Led by Panarin, Rangers run Wild in Minnesota, Lafreniere gets first career two assist game, Kreider sends message and gets a pair, Reaves takes on Foligno

Quite literally, it was a wild night in St. Paul. Playing for the first time on the road in the new season, the Rangers ran the Wild out of their building by a score of 7-3 at Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota.

Following a day off, the Rangers beat Marc-Andre Fleury seven times on 35 shots to handle a good opponent who had an off night in front of a disappointed sellout crowd of 18,612. It was a nice contrast from last season when they lost to Minnesota twice.

Taking advantage of undisciplined penalties and sloppy defensive play, the Rangers made the Wild pay for their incompetence. By the time Chris Kreider had tipped home his second of the night with under six minutes left in regulation, they had put up a touchdown and kicked the extra point.

Not only did they improve to 2-0 for ’22-23. But in a game where the Wild took liberties with two key players, the Blueshirts showed the true character that will make them a tough team to deal with. Twice, Minnesota players pushed the envelope. The Rangers addressed each without any hesitation.

Unlike the home opener they won 3-1 over the Lightning, this one had a bit of everything. It made for a topsy turvy contest. There was scoring, battles, timely saves from Igor Shestyorkin and chaos.

Following player introductions, it was time to play some hockey in Minnesota. They really do love their puck. It’s definitely the kind of environment I wouldn’t mind experiencing. I follow a beautiful Instagram model who is from the area. She loves her Wild hockey and even attended the outdoor game last winter. That’s how you know the fans appreciate their team.

For the first period, I actually tuned into the Wild broadcast on my tablet, which still works pretty well for a device I’ve had for over five years. The telecast was pretty good. The action came in well on the screen and I was able to easily follow it. Sometimes, it’s not a bad idea to check out the road broadcast. Theirs is good. I’d recommend it to any curious fans who want to check out Minnesota on NHL 66.

In the early going, the Wild had good jump. The vaunted top scoring line that features superstar Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman created a couple of great scoring chances. Coach Dean Evason got the match-up he wanted by having that lethal trio out against the Rangers’ third pair of Zac Jones and Braden Schneider.

The first opportunity was a great passing sequence between Kaprizov and Zuccarello that saw Hartman left wide open in the slot. But his shot missed wide.

The second bid was again another perfect set-up for Hartman in front. But Shestyorkin denied him point blank for his best save. That set the tone. He would make 33 saves on 36 shots.

While the Wild looked to attack with both that first line and the heavy second line that features Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno and Tyson Jost until Jordan Greenway returns, they were their own worst enemy.

A loss of discipline proved costly. Jacob Middleton took the game’s first penalty when he took an unnecessary tripping minor on Ryan Carpenter. The Rangers went to work on the power play.

After an initial clear, the top unit quickly gained the Wild zone and got it set up. On just a great passing play, Artemi Panarin moved the puck across for Mika Zibanejad in the left dot. Instead of taking the shot, he caught an overly aggressive Fleury cheating. Zibanejad passed across for an easy Kreider tap in at 4:06 on the power play.

After the goal, it was mostly Wild at five-on-five. Able to use their team speed to get in on the cycle and generate chances, they controlled the action. Shestyorkin made four straight saves including a couple of sharp ones on Hartman and Jared Spurgeon.

Following a Hartman miss in the slot, Kaprizov forced Ryan Lindgren to take him down behind the net. That put the Wild on the man-advantage. During the five-on-four, they got a few shots. But Shestyorkin was strong making a good save on an Eriksson Ek backhand.

A bad Hartman trip on Vincent Trocheck ended the power play with 10 seconds remaining. After the first unit was ineffective, out came the second unit. Featuring Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Jones and Jacob Trouba, they applied some pressure. Lafreniere twice tested Fleury before it expired. He was terrific throughout and left his fingerprints on the game.

Back at full strength, K’Andre Miller forced Hartman into a turnover to keep the puck inside the Minnesota zone. Panarin then moved the puck down for Lafreniere who made a great pass for a cutting Adam Fox who buried it for his first of the season at 16:03. It was a big time feed from a more confident young player.

With time winding down in the period, the new second line went to work. On a strong cycle from Vincent Trocheck, the puck came to Lafreniere in the corner. He made a terrific backhand feed in front for a sweet Panarin finish that made it 3-0 with 13 seconds left. It was the first career two assist game for Lafreniere. It sure won’t be the last.

After getting outshot 15-8, the Rangers were put on another power play when Hartman hooked into Panarin over a minute into the second period. This time, it was the Wild who picked it up with a good penalty kill. They even had three shorthanded shots from distance including one from Frederick Gaudreau. None threatened Shestyorkin.

A couple of minutes later, Jones went off for a hook on Brandon Duhaime. Put on their second power play, the Wild made the most of it. Following some strong early work by Jacob Trouba on the penalty kill, the Wild finally got on the scoreboard when Kaprizov took a Foligno pass and made a nice backhand saucer pass for a quick Zuccarello one-timer that went blocker side on Shestyorkin to make it 3-1 at 7:45.

Following a dubious tripping call on an incensed Fox, who inadvertently knocked down Gaudreau after a shot, the Wild would get a golden opportunity when 38 seconds into the man-advantage, Kreider high-sticked Eriksson Ek due to him poking at Shestyorkin when he had the puck covered. It was the kind of message you wanted to see from Kreider at that moment. I didn’t care that it gave Minnesota a five-on-three. I loved what he did, defending his goalie.

This was the defining moment of the game. With a two-man advantage for 1:22, the Wild couldn’t cash in. I thought the Rangers three-man penalty kill did an outstanding job. Zibanejad read a Zuccarello pass and cleared the puck down for a change. Lindgren blocked a Kaprizov shot. Shestyorkin made three saves down two men without a problem.

Following one more stop on Kaprizov, Eriksson Ek got into it with Lindgren. Both went off for matching roughing minors. Frustration boiled over for the Wild. They really didn’t execute well during this critical stage of the game.

With less than four minutes to go in the second, Fox just missed a wraparound. Somehow, Fleury stretched out to deny the bid. During the same shift, Barclay Goodrow passed to Fox for a low point shot that took a carom right to Chytil, who was able to steer in a backhand for his first at even strength. That made it 4-1. On the play, Jimmy Vesey was battling in front.

The Rangers took the three-goal lead to the locker room. They had to feel pretty good at that point. They were up three after 40 minutes and made the most of their chances, having scored four goals on 21 shots. However, the third period was a different story.

It looked over when Panarin fed across for a Trocheck finish at 4:18 to make it 5-1. It was the first goal for Trocheck as a Ranger. But before you could get comfortable, a bad shift by the fourth line and Fox allowed Matt Boldy to convert a backhand in front 58 seconds later to cut it to 5-2.

Then, things went haywire. Following a heavy hit by Foligno on Miller, who went off the ice, Kakko had a dominant shift. Controlling the puck around the Wild net, he finally found open space and made a strong power move and finish for his first unassisted at 5:46. The goal 30 seconds later answered Boldy and made it 6-2 with 14:14 left.

But on another lousy defensive shift where nobody took a body, Boldy took a Matt Dumba pass and skated around both Jones and Schneider before tucking home a backhand past Shestyorkin for his second in 1:04. That again made it a three-goal deficit.

Things finally settled down afterwards. Following a successful Minnesota penalty kill, eventually Gallant sent his checking line out for a neutral zone face-off. After exchanging words, Ryan Reaves and Marcus Foligno dropped the gloves with 6:43 remaining.

It was obvious that Reaves didn’t like the hit Foligno put on Miller. He was okay and returned even having a couple of terrific shifts. Foligno is a tough guy who’s accountable for his actions. He obliged. Reaves got the decision by landing more blows. It was settled.

There was one more heated exchange between Dryden Hunt and Jacob Middleton. Middleton reminds me of a throwback player due to his look. Think 70’s or 80’s. He’s a big boy. Hunt slashed him after Middleton gave Hunt a cross-check. Your usual stuff. Both went off for minors.

Right after, Zibanejad won an offensive draw back to Miller for a point shot that Kreider redirected in for his second of the game with 5:53 to go. That put it out of reach.

On another shift, Miller used his speed to get behind the Minnesota defense optional. But he was denied by Fleury. He would be lifted early. Something the Wild did with good results last year. The Rangers didn’t score an empty netter.

The game eventually wound down. When it was over, the Rangers had their second win of the young season. It wasn’t the prettiest considering how much it opened up in the third. But they handled one of the West’s best on their home rink.

That’s a good win. Now, it’s the first back-to-back with Trouba’s former team. The Blueshirts visit Winnipeg Friday night. It’ll be another 8 PM start. Expect Jaro Halak to make his Rangers debut.

With another game coming up, that’ll do it. I did host a Twitter Space. Thanks to TheGMan713 for joining me. It was fun. We didn’t only discuss the win. But some old stuff from the 90’s. I definitely will try to host more Spaces.

See you later.


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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