the puck came back to DeAngelo at the right point. On a set play, he passed across to the middle for a one-timer from former Ranger Jesper Fast that whistled by Georgiev with traffic in front. It was 3-0 Carolina at the 3:33 mark of the second period.

Continuing to have their way and seriously threaten to blow the doors off the shell shocked Blueshirts, they had some close calls to making it a four-goal lead. But Georgiev hung in there while his team defense really struggled. The play up to that point was so lopsided. Henrik Lundqvist spoke between periods about being more physical. Slow the Canes down.

It took a clean hit from Barclay Goodrow on Teravainen to turn the momentum. He landed a shoulder to chest hit that sent Teravainen to the ice. Jesperi Kotkaniemi immediately stepped in and got into it with Goodrow. Instead of receiving the instigator which both Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti harped on, Kotkaniemi was assessed a double minor for roughing while Goodrow got two minutes. It still resulted in a power play.

The Rangers needed just six seconds to score on it. All it took was Kreider out-working the Canes to a loose puck. He retrieved it and moved it up for Artemi Panarin, who then threaded a perfect pass across for a wicked Zibanejad one-timer past Andersen for his eighth power play goal at 6:35. It isn’t hard to picture both Zibanejad and Kreider each getting 20 PPG by season’s end. That’s how good the power play is. Kreider has 13 already. It’s possible the way both are going.

Buoyed on by the Zibanejad tally, the Blueshirts picked it up. It was at this point that Reaves replaced an ineffective Kakko on the top line. Kakko wasn’t getting it done. I think Gallant wanted to use a different look. Reaves is much bigger and stronger. He brings a physical element. That line hadn’t done much. After missing a few shifts, Kakko found himself on the fourth line. Gallant later indicated it wasn’t a punishment. Kakko was eventually returned to the first line.

It’s true that both Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere haven’t done enough at this early stage of their careers. For high draft picks who were thought to be no-brainers, neither is there yet. Kakko remains stuck on five goals while Lafreniere has eight. But it’s only Kakko who plays in the top six. Lafreniere is playing a different role on the third line. At what point will the team decide it’s time for an upgrade? I doubt either are going down.

On what was a disastrous shift for the second line and top pair, they got caught running around like chickens in their end. A no no against the Aho line. With the Canes playing Harlem Globetrotters of keep away, eventually a loose puck came to Aho in front. Neither Fox or Dryden Hunt could check him. It was an easy goal that made it 4-1 at 14:46. Hunt simply cannot be in the top six.

A failed power play really hurt. Gallant burned his timeout to keep his top unit out. Unfortunately, they absolutely did nothing. Not one shot on Andersen at a critical point. I thought he would’ve been better off sending out the second unit. Whatever.

Even worse was the final minute. Somehow, the fourth line and third pair got caught on by the Canes’ second scoring unit. It wasn’t long before all five skaters were gassed with neither Patrik Nemeth nor Braden Schneider able to move. While they got caught behind the net, Andrei Svechnikov fed the open slot where an unchecked Nino Niederreiter buried it for a 5-1 Canes’ lead at 19:32. It would’ve been nice if a forward could’ve took him. Nothing doing.

“Carolina commits to what they’re doing, they do it quickly, they’re predictable for one another so they’re going from high-to-low and they know they’re getting pucks to the net and they do that over and over,” Kreider told reporters afterwards.

“As wingers we have to do a better job getting out into lanes and not only blocking shots but discouraging them, especially when we know what’s coming. That’s going to make it easier on our D to break the puck out. Not getting hemmed in helps, too. That’s something we have to go back and look at but I think we all could have done a better job in our own zone.” 

To their credit, they didn’t give up. They never do. A Kreider power play goal on a rebound from Fox and Zibanejad made it 5-2 at 5:09 of the third period. Then, Greg McKegg got his first versus one of his former teams when he put in a rebound at 6:23 from Reaves and K’Andre Miller. Suddenly, it was a 5-3 game.

There was enough time left. But a furious Rod Brind’Amour took a timeout and lit into his team. After a few Ranger opportunities including one from a flying Kreider, they settled down and played better defensively. The closest the Rangers got to making it 5-4 was Schneider, who took a Panarin feed and just missed getting his second goal. For a 20-year old rookie, he reads the play well and knows when to jump in. He was a positive in an otherwise forgettable night.

It was with over three minutes left that Lafreniere took a needless slashing minor. Frustrated as he was in the box, that feeling increased when DeAngelo put the exclamation point on his three-point performance by blasting his seventh by Georgiev with 2:33 left. That made it 6-3. He gave the Rangers bench the business. I don’t blame him.

It had to feel extra special to have that kind of game versus the team that threw him away. I wonder what he was thinking after he scored on Georgiev. We’ll never know. He took the high road in the on I’ve interview and said he loved that team. He still has some close friends on this side. I would bet Strome is one of them. At the end of the day, he’s a good player. I’m glad he’s moved on.

I saw quite a few ridiculous assertions from unrealistic fans who have the Rangers winning the Cup. DeAngelo was extra motivated due to Georgiev starting over Igor Shesterkin. This loss is on Gallant. Yada. Yada. Yada. Shut the hell up! Can some of these delusional buffoons with their ridiculous hot takes ever give the opponent some credit?!?!?!?!

Carolina is a very good team. I think they’re the best overall that I’ve seen. If both Zibanejad and Kreider can see it, it really makes one wonder WTF these people are smoking. You win and lose as a T-E-A-M. Friday wasn’t their night. It wasn’t mine either. Some idiot punk side wiped my parked car in the shopping center. I couldn’t believe it.

Here’s the point. Bad losses happen. It’s a sport. The Rangers can rebound tonight against the Coyotes with Shesterkin. So do things like the horrible luck I had with my car. Thankful for the two young ladies who told me about it. I’m fine. The car will get fixed. It’s not the end of the world. Shit happens.

I’d like to take this time to send my condolences to the two families of NYPD officers who passed away tonight. It’s a horrible and very sad tragedy. 😥 Very upsetting for New York City. This has to end. Clean up New York!

I also want to extend my deepest sympathy to the family of Clark Gillies. 😥 He was a great New York Islander who played on all four Stanley Cup teams. He sounded similar to Adam Graves. Gillies passed away at age 67 following the Islanders’ win over Arizona. A Hall Of Famer whose number is retired, that’s a tough loss for the Islanders family. They might be our number one rival. But the hockey community is an extended family. Best wishes to his family and former teammates.

Not going to bother with the three stars. It’s late enough. I wasn’t even sure I’d do a game story after what happened. I had to wait for the cops to come so I could speak with them to decide what was the best cause of action. Too bad they didn’t get that punk’s license plate. Oh well.

We know the three Stars anyway. DeAngelo, Aho and pick one between Svechnikov and a few other Canes. They sent a message. The good thing is it happened now. The Rangers will see them three more times including March 20 and twice in April. Let’s hope they can learn from it.

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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