There were a lot of interesting things that happened during last night’s come from behind Rangers’ 3-2 shootout win over the Kings at 33rd and 7th. They fought back to defeat a tough Los Angeles team in the sixth round of the skill competition thanks to a Foxy winner by Adam Fox.
It was a good win for a team that played without forwards Fil Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. While the early indication is the lower body injury shouldn’t keep Chytil out too long, it sounds like an upper body injury will prevent Kakko from returning anytime soon. That’s the latest development for a thin Rangers roster that lacks much scoring punch up front.
They don’t ask how you win. You don’t extra style points. If this wasn’t exactly a masterpiece due to the gritty style the Kings play, it was another example of these Blueshirts finding a way. That’s what they do. For a team that only had 13 shots at five-on-five and 16 total at even strength which included a nonstop four-on-four in overtime following a power play expiring, this team battles.
By no means was the rematch at home easy. Facing a physical opponent who packs it in, they had to dig in. They didn’t want a repeat of what happened in LA. The Kings didn’t look like a team that played Sunday at New Jersey in a come from behind 3-2 win. They’re well coached by the experienced Todd McLellan.
It’s interesting to note that there are still four holdovers from their two Stanley Cups. They are Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick. After looking finished as a core, the Kings went out and added key checking center Phillip Danault. He’s brought stability to the center position. Boasting some promising young players that included Adrian Kempe, Alex Iafallo, Blake Lizotte, Arthur Kaliyev and recent 2020 second pick Quenton Byfield, they aren’t an easy opponent to play.
Maybe that’s why the Rangers struggled. You did have quite a goalie battle between old guard Quick against new guard Igor Shesterkin. Both were outstanding throughout. The number of clutch stops from each made for a compelling match-up. While each took turns one upping each other, the decision went to Shesterkin, who earned the game’s First Star with 34 saves. Quick countered with 28.
If there is an area of growing concern, it’s the slow starts this team continues to get off to. They were outshot 7-1 early by the Kings. If not for a ridiculously cheap five-minute major the clueless Brendan Lemieux took by boarding former teammates Ryan Lindgren directly from behind which drew an immediate response from Lindgren, the Rangers might have remained stuck on one shot for the period.
Instead, Lemieux’s dumb major which saw him given the gate for his foolishness, gave the Rangers life. Even though it was reduced to a three-minute power play due to the predictable NHL rules (God forbid a fallen player stand up for themselves after such a cheap shot), Fox waited as long as possible before passing in front for who else but Chris Kreider, who neatly tipped in his career high 30th goal at 19:58. Finally at 30, Kreider has 30! He also leads the league with 15 power play goals.
Just like that, the Blueshirts were ahead after an awful first period. Special teams has really been a big difference for them. More often than not, they convert the big power play and get the job done on the penalty kill. It’s the special teams along with Shesterkin that have carried them to a record of 28-11-4 with 60 points. That’s why they sit first in a tough Metropolitan Division.
If you wanted then to pick it up, they did so in a very physical second that had several big hits from both sides. There was an absolutely tough shoulder to shoulder hit from Los Angeles defenseman Matt Roy on Ryan Strome, who was in pain as he hobbled back to the bench. It looked like whiplash due to his back being exposed against the boards. He would stay in the game. Hockey player.
Jacob Trouba also picked his spot by standing up on Iafallo to send him on the ice. The underrated Kings forward gave him a chop back. That’s how the whole second was played. It had lots of edge combined with superb goaltending. If there was one save that stood out, it was an athletic Quick coming out to take away a sure Trouba goal off a good set up from Alexis Lafreniere. He was fresh after getting Sunday off in favor of Cal Petersen. The duo split the net. It seems to be working. The Kings have a shot at the playoffs.
A mistake in the neutral zone allowed the Kings to draw even. Trevor Moore and Mikey Anderson sent the speedy Lizotte on a quick transition. After gaining the blue line, he used Trouba as a screen to fire a pea past Shesterkin blocker side for his sixth of the season at 11:55. The unheralded Lizotte is a hard-working player who makes up for his lack of size with speed and smarts. I wasn’t surprised he scored to tie the score.
With the contest even, the Blueshirts couldn’t quite cash in on a Danault tripping minor on Barclay Goodrow, who helped sell it. Oh. The top unit created some serious scoring chances. They must’ve had five great looks. That included ace Mika Zibanejad in his office firing away at Quick, who made a couple of difficult stops. He also recovered on a strange deflection with Kreider in front.
How dangerous is our power play? In five opportunies, they had 14 shots on Quick who stopped 13. That was two fewer than the 16 shots at even strength. Obviously, you want the man-advantage to be a factor. But they do need to improve their overall play. Too often in this game, the Kings controlled the walls and created good chances on Shesterkin at five-on-five. It’s the most important aspect Gallant and the team must shore up. Especially if they want to survive in a best of seven series. Things usually tighten up then.
Proving they could also find offense up a man, the Kings were able to surge ahead on a four-minute hi-sticking double minor to Goodrow. He drew blood on Kempe with 1:19 remaining. Following a clear, LA gained the zone and got set up. On a bit of a misdirection that saw both Trouba and K’Andre Miller get confused in coverage, Kempe and Kopitar were able to find a wide open Iafallo for a backhand top shelf at 19:21. That allowed them to grab the lead entering the locker room.
During the second intermission, Steve Valiquette and Henrik Lundqvist were highly critical of the Rangers’ net front coverage. It’s definitely been an area that they’re having issues with. It isn’t only on one pair either. Even the all world Fox and Lindgren have had plays where they didn’t clear the front. They need to fix it.
If there was one positive development to come out of the defense, it was the way Libor Hajek played with rookie Braden Schneider. With Patrik Nemeth finally sitting out, the third pair put together a few good shifts. That included a couple of good defensive plays from Hajek along with a great offensive shift that lead to a power play. In particular, Schneider read the play well and got off some good shots. One of which Quick got a piece of to prevent a goal. Gallant didn’t use them much down the stretch. But I liked what I saw.
Trailing by one in the third on Pride Night, the Blueshirts dug in. It didn’t come easy. When the Kings play a harder style than the Leafs, it explains why the two game series against them was harder to find points. They play a playoff caliber style. I am curious to see what they’ll do. That’s a team that if they added the right piece, could give a favorite a tough series.
One thing Gallant struggled with was finding the right combination for the second line. He tried many different forwards. You had Lafreniere up with Zibanejad and Kreider. You also saw Julien Gauthier and Dryden Hunt. He eventually settled on Goodrow. A valuable forward who does everything. That included doing some strong penalty killing work on a questionable Lafreniere minor for boarding. Gallant contested it. It wasn’t boarding. Maybe interference for being a tad late. All Lafreniere did was finish his check on Brown, who looked none too pleased.
Whether it was Lafreniere getting his fourth minor over the past three games or the coach deciding he wanted to ride the veterans, you didn’t see the 20-year old former top pick much. I don’t even think he took another shift.
That included the overtime where Gauthier got time during extended four-on-four. I didn’t agree with it. If you can’t play Lafreniere in that spot, then what’s he doing on the roster? I vented plenty about it on my main account.
In terms of the game, how about the very calm save Shesterkin made to deny Carl Grundstrom on a shorthanded bid? A hustling Zibanejad deserves credit for taking away the pass option. Otherwise, it could’ve spelled doom. Grundstrom hesitated enough because he wanted to pass. It allowed Shesterkin to swat away his attempt to cheers. He’s terrific on breakaways.
On a good shift by the second line, Panarin made it happen. After receiving a Strome feed, he got into position and took a low shot towards Goodrow for a neat deflection over Quick with 5:45 left in the third period. It was a big goal by a do everything player, who is proving his worth despite the gripes from the nerdy analytics community. Aside from Kreider, there aren’t many other gritty forwards who would go to the front and get that kind of goal. Good for Goodrow. He’s up to eight. The next one would be a new career high.
I also took some joy in Strome helping set the play up. I know he’s not perfect. He blows a lot of quality scoring chances from prime areas. But some of the criticism is unwarranted. The second center has nine goals and 23 assists. A good total in support of Zibanejad, who took a while to get going. Imagine if Strome and Panarin had a real right wing to play with. Maybe Esquire is right about Tyler Toffoli. He would fit the need. Would Montreal trade him?
With less than a minute and a half to go, a fast moving Zibanejad was tripped up by a frustrated Kempe in the neutral zone. He caught Kempe a little flat-footed. He reached out with his stick for the penalty. Zibanejad also made sure they saw it by embellishing it a little bit. I get it. There was only 74 seconds left.
With the crowd anticipating a big goal to win this thing late, it never came. Quick gets full credit for that. He really was on his A Game. Even on a night the nerdy Valiquette foolishly mentioned Alec Martinez to Lundqvist between periods, I’m sure King Henrik could appreciate how well Quick played. Hank is a consummate professional with great insight and a keen sense of humor. I gotta echo Sean McCaffrey here. Sometimes, Vally can be annoying. Nobody needed to be reminded of 2014.
Quick turned away a couple of more tough shots to earn his team a point. Any goalie who can stop 13 of 14 power play shots versus a dangerous unit deserves accolades. I kidded Sean that Quick had outplayed Igor prior to the tying Goodrow goal. He gave me the business. Guess it’s only fair. He won that one thanks to Czar Igor, who was a little better in the shootout.
One thing about the OT. The Rangers controlled most of the five minutes. But they simply couldn’t beat Quick, who earned the game’s Third Star. My stars might be a bit different.
The shootout actually was compelling due to the netminders. In the first two rounds, Shesterkin stopped both Kempe and Viktor Arvidsson. But Quick denied aces Kreider and Zibanejad. In the top of the third, Kopitar went shot to the low blocker to put the pressure on. But Panarin stayed patient before going five-hole on Quick to force extras. It really was great patience.
After Shesterkin denied Iafallo, Quick was clutch to close up the middle on Strome. In the top of the fifth, McLellan sent out second pick Byfield, who rewarded him by outwaiting a moving Shesterkin to score on a wrist shot. In response, Gallant finally sent Lafreniere out. How would he respond? Only by coolly faking and going backhand fiver on a flustered Quick to again force extras. He gave the Kings bench the number one sign. I bet Byfield chirped him.
It came down to Round 6. 2020 second round pick Arthur Kaliyev tried to beat Shesterkin with a wrist shot. But he turned it aside. That set the stage for Fox. If everyone thought Panarin had scored in the second on a ridiculous individual effort that saw him whip a backhand off the crossbar, Fox left no doubt. On just a tremendous move, he faked and deked an aggressive Quick to then go backhand inside the top half of the net.
Honestly, I thought he missed. There was a lot of room. Maybe it was the camera angle from MSG. I couldn’t tell. It was a beautiful way to end a very entertaining shootout. I might not like them. But sometimes, it works. In this case, it did.
As we draw nearer to Henrik Lundqvist Night against the Wild later this week against close friend Mats Zuccarello, MSG has released tickets. The prices are insane. I love Henrik. But the idea fans would be willing to pay twice as much for a jersey retirement than a postseason game is absurd. I am excited for Number 30 to take its rightful place up in the rafters next to all the Rangers legends. To whoever goes, enjoy it. I sure hope it’s worth it.
Battle Of Hudson Three Stars 🌟 🤩 ✨️
3rd 🌟 Barclay Goodrow, NYR scored tying goal at 14:15 of 3rd, 4 SOG, a gritty player who does what is asked
2nd 🌟 Jonathan Quick, Kings 28 saves on 30 shots including 13 of 14 down a man
1st 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, NYR 34 saves on 36 shots, stopped 4 of 6 shooters for his 20th win, a legit Vezina and Hart candidate