A deserved point for Rangers in six round shootout loss to Red Wings, Staal cheered in return, Strome misses on chance to win it, Shesterkin save prevents loss in regulation

Let’s be honest. Did the Rangers get what they deserved last night? Absolutely. All you had to hear was coach Gerard Gallant in a brief press conference indicate that his team got the one point they deserved.

For a second consecutive home game after the break, they weren’t good enough to win in regulation or even overtime. Instead, they left it to chance in the shootout. This time, their coin came up heads like in The Dark Knight with Harvey Dent. They lost to the Red Wings 3-2 in the sixth round of the shootout at MSG.

When you leave it to chance, even the unpredictable can happen. Who had veteran Thomas Greiss in the winner’s pool over Igor Shesterkin? Exactly. Greiss found a way to steal it for the Red Wings by stopping five of six shooters while also making 37 saves in 65 minutes of the hockey portion.

But as birthday boy Adam Fox put it afterwards, they got a point. It isn’t always perfect with this team. Take his shootout attempt. With a chance to win it in the third round, the birthday boy lost control of the puck before his attempt. That was later followed by Mr. Wide, Ryan Strome who had Greiss totally faked out but missed a wide open net to groans at the end of five.

That was the turning point. Shesterkin was unable to stop Pius Suter in the top of the sixth. That left it up to Filip Chytil. However, the way Greiss was seeing the puck, it wasn’t a surprise that he denied Chytil on his forehand attempt to clinch the win for Detroit. So, a 36-year old netminder who entered with over a 3.00 GAA won for the eighth time this season.

You wonder if Greiss felt like he was back in Islanders gear the way he played. Not that he owned the Rangers the way Semyon Varlamov used to. Maybe I spoke too soon. Although he didn’t get as many starts versus them, Greiss has never lost in regulation against the Rangers. For his career, he is now 6-0-1 in nine games with a 2.44 GAA and .931 save percentage. Strange but true.

Is it odd that they’ve never beaten him in 60 minutes? Yes. But it’s a small sample size. Hard to believe they didn’t face him more. But that is largely due to Varlamov. Greiss is a decent backup. They shouldn’t be struggling to score at even strength on him. An issue that must improve over the remainder of the season.

On paper, the Rangers had 39 shots. Thirty-six came at even strength including 33. The other three during another scintillating three-on-three overtime that again didn’t disappoint. The goaltending from both Greiss and Shesterkin was outstanding.

So too were a couple of back checks with Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin literally hustling back to help deny Artemi Panarin from winning it on a breakaway. It was an unbelievable effort. He also whizzed a last second shot high over Shesterkin on the other end. Larkin is very impressive. He looks like an emerging star now.

For a team that only has 13 regulation wins, the Wings aren’t far away. The additions of rookies Lucas Raymond and stud defenseman Moritz Seider have really sped up their rebuild. They still can use a couple of better defensemen to help out Alex Nedeljkovic, who’s been up and down since coming over from Carolina. But they’re on the right track.

If you thought this would be a cakewalk, you haven’t been paying attention. The Rangers struggled to beat the Bruins minus Patrice Bergeron and The Rat. While they aren’t great defensively, Detroit competes hard. They have some good skaters and game-breakers in Larkin, Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi and the very polished Seider, who in my view looks to be as good as any young defenseman. He’s impressive.

Part of the problem for the Rangers is these slow starts. For a second game in a row, they fell behind early. On Tuesday, it was Charlie Coyle cashing in on a rebound off a turnover. This time, it was Troy Stecher who of course got his first of the season 2:18 in when his shot deflected off Zac Jones and past Shesterkin.

The flat start forced them to chase the game again. Something Gallant emphasized. It is an area that must be corrected. Too often, they rely on their all world goalie to bail them out. As special as Shesterkin is, he isn’t always going to be able to do it. Especially when the games get tougher. Think playoffs.

They can get away with the inconsistent play against a Detroit or Arizona. They won’t be able to in a seven-game series against a Pittsburgh or Carolina. It really becomes about sustainability. As much as we love this team, they still have a ways to go.

The game also marked the return of Marc Staal. He was given a nice video tribute by the Rangers and got a well deserved ovation from the appreciative crowd. In watching him throughout, he still gets the job done defensively. He might not play as many minutes, but Staal fits in well with the Red Wings. He’ll always be one of my favorites. The guy had so much heart coming back from injuries including a concussion by his own brother.

Five-on-five is a legit concern. Two goals in the first two games back isn’t going to get it done. They haven’t exactly earned many power plays. An area they excel at. If not for a Robby Fabbri tripping minor on Fox, Mika Zibanejad doesn’t bury his saucer pass for his 11th power play goal to tie the game with 8:09 left in the third period. Zibanejad sure has a rocket from his office.

A frustrating aspect is the play of Strome. A good player who’s been productive playing with Panarin, he’s been ice cold for a while. He went a ninth straight game without a goal. He only has four assists over that span. With three goals all coming in early January including the last versus Toronto on 1/19, Strome needs to hit the net more. A very unselfish player who thinks pass first due to Panarin, he can’t continue to be so predictable. The over passing leads to turnovers. Something Panarin is also guilty of. He passed up two wide open shots from prime scoring areas.

The Rangers are very top heavy. They really lean heavily on Panarin, Zibanejad, Chris Kreider to score a bulk of the goals. Throw in Fox and that’s most of the offense. Especially when Strome isn’t producing.

It’s why there’s going to be a tough decision coming for Team President and GM Chris Drury. While the defense might be straightening out due to the emergence of rookie tandem Zac Jones and Braden Schneider, an upgrade or two up front is needed. With over a month to go before the March 21 trade deadline, what will the organization decide? Good question.

As the first period moved on, the Rangers finally got going. A strong shift from the first line with Alexis Lafreniere, Zibanejad and Kreider helped the cause. Trailing by a goal, they came close twice to tying it. First, Panarin found open ice and fired a shot off the goalpost. Barclay Goodrow took a hi-sticking minor when he went to lift the stick of Bertuzzi. It put Detroit on the power play.

The Red Wings got a couple of good looks on the man-advantage. But Shesterkin kept them at bay. In particular, Seider looked very poised playing the point. For a 20-year old defenseman, he is really imposing. Not only can he defend well, but he knows when to go. His 35 points make him the leading candidate for the Calder over Raymond and Trevor Zegras.

Late in the period, it sure looked like the combination of Lafreniere, Kreider and Zibanejad had the tying goal. On a beautiful passing play started by Lafreniere, who’s gaining confidence, the puck came to Kreider who had Zibanejad for what looked like an easy one. But he missed. Probably out of frustration, Jacob Trouba took down Sam Gagner to hand the Wings their second power play.

It was a hard-working Goodrow who got off a shot shorthanded on Greiss late. With time winding down, Shesterkin denied a Suter tip-in to keep the deficit at one.

The second period saw the Blueshirts pick it up. A flurry that included good chances from Panarin and Chytil were stopped by a sharp Greiss. Goodrow also misfired on a close opportunity. That kind of night.

After Greiss calmly stopped Kreider, you wondered if they’d get one past him. It took a special play from K’Andre Miller to tie the game. Buoyed by his shootout heroics the other night, following a Goodrow face-off win back to him, Miller made a great individual effort to score on a wraparound just underneath Greiss’ pads. What a play. Miller’s fourth at 12:18 was one for the highlight reel.

Unfortunately, the momentum off the Miller tying goal was short-lived. A minute and a half later, Detroit struck back to reclaim the lead. On a Seider pass, Danny DeKeyser let go of a wide shot that took a favorable carom right to Larkin for a put away at 13:48.

Larkin is up to 26 goals. He’s doing it in obscurity on a team that won’t make the playoffs. At 25, the overlooked center is up to 52 points in 46 games and is plus-eight. Since Jan. 29, he has 14 points (6-8-14). Dating back to 1/15, Larkin has posted 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points over 13 games. Flat out dominance.

That goal took some steam out of the crowd. Despite an 18-12 edge in shots, the Rangers still trailed by one after the second period. Overall, the shots were 26-23 Blueshirts headed to the third.

With the game hanging in the balance, things got heated. Following a cheap hit from Red Wings tough guy Givani Smith who caught Julien Gauthier from behind with the puck long gone, it led to Dryden Hunt standing up for his fallen teammate. He exchanged punches with the very imposing Smith, who got the better of it.

Of course, the Rangers somehow wound up shorthanded. Never mind the cheap shot from Smith on Gauthier should’ve been an interference minor. They didn’t even assess a penalty for that crap. Instead, they gave Smith a roughing minor while Hunt received a double minor for roughing. If there’s a point of contention with the NHL, it’s these types of calls. How can they justify it? This happens all the time. At worst, it should’ve been two apiece. But no. NHL logic. What a soft league. It really would be unbelievable if it weren’t so predictable.

Gallant absolutely gave the refs the business. They deserved it. So did the fans. The familiar, “These refs suck,” chants returned. A chant more common in the post lockout days during the Lundqvist Era. It felt like the days of sitting in Section 411 when The Garden was still the Garden.

Fortunately, the Red Wings got nothing going on their third power play. With it nearing conclusion, Fabbri got his stick into Fox to trip him up behind the Ranger net. Finally a power play. They sure needed it.

Once on the five-on-four, it didn’t take long to get it set up. After Panarin moved the puck up for Fox, he feathered a perfect pass into the wheelhouse for Zibanejad, who buried the one-timer top shelf past a helpless Greiss to tie the score with 8:09 remaining in the third. Filthy.

With the game tied, both sides looked to end it in regulation. Zibanejad got a great chance from point blank range. But Greiss stoned him. Then came a dangerous Larkin bid with under a minute to go. Given too much time and space, he had a great chance. But his laser ticketed for the upper portion of the net was coolly picked out of the air by the cat-like reflexes of Shesterkin.

Jaw dropping stuff as chants of, “Ig-or, Ig-or!,” rained down. Larkin could only look skyward in disbelief. Shesterkin’s brilliance has to get Hart consideration. There’s no question he’s the Team MVP. You listen to teammates interviewed such as Miller on Tuesday and they never doubt Igor. They have full confidence in him.

The overtime was exciting stuff. Similar to the Boston game, you had a lot happening. Zibanejad tried to end it early, but Greiss wasn’t buying. Bertuzzi got a chance that Shesterkin denied. Then it was Greiss’ turn to stop a Zibanejad tip-in that felt like game over. Shesterkin then stoned Bertuzzi again and made one more save on Fabbri.

The most exciting play during the three-on-three was when Shesterkin following a save had the presence of mind to outlet for a hanging Panarin. He just didn’t have enough steam to get in without Larkin racing back to make a great defensive play. Wow.

In the shootout, Raymond beat Shesterkin five-hole in the top of the first. Zibanejad replied back in the bottom half by using his forehand deke and tuck with Greiss guessing backhand.

Then, it became a game of chicken. In Round 2, Shesterkin aggressively challenged to glove away Larkin’s shot. Panarin tried one too many fakes with his forehand try denied by Greiss. Following Adam Erne losing control of his attempt, Fox also lost the puck at the end of the third round.

Following an easy save by Shesterkin on a weak Bertuzzi deke attempt, Greiss read Lafreniere and calmly padded away his wrist shot. It was in Round 5 that the skill competition could’ve been decided. After Shesterkin made Gagner’s attempt look bad, Strome came in with speed and had Greiss dead to rights. But he couldn’t score from a tough angle, sending the puck wide of the gaping net.

That set the stage for Suter. A good scorer who the Blackhawks didn’t re-sign, he simply made one fake and beat Shesterkin blocker side to put the Red Wings up. It came down to Chytil versus Greiss. He made a strong move. But Greiss was patient enough to stuff his forehand try to give Detroit their first win in three years over the Rangers.

The next game is at Ottawa on Sunday. They’re another young rebuilding club starting to come together. They’re winning more lately. Boasting pest Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Tim Stutzle, they’ve gotten better goaltending lately from both Matt Murray and Anton Forsberg. Even without Drake Batherson and Josh Norris, they’re competitive. Don’t expect it to be a picnic.

The Rangers will need to bring their A game. It won’t be given to them. Even in the strange environment of Ontario where only a few thousand fans can attend thanks to the clueless Prime Minister.

Battle Of Hudson Three Stars 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Dylan Larkin, Red Wings goal (26th), 5 SOG in 8 attempts, 15-for-26 on face-offs, +1 in 24:36, tremendous defensive play to deny Panarin in OT

2nd 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, NYR 31 saves on 33 shots including a game saver on Larkin to get a point, MVP caliber

1st 🌟 Thomas Greiss, Red Wings 37 saves on 39 shots, stopped last five Ranger shooters to improve to 6-0-1 career vs them

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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