Kreider’s fifth career hat trick and Trouba’s three points lead Rangers to explosion in comeback win over Coyotes

What started out badly ended gladly. Following a dismal first period that saw them struggle mightily against an inferior opponent, the Rangers fell behind 3-1 to Arizona early in the second period. Buoyed by the leadership of Jacob Trouba and Chris Kreider, they scored six unanswered goals for a more satisfying 7-3 comeback win over the Coyotes at MSG.

Having not gotten back until 4 AM from Carolina early Saturday morning, it took a while for the Rangers to find their legs. The Coyotes were also playing the second of a back-to-back after getting shutout by the Islanders. However, they stayed in the area. It might’ve explained the poor start for the Blueshirts.

One thing about this team under Gerard Gallant in ’21-22 is they have strong character. Even being largely outplayed in Friday’s 6-3 defeat to the Canes, they never quit. They made it interesting before Tony DeAngelo put that one away late. The never say die attitude of this team is why they’re easy to root for.

Asked by Michelle Gingras during intermission about the first period, Dryden Hunt pulled no punches. “I think we underestimated them a little bit. That’s no excuse. They played last night too,” he said about his former club.

When Trouba had a pass accidentally go off a linesman right to Clayton Keller, who was able to just get his shot past Igor Shesterkin for a 3-1 deficit early in the second period, it could’ve been curtains. Especially when Ryan Strome took one of his needless stick fouls by slashing Keller to put the Coyotes on the power play.

That came at the halfway point of the game. Sensing their team was in trouble, fans started chanting, “Igor, Igor!” It worked. With a visibly Trouba showing frustration on the bench during a stoppage according to MSG’s John Giannone, he then led by action. During a crucial penalty killing shift, it was the fiery Trouba who jumped up and lead the play up ice.

On a three-on-two rush, Trouba and Mika Zibanejad combined to get an initial scoring chance that Coyotes’ starter Karel Vehmelka stopped. However, some extra effort from Zibanejad got the loose puck over to Trouba, who immediately fed Kreider for his second shorthanded goal of the season. That momentum turning play made it 3-2 with 8:30 left in the period. The crowd followed it up with “Let’s Go Rangers,” chants.

After Kreider’s first of three on another big night, his teammates followed up with a much better effort. Skating without Kaapo Kakko (upper body) and Filip Chytil (lower body), it forced Gallant to change his combos. Kakko was a scratch while Chytil didn’t return after the first. The experienced coach opted to load up the top line by moving Artemi Panarin onto it with Zibanejad and Kreider. The decision worked.

Due to Kakko being out, Julien Gauthier was reinserted into the lineup before the game. The little used forward who’s fallen behind veteran Greg McKegg in the pecking order, would come up large. Although he was primarily used on the fourth line, it was his goal from Hunt and Kevin Rooney that tied things up with 4:34 remaining. The play was made possible thanks to a great outlet from Shesterkin up ice. Gauthier got his third to really provide a lift.

On the next shift, Johan Larsson went back at Adam Fox. After an initial Fox shove, Larsson lost his cool by knocking Fox down and then giving him an extra cross-check to the back. Kreider immediately responded by getting in his face. He wisely didn’t take an even up call. For some reason, they only assessed Larsson two for roughing. Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti would later sarcastically reference that.

On the power play, they made it count. Keeping the momentum going against a wounded opponent, Zibanejad won an offensive draw back to Fox, who of course stayed on the ice. Hockey player. He got the puck to Panarin up top. Rather than try for a fancy play, this time he took a smart wrist shot that Vehmelka had trouble picking up due to the screening Kreider.

It went in to give Panarin his first goal in seven games. His last coming versus Florida on 12/29. He missed the beginning of the New Year due to COVID Protocol. As remarkably productive as the Bread Man is, he needs to score goals. Getting his 11th and only third power play goal might lead to more goals off his stick. He has a good enough shot to get 30. A feat Panarin has reached three times including Year One on Broadway.

Now having scored three consecutive times with The Garden buzzing, the Rangers didn’t let up. Instead, some more superb work from Zibanejad resulted in a pass across banking off potential trade target Jacob Chychrun right to Kreider, who buried the gift for number 28. That goal moved him ahead of Alex Ovechkin into first for the goal scoring lead. By night’s end, they’d be tied at 29 apiece.

Kreider’s second of the game was unassisted. But as he stated later, most of his tallies are team goals. That’s due to the simple approach he now has. In a recent one on one interview with New York Post columnist Larry Brooks, the highly intelligent Kreider spoke at length about how at various points during the first part of his career, he over thought things.

Now, he just goes out and plays. There is no better player at scoring in front. Whether it be via redirections or rebounds, Kreider is the master. It is nice to see him get rewarded. It reaffirms why I wanted to keep him. I’m glad Jeff Gorton and John Davidson did. Where would they be without him?

With Shesterkin again repeating what he did in a similar come from behind home victory over the Leafs, the Blueshirts put it away in the final period. Less than two minutes into the third, K’Andre Miller got the puck to Trouba for a long wrist shot that chased Vehmelka. It was the second goal for Trouba, who really has led this team in every way possible.

Remember when that trade and contract looked like a disaster? No longer. The combination of his physical and defensive play along with the more aggressive offense has made him invaluable. He’s really helped carry Miller, who’s still learning in his second season.

The only remaining question was would there be a hat trick. Up 6-3, the Rangers weren’t about to let the Coyotes back in the game. Although Alexis Lafreniere took two more undisciplined penalties for tripping which is something he better fix, the penalty kill was up to the challenge. They blocked shots and cleared pucks. Shesterkin only faced six shots in the period. After getting peppered in the first with 16, he only saw 13 more the rest of the way.

With Alex Galchenyuk off for interference on Rooney, Kreider got his fifth career hat trick. It came pretty easily. Panarin worked the puck over for Fox, whose low shot off backup Scott Wedgewood was intentional done. Sure enough, it caromed right to Kreider for an easy tap in for number 29. The 29 goals are a new career high. Hard to believe he did it in 41 games. His previous best was 28 which he reached twice.

Plenty of hats littered the ice. Kreider was all smiles along with a happy bunch of teammates who appreciate the style he brings. He plays the game more instinctively and puts himself in the right position. His continued increase in leadership has seen him become a good penalty killer. He never had scored shorthanded before until recently. Now, he’s a complete player. It is a joy to watch a homegrown player taken in the first round have this kind of success. Good for Chris Kreider!

The game was a bit testy late. Nobody went after Larsson for his cheap crap on Fox. They did it by hitting the Coyotes where it hurts most. On the scoreboard. Ryan Reaves also exchanged words with the loathsome Liam O’Brien. He was upset at Patrik Nemeth for no reason at all. He tied him up against the boards during a late shift before they finally blew the play dead. God forbid the refs realize not every puck is playable.

O’Brien is a clown. He did score a goal early on. Go figure. He likes to mix it up. I’ve seen him fight. If he was looking for one, Reaves could’ve flattened him. It’s not worth it. Neither is Larsson.

The Rangers were able to recover from a bad start. The starts have been an issue that’s crept up lately. That’s something the coaching staff will want to correct. Next up are the Kings. We know what happened in LA. They played one of their worst games. The Kings are stiffer competition. Here’s hoping for some payback. Brendan Lemieux makes his return to MSG. No video will be played. He’s still an annoying ass. Yet has seven goals. Ha.

As far as the reported rumor from the well respected Jeff Marek on Hockey Night In Canada about the Rangers supposedly making an offer for Chychrun which would include exiled former first round pick Vitali Kravtsov, we’ll see. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to acquiring another smooth skating left defenseman who can contribute offensively and provide better balance to a unit that has questions.

Not if it is at the expense of Braden Schneider. They want to include a defenseman, make it Miller or Zac Jones even though I prefer Jones to Miller despite the size difference. If they can keep both and trade Matthew Robertson, that’s a win.

I do wonder what exactly Chris Drury offered. Kravtsov is a given. He’s never returning. Part of it is his fault for acting entitled. But some of the blame lies with the Rangers. They didn’t handle Kravtsov right internally. He’s not Swedish or Finnish. I guess they have something against Russian skaters.

Look no further than how they treated Nils Lundkvist. He had no NHL experience and got an automatic spot in the top six at the start when Schneider and Jones were more impressive. Now, he’s down in Hartford trying to rebuild his confidence. They also didn’t feel a demotion for either Kakko or Lafreniere could further their development. Big mistake. It’s all about propaganda with MSG. That’s the Dolan way.

We see other teams get their young players to have more early success by putting them in the best position to succeed. There’s plenty of examples. I’m too tired to bother. Why was Kravtsov treated differently? He looked like he belonged in his stint last Spring. The skating is better than either Kakko or Lafreniere, who still need work. It’s perplexing.

I hate doing this after a nice win. But this blog isn’t here to paint all roses like others. While I’m happy with the team, questions remain about the organization when it comes to development. I expect Chychrun to be a Ranger. It’s been rumored for a while. Unless they can get more out of Kakko, Lafreniere and Chytil, who finally was starting to play better on the wing, they will need to add a proven scoring right wing.

There’s two months until the trade deadline. Also when Spring hits. I can’t wait.

Three Stars 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR 3 assists, 7 for 15 on face-offs, +3 in 18:46, very impactful

2nd 🌟 Jacob Trouba, NYR 2 goals plus 🍎, 8 SOG, +4 in 24:22

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, NYR 3 goals for 5th career hat trick, tied for league lead with career best 29, assist, +3 in 18:49

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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