Demko stones Kreider, Rangers as the Canucks win at MSG, Miller Time, spirited third period comeback too late, questionable lineup decision by Gallant


It was too little, too late for the Rangers. A spirited third period comeback didn’t change the outcome. In the end, Thatcher Demko (31 saves) and a dismal second period were too much to overcome in a 5-2 loss to the Canucks at MSG.

Playing for the third time over four days, the Blueshirts didn’t have the same pep in their step. Despite a solid first period where they probably deserved better than a two-goal deficit, the Rangers couldn’t maintain the pace in a bad second that saw them outscored 2-0 and outshot 15-6 to fall behind Vancouver 4-0.

Ultimately, the flat middle period was their undoing. Even on a rare night where backup Alex Georgiev made the start and was expectedly not at his best, the play in the second was miserable. Chalk it up to the busy schedule catching up. Now, they’ll have two days to recover before the Blues visit on Wednesday. A TNT game.

Make no mistake. The first period was good enough. The trouble was Demko, who made some terrific saves including several big ones on top finisher Chris Kreider (game high 8 shots). By night’s end, he must’ve wondered what he had to do to get one by the Canucks starter.

These were Grade A chances. I counted at least five that he could’ve scored on. Between Tristan Jarry Saturday and Demko on Sunday, Kreider probably should have past Leon Draisaitl and tied Auston Matthews for the goal scoring lead. Instead, he still sits at 34. Two behind Draisaitl and three in back of Matthews.

In the first period alone, Demko stopped all 13 Rangers’ shots. It was high quality stuff from one of the better goalies whose numbers aren’t as good due to his team. They don’t play well defensively. However, they are back in the playoff picture since veteran coach Bruce Boudreau took over. He encourages a more aggressive approach which means they do score. They just put up seven on Calgary to end their 10-game win streak.

A huge part of that offense is J.T. Miller. Originally a first round pick of the Rangers who had some good years here, the 28-year old American has developed into a star forward in Vancouver. It took a trade out of Tampa Bay for him to finally mature to become the complete player we see now.

Having entered play on fire with 11 points over his last five, Miller added two more points with a pair of assists to set up the first two Canucks goals. Both were primary. On each, he was on the puck and created opportunities for teammates. Now playing center, Miller has shined. If he really is available for the right price at the March 21 trade deadline, then Chris Drury should be on the phone. This was a great showcase of the kind of impact player Miller is. I already cited in the previous post why I don’t think the Rangers will be able to get him.

If you were watching closely, then you saw why Miller is highly coveted by contenders. It was his play on the puck that drew attention before he passed it to Tanner Pearson for the game’s first goal at 3:12. One misguided fans pinned on Georgiev. A goalie who last played on Jan. 27. I don’t count his 41 second cameo versus Boston on Feb. 15.

To be blunt, Gerard Gallant has mishandled the backup goalie. It’s understandable why he’s played Igor Shesterkin as much as possible. He’s a great goalie and the Vezina frontrunner. However, it came at the expense at getting Georgiev a few more starts to keep him sharp. Every goalie needs work. A small area that Gallant left open to criticism.

It’s not often I’ll critique Turk, who’s done an outstanding job. However, he butchered Georgiev and also made a questionable lineup decision not dressing a healthy Filip Chytil for a second straight game. It’s one thing to roll with the same lineup after a win like the one they had against Washington. But quite another to keep out a more capable scorer in Chytil for a bunch of checkers that can’t put the puck in the ocean. He left himself open to criticism.

Some might say how can I support an inconsistent young player like Chytil. While I’m not exactly a big fan of the former 2017 first round pick, the fact remains that he’s a better option on the second line than Dryden Hunt. A gritty forward whose game I respect. He hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 1. I’m not going to bother with how many games it’s been. You do the math.

There’s no reason to play Hunt with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Why Gallant chose to go back to it over Barclay Goodrow is mind numbing. I get the logic behind wanting Goodrow to anchor a strong checking line. He’s proven effective with Julien Gauthier and Ryan Reaves. However, the versatile Goodrow has also produced when used on the second line. At the very least, Gallant should’ve made the switch before the third period. Hunt went back to the fourth line.

If they aren’t using Chytil, then how does it help his trade value? I’ve concluded that he’s not long for Gallant’s team based on what he expects. However, by not playing him, it only hurts Chytil’s value. We’ve seen him look more effective playing the right side with Panarin and Strome. Why not go back to it for now until Drury makes a move? It’s a better option.

Especially if he wants to keep Goodrow in that checking role with Reaves and Gauthier, who continues to play hard. Unfortunately, he also continues to blow scoring chances by missing the net like he did on a great rush. Just call him Stone Hands Goat ๐Ÿ. That’s my new nicname. This isn’t a knock either. Gauthier is a hard-working player who draw peernalties and goes to the net. He just can’t finish.

Speaking of which, can you play all checkers on your bottom two lines and be successful? By continuing to play Greg McKegg along with the ice cold Kevin Rooney (no goals since 12/7), it hurts the scoring. There isn’t much depth to begin with. He also decided to take another look at Morgan Barron. A checking forward who only received 7:53 of ice time after getting 7:41 yesterday. Nothing against Barron, who looks like a serviceable player. But if you’re going to play him, PLAY HIM!

Chytil wouldn’t get so little ice time. But Turk has decided that he’s better off with a healthy Keg Man. At least Gauthier broke 11 minutes. You never know how Gallant will use his bottom six. It varies game to game. Tonight, with them trailing by four, he decided to take the handcuffs off and play certain players more. Understandable with how little he got from Panarin and Strome. Yes. They did combine for a goal to make it interesting late. But they aren’t getting it done.

Here’s a question for the coach. Can your team survive when your leading scorer has only 14 goals and your second center just scored his 11th of the season? That BTW matches Goodrow, who’s plugged everywhere. If they don’t make an upgrade soon, the scoring is going to disappear. It’s already beginning to.

Since defeating the Panthers 5-2 on Feb. 1, they’ve scored three goals or more in only one of the last six games. That came against the Caps on Thursday. A team that’s headed the wrong way. The Rangers have totaled 11 goals over that span since returning to action on Feb. 15.

There’s also the status of Kaapo Kakko. Sean McCaffrey spotted this via Twitter. That’s a cast. Yikes.

We know honesty isn’t the best policy with MSG. Kakko is missed. Despite my gripes about his lack of finishing ability, he can forecheck and is defensively responsible. His return is up in the air. That’s even more reason for Drury to work the phones for a top six forward. Preferably someone who’s offensively capable. Phil Kessel still qualifies. He might not be the player he once was. But his 27 assists and 33 points would rank in the top six on our roster. He plays on the Tucson Coyotes.

While the Rangers figure it out between now and March 21, they know there are players available who can help the offense. As I’ve noted before, it’s very top heavy. Kreider leads in goals with 34 followed by Zibanejad, who has 20. It drops off to Panarin (14) and the emerging Alexis Lafreniere, who got number 12 earlier to place fourth ahead of both Strome and Goodrow.

It would also help if Adam Fox looked at the net and tried to score. He passes up a lot of open shooting opportunities. The one in the Pens’ loss was frustrating. As special a player as he is, Fox needs to think shot more. You don’t have to ask Jacob Trouba to shoot. He does when it’s available. They haven’t been going in. He’s in a slump with no goals over the last 11. Trouba has eight goals on 143 shots while the better scoring Fox has seven on 94 shots. I included tonight.

The power play has also cooled off. Granted. They haven’t been getting as many recently. But they took another collar in three attempts. They’re 0 for the last 8. When the man-advantage isn’t as efficient, that means they must score more at even strength. Something they did in the 4-0 shutout of the Caps.

If you run into a hot goalie, that doesn’t help. Both Jarry and Demko were over 24 hours. Demko not only robbed Kreider, but also thwarted Zibanejad early before Miller found Pearson open for his 10th to put the Canucks in front.

Trailing by a goal, the Rangers went to the power play on a delay of game from Luke Schenn. The best chance came in front with Kreider stoned on the doorstep by Demko. This would become a theme throughout. Gauthier would then break in and miss completely on a backhand by sending it into the corner. Stone Hands Goat ๐Ÿ.

A couple of shifts later, Demko stopped Strome on a tip-in. He really was the story. It continued later in the period. After Panarin drew a hook on Vasily Podkolzin, Kreider was robbed twice more on consecutive point blank shots from in tight. Then he missed on a backhand. He usually converts these. Not tonight.

In a crushing sequence, Demko robbed K’Andre Miller on another backdoor try with under a minute left. The Canucks quickly transitioned the opposite way with Matthew Highmore and Miller combining to feed Tyler Myers for a shot that went off the far goalpost and banked in off of Georgiev, who was a bit off his angle with 39 seconds left. That was a huge turning point. Of course, it was the first goal for Myers. A Blueshirts tradition.

The second was nothing like the first. It was completely different. Following an early Trouba shot on Demko, the Canucks tilted the ice. Georgiev settled down to make some good saves. That included a strong denial on Alex Chiasson.

However, a Zac Jones pass up the boards to no Ranger went right to Luke Schenn for a wrist shot that Juho Lammikko redirected past Georgiev for his sixth at 6:06. On the play, Jones sent the puck around, but there was no support. Instead, the Canucks turned it into a goal that made it 3-0 thanks to a good Schenn pinch.

With Vancouver continuing to press the attack, it appeared that the Rangers were running on fumes. Considering the gas prices, I think we all can relate to being on an empty tank.

I wish Ukraine wasn’t under attack by Russia. I follow a local reporter who traveled back home to cover it. Thankfully, she’s safe and has been providing updates while traveling with many other Ukrainians to Poland. The situation is insane. God bless them. I can only imagine what they’re going through. That’s my only war reference in this blog. Pray for peace. ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ’™โœจ

Back to the game. In a period where not much went right, the Rangers failed on another power play. It wasn’t even close though. They didn’t set up much. The Canucks were aggressive forcing turnovers.

After the power outage, Goodrow took a very lazy holding minor when he grabbed Elias Pettersson. Most of the penalty kill was good. However, they couldn’t quite keep the Canucks off the scoreboard. With only one second left on the power play, Highmore got loose and deflected in an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot at 15:16. That made it 4-zip.

As the period wound down, you could hear collective groans from the crowd. What really disappointed me were the boos some “fans” gave our team as the second expired. On what planet did they deserve that? This team has done nothing but overachieve. They’re a good team that’s going to the playoffs. Those aren’t true fans. What fools.

Entering the third, I wanted to see this team compete. It would’ve been easy to go away and lose even worse. One thing about the ’21-22 Rangers is they never quit. There was a lot of fight in them for period nine over the last four days. That’s called character.

Gallant decided to start Ryan Reaves on the invisible second line with Panarin and Strome. One thing he did was deliver a big hit on defenseman Quinn Hughes. That woke the crowd up. It wasn’t the only instance in which Reaves finished a check on Hughes. I was half wondering if the Canucks had anyone who could respond. Hughes is their top defenseman and young. There wasn’t any response.

With the Canucks backing off a little bit, suddenly the Rangers began to pressure them. A noticeable change from Gallant was his increased usage of third pair Zac Jones and Braden Schneider. They were good in the period. There definitely is chemistry. How about the give and go Jones tried with Schneider. Only Demko prevented a highlight reel goal by staying up to get a blocker on the Schneider high shot.

Gallant also mixed up his line combinations. One player whose name kept coming up was Lafreniere. We’ve seen his confidence grow. Finally, Zibanejad skated into the Vancouver zone and dished the puck across for a lightning like one-timer Lafreniere whipped top shelf past the outstretched glove of Demko. His 12th at 9:53 got the fans back into it.

Still down by three, the re-energized Rangers kept coming. Suddenly, they pinned the Canucks in for shifts. It was Demko again being called upon to make key stops. You could feel momentum shifting.

For most of the third, I hadn’t noticed Panarin or Strome. Then, out they were when Panarin finally did something. He sent a pass down low for Strome, who was able to sneak it in past Demko right in front. That made it 4-2 with 5:57 remaining. The crowd erupted.

On the scoring play, Fox added his 43rd assist. His 43 helpers lead all NHL defensemen. It also gave him 50 points on the season. Even though he wasn’t particularly good in this game, Fox always must be accounted for.

As soon as the scoreboard changed to Canucks 4, Rangers 2, Boudreau didn’t mess around. He called his timeout to pause the Rangers’ momentum. He didn’t say anything to his players. He didn’t have to. It was just a reminder. A very smart move by a proven coach who has his team within a point of the wildcard after their poor start.

With over three minutes left, Gallant lifted Georgiev for an extra attacker. Unfortunately, they never got any closer. Demko made the saves. He stopped 12 of 14 in the third again stoning Kreider, who was everywhere despite not scoring. That’s what we now expect from him.

Following a Demko outlet, Pettersson was able to find just enough of an angle to send a backhand by Jones that hit the target to make it 5-2 Canucks with 2:09 to go.

Was this loss disappointing? No. Only because it was the second of a back-to-back following an emotionally charged game that was physical. They didn’t have a lot left. Could they have won had Shesterkin started? Possibly. But I only felt Georgiev gave up one bad goal. The crusher to Myers. He was okay making 29 saves on 33 shots. It was his first start in a month.

The only part that annoyed me was Gallant’s insistence on playing Hunt on the second line. Mystifying. He’s a fourth liner. That’s fine. Use him that way. As a high energy guy. Similar to Gauthier.

Both Panarin and Strome need to get it in gear. The games are going to get tougher. There’s 29 left. They need the Bread Man and his center to pick it up. They’re likely not getting a new right wing until at least the second week of March. Panarin is supposed to be the superstar who drives it. He hasn’t been for a while. They pay him a lot of money. It’s not just to pass the puck or over pass.

Next up are the Blues. You know what that means. Pavel Buchnevich. The next three days are going to be insufferable thanks to NYR Twitter. A place where a bunch of misfits don’t realize that Kreider’s success came due to the subtraction of Buchnevich, who’s also succeeded without Zibanejad. He had to go due to the salary cap. Otherwise, they couldn’t keep Zibanejad and extend Fox.

Had Sammy Blais stayed healthy no thanks to the dirt bag P.K. Subban, nobody would care about Buchnevich. Good for him on finding a new home in St. Louis and reaching his potential. Newsflash. It would’ve never happened here. See Kovalev, Alexei. A much better player who needed a change of scenery to blossom.

I’m not going to add anything else. The Blues are quite good. They boast better players than Buchnevich. Vladimir Tarasenko. Brayden Schenn. Ryan O’Reilly. Jordan Kyrou. Robert Thomas is a very underrated playmaking center. Buchnevich definitely has benefited from the talent the Blues have. They have more scoring depth. Even Ivan Barbashev is a 40-point player. Plus that pest David Perron.

They’re like the polar opposite of the Rangers. Lots of scoring. Depth. But questionable goaltending. Unless Jordan Binnington is able to regain his Stanley Cup form. He shutout the Blackhawks. But they’re not good. Is he going to regain his job over Ville Husso? We’ll see.

That’s going to wrap things up. If you want to follow our hockey account, that’s BattleOfHudson on Twitter. If just me, it’s DFlex2123. I am sometimes on either. Depends if it’s a busy hockey night. Wednesday, I’ll probably be back on our official Battle Of Hudson account. See you soon! Stay safe. ๐Ÿ’œ โœจโญ

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 New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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