When he gets going, Chris Kreider can turn on the afterburner literally. In tonight’s 4-1 win over Winnipeg, he turned on the jets literally. The Rangers won their third straight game by defeating the Jets before a very quiet crowd at Canada Life Centre.
Normally, Winnipeg is one of the loudest arenas. However, you barely heard a mouse for most of the game. That’s due to the disjointed play from their hockey team. The final stats might’ve read: Jets 45 shots, Rangers 22. But anyone who watched it knows how misleading the total shots were.
To be blunt, the game was pretty boring until the Jets finally converted on their third power play when Nik Ehlers beat Igor Shesterkin to pull Winnipeg within a goal at 13:34 of the second period. A rash of penalties threatened to change the game. But Shesterkin locked in and stopped 14 of 15 power play shots. Far too many.
For the game, Shesterkin stopped 45 of 46 shots. He improved to 10-0 when he faces 40-plus shots. The more busy he is, the harder it is to beat him. He upped his record to 28-6-3. When he wakes up tomorrow, his GAA will improve along with the save percentage that was at .940. There isn’t anything left to say. If he keeps this up, it’s an all-time season for a goalie.
As lopsided as the shots on goal were, most of the Jets’ shots were kept to the outside. Shesterkin dirty face much traffic either. This wasn’t like the heroic effort where he stole a game from the Devils. It was just him continuing to repel shots. Most of which he saw. His best one was an acrobatic desperation reverse stop that would’ve made Dominik Hasek proud. He also denied Pierre-Luc Dubois after he went around Adam Fox.
The biggest takeaway were the penalties. Gerard Gallant can’t be happy with them. They took some ill advised minors throughout. Particularly in the first two periods. Anytime you take three in a period, that’s not good. They did so in the first and still came out 2-0 up due to goals from Barclay Goodrow (12th) and Kreider (league-leading 19th PPG).
As strange a game as Winnipeg played, they still are a threat to score on the five-on-four. They boast some considerable talent in Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Dubois, Ehlers and Paul Stastny. It isn’t easy to keep killing penalties. They’re a good shorthanded team. But the lack of discipline can’t continue when they visit Minnesota Tuesday and then St. Louis for a rematch on Thursday. The four-game road trip concludes on Saturday at Dallas.
Winning hockey games is one thing. They do that quite well. In game 56 of 82, the Blueshirts got timely scoring from Goodrow, Kreider (37 and 38) and Mika Zibanejad to pass the idle Pens for second in the Metropolitan Division. Both rivals have 77 points, but the Rangers hold one game at hand. Don’t forget the remaining three games between the two. That’ll likely determine who finishes higher in the standings. Each trail the first place Hurricanes by six points. Carolina won 3-2 over Seattle.
Before getting into the particulars, Gallant made two lineup changes nobody could’ve predicted. Normally he doesn’t change anything after wins. But for tonight, out were Julien Gauthier and Morgan Barron. In were Tim Gettinger and forgotten eighth defenseman Libor Hajek. Neither played eight minutes. Strange.
Whatever the reason, this is what the lineup was. It basically featured 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. That allowed Gallant to double shift his better players while working in Gettinger and Jonny Brodzinski, who impressed enough on Friday night to stay in. He deserved it. Not only did he, but Soda Brodzinski received 15:21 of ice time in an expanded third line/penalty killing role.
Don’t forget they’re without Kevin Rooney. Maybe they like the way Brodzinski plays. I’ve never come away unimpressed when he has. He recently signed a two-year extension staying with the organization. It’s obvious why. He is a leader for the younger kids at Hartford. He also knows how to play the game. Kind of like former Ranger Colin Blackwell, who has seven goals on the Kraken. I wouldn’t mind a reunion with Blackwell if it’s to fill a 4th line role. But perhaps they’re taking a look at Brodzinski.
In regards to the defense, Hajek was worked in by Gord Murphy for 10 shifts all at even strength. As long as he doesn’t screw up, fine. He didn’t. The sad part is Hajek was credited with one more shot on net than Artemi Panarin.
The Bread Man is a mystifying star player who has become allergic to shooting. Sure. He picked up two assists giving him a team best 61 points. Lately, the fiddling around between him and sidekick Ryan Strome is driving me nuts. You can’t have two of your better players combine for two shots. Ridiculous. It’s also maddening watching them play with No Hands Dryden Hunt. A solid energy guy who belongs on the checking line. He finishes checks and is an honest player. That’s all.
A positive from this game was the play of the third line. Mostly made up of Goodrow, Filip Chytil and Brodzinski, they were on for the first goal. On a Chytil pass to Jacob Trouba, he drove the lane and found a wide open Goodrow for his 12th at 2:01 of the first period. Goody as Lightning fans call him, continues to close in on his career high in points for a season. He’s up to 23 (12-11-23) in Year One on Broadway. In ’19-20, he had a combined 26 (8-18-26) with the Sharks and Lightning where he won back-to-back Stanley Cups.
The bottom line is Goodrow is a good player. He can play wherever you need him. Whether it’s centering the third line or filling the void on the right side on the second line, he fits how Gallant wants to play. We’ve also seen Goody be effective with Ryan Reaves and Gauthier or Rooney on a checking line. Something we’ll probably see more of once Chris Drury makes a move for a scoring right wing.
Following the goal that opened the scoring, the penalty fest started. First it was Ryan Lindgren for tripping up Wheeler. Then, it was Chytil for holding Josh Morrisey. As they killed the first two minors with Shesterkin holding down the fort, the Jets returned the favor. After Lafreniere drew the first one on Dylan DeMelo (tripping), the second unit drew a second consecutive power play when Goodrow was interfered with by Logan Stanley. It was lazy.
Handed a second power play in a row, the Rangers made it count. After Panarin took an Adam Fox feed in the right circle, he tried to pass across for Zibanejad. However, it deflected off a Winnipeg skate right to Kreider, who lifted a backhand over the shoulder of Connor Hellebuyck for number 37 at 17:28. That made it 2-0.
It’s been that kind of season for Kreider. Everything is working for him. Whether it’s all the success on tips and deflections, or plays like that one where Panarin’s pass bounced right to him for a league-leading 19th power play goal, it has been a treat to watch our homegrown player be the finisher I always believed he could be. Maybe not to this level. But 30 goals always felt possible. He is now tied with Leon Draisaitl for second in goals (38). One behind Auston Matthews (39). Well deserved for the leader of this team.
Poetically, Trouba got a reaction penalty on Dubois, who got in a shot on partner K’Andre Miller. He didn’t like it. So, he got nabbed for taking Dubois down. Winnipeg finished the odd first period on another power play. When it concluded, they had 18 seconds left to start the second.
Naturally, the penalty kill got it done. Then, there actually was five-on-five play. It favored the Rangers. Not normally a strong even strength team, they controlled the puck and had Winnipeg on its heels for a good portion of the second. That included consecutive long shifts by the Panarin line where it looked like they’d draw a penalty or score. Instead, they did neither.
Strome also blew one of those scoring chances in front where he was all set up. How? Only Ryan Strome knows. At least he didn’t take one of his usual penalties. Now known as the Ryan Strome. I’m referring to one of those mindless offensive zone minors where the puck is in the opposite end.
When you don’t take care of business, things can get interesting. Even against inconsistent opponents like the Jets, who at times looked disinterested. I guess Paul Maurice wasn’t the problem. He thought they needed a different voice. Maybe they need to be blown up. If Andrew Copp is available, I’d be interested. He can help our lack of secondary scoring. He also throws his weight around.
Lafreniere hooked Stastny to hand Winnipeg their fourth power play. This time, they were able to convert. Instead of using their first unit, it was the second unit that got them on the scoreboard. Copp took a Neal Pionk feed and got the puck to Ehlers up top. After Kreider blocked his first attempt, Ehlers recovered it to go around Kreider and fire a shot that beat Shesterkin inside the goalpost at 13:34. It was his 14th in his 36th game.
Suddenly alive, the Jets began to skate better. They generated some chances which Shesterkin shutdown. On a forecheck in the Jets’ zone, Brodzinski went to play a puck and accidentally hi-sticked Pionk for the Rangers’ fifth minor of the game.
However, Winnipeg wasn’t able to draw even. Shesterkin made a couple of saves to prevent the Jets from turning things around. Had they scored, the crowd would’ve come alive. Instead, they still trailed by one after two periods.
If there was one message I’m sure was delivered by the coach, it was to stay out of the box. Even if you are a good team, you can’t keep taking penalties and expecting the goalie to bail you out.
In the third, Winnipeg came hard. Even as they got 17 shots on net, Shesterkin was unflappable. To their credit, the Rangers kept most outside and he was able to track most of the shots. That makes it easier on a goalie.
The Rangers got timely scoring to put it away. After a good defensive play from Lafreniere, who blocked a shot, the puck came to Zibanejad. All he did was send a bank pass off the side boards that led to a race won by Kreider over Nate Schmidt. The faster player, he made a nice move to get the loose puck and then caught Hellebuyck in between which allowed him to score on a backhand deke for number 38 at 6:21. Splendid stuff.
With the Jets reeling, some play behind their net allowed Panarin to set up a Trouba shot that took a funny hop inside the far goalpost. It looked like his ninth goal. However, it was changed to Zibanejad. He must’ve got a piece of it. Instead, it was his 22nd from Trouba and Panarin at 9:32.
SCORING UPDATE: The goal was changed back to Trouba. So, it’s Trouba’s ninth from Panarin. Braden Schneider originally got a secondary assist.
That made it 4-1. Too much for the Jets to overcome. They didn’t quit. But when you’re up against a hot goalie like Shesterkin playing the way he is, turn out the lights. Nothing else substantial happened. Even when the improved Patrik Nemeth took a Ryan Strome with a minute remaining, it didn’t matter.
This was exactly what I expected. My score prediction wasn’t far off. I had the Rangers winning 5-2. Right margin. They’re a better team than the Jets, who look like they’re headed for changes. I’m curious to see what they do at the deadline and in the off-season. They’re not making the playoffs. What a disappointment for Winnipeg.
Next up are the Wild. Minnesota isn’t winning lately. Despite the remarkable scoring of Kirill Kaprizov and splendid seasons from Ryan Hartman and old buddy Mats Zuccarello, they’re slumping. They lost 6-3 on Sunday at home to the hot Stars. Dallas has caught Minnesota in the standings. Jason Robertson had another hat trick. How did so many teams miss on him in 2017? Second round. Number 39.
Minnesota is a better team than how they’re performing. Kevin Fiala is a scoring threat. Matthew Boldy is another American rookie who has good upside. But they’re not getting much from Joel Eriksson Ek or Marcus Foligno lately. And the defense had trended down along with the goaltending. Especially Cam Talbot.
We’ll see what happens. St. Paul is a great place for hockey. Figure it to be exciting.
3 Stars Corrections
3rd 🌟 Jacob Trouba NYR goal (9th), assist, +2 in 20:38
2nd 🌟 Igor Shesterkin NYR 45 saves on 46 shots to improve to 10-0-0 when facing 40+ shots
1st 🌟 Chris Kreider NYR 2 goals (37, 38) including league-leading 19th PPG, 5 SOG, +1 in 16:57