Gauthier and Jones spark Rangers in big win over Stars to end winless streak, Miller struggles continue, Kravtsov suffers possible concussion


It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t have to be. The most important takeaway from today’s matinee in Dallas is that the Rangers ended their winless streak at four by defeating the Stars 6-3 before 18,532 at American Airlines Center.

They took advantage of Jake Oettinger exiting the game with the score even at two in the second period. The Rangers would beat Dallas backup Scott Wedgewood four times on 17 shots over the remainder to post an important win on the road.

It stopped an 0-2-2 stretch where they’d only scored five goals with three losses coming at home. Plus the recent shutout at their home away from home at UBS Arena. Unlike those games, they rediscovered their offense by scoring half a dozen including going 2-for-5 on the power play. A big improvement.

There are many positives to take out of this game. Chris Kreider snapped a six-game scoring drought by getting his third of the season. He also helped set up a goal on the power play for sidekick Mika Zibanejad, who also erased a four-game slide without a point by finishing with a goal and two assists. It was much needed for both.

Zac Jones scored his first career NHL goal to break a 3-3 tie with under nine minutes remaining in regulation. He would add a helper 19 seconds later on a Julien Gauthier goal that sparked the team to three straight goals in 2:07. It was the first two-point game for Jones, who was moved up to the second pair with Jacob Trouba during the crucial third period by Gerard Gallant.

Playing his second game of the season, Gauthier finally got rewarded for his hustle by helping keep a loose puck alive that led to Jones’ game-winner. He then followed it up with a great individual effort by getting to a Sammy Blais flip pass and beating Wedgewood to put the puck into an empty net to make it 5-3. That’s huge for his confidence and hopefully will lead to more offense.

Vincent Trocheck scored twice and added an assist for a three-point game. His second goal came on a delayed call when Alexis Lafreniere and Zibanejad combined to get the puck across for a one-timer into an open side during a six-on-five situation. It was a beautiful play with Zibanejad one-touching the Lafreniere pass over for an open Trocheck for the third consecutive goal that put it away.

Igor Shesterkin returned to the net after getting the Islanders game off. He was solid throughout making 30 saves on 33 shots. The only hiccup was allowing top Stars finisher Jason Robertson to beat him through the pads off a face-off that tied the game at three late in the second.

There were a couple of negatives that came out of the game. K’Andre Miller continued to struggle. He was on for three more goals against with Trouba. While you couldn’t pinpoint two of the goals on him per se, he didn’t pick up Mason Marchment on the game’s first goal scored 1:09 into the game. Eventually, Miller was demoted by Gallant to the third pair where he finished up playing with Braden Schneider.

The other concern is yet another injury to Vitaly Kravtsov. Cleared to return from whatever was ailing him, he played sparingly on the fourth line in place of Ryan Reaves. However, it was on a shift during the second period that he got injured. Going for a puck in the corner which was due to hustle, Kravtsov was leveled by big physical defenseman Jani Hakanpaa- sending him down to the ice.

Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay rushed out on the ice to tend to Kravtsov. He eventually got up, but limped off the ice to the locker room. Considering that his head was exposed, it hit hard on the boards by Hakanpaa, whose hit was clean. It was an unfortunate play. There was no update on Kravtsov’s status.

Obviously, it’s another “upper-body” injury. Similar to Filip Chytil, who didn’t make the trip after leaving practice early yesterday, it’s not hard to imagine that Kravtsov suffered a possible concussion. Although the team keeps such information private, we pretty much know that Chytil has one. If we don’t see Kravtsov for a while, one can assume that it’s likely due to a head injury.

So far, his return has been nothing but bad luck. An iffy hit by Victor Hedman in the season opener against Tampa Bay ended his night early. He missed over a week before coming back to play against Columbus and Colorado. Kravtsov took a hit during a shift in the third period and didn’t finish Tuesday’s game. He sat out versus the Islanders. Now, another injury which looks serious. He must feel jinxed.

I hope he won’t be out too long. The health of a player is always important. Especially when it involves hits like the one Hakanpaa delivered during a puck battle. It happens. Hockey is a tough sport. It isn’t always a dirty play that causes serious injuries. Ask Marc Staal, who was concussed by older brother Eric during a game. He missed significant time.

Aside from the Kravtsov injury, it was nice to see the Rangers light the lamp half a dozen times against a good team. A good response to the 3-0 shutout despite getting 41 shots on Ilya Sorokin. They definitely benefitted from Wedgewood replacing Oettinger, who left with an unknown injury. The Stars also were without top defenseman Miro Heiskanen.

It doesn’t matter. You still have to go out and play the game. The bottom line is they took care of business. It was crucial to get back in the win column. Especially when you look at how tight the Metro Division is. The noticeable improvement of the Devils and Flyers not withstanding. After visiting Arizona State tomorrow night to face the Coyotes at Mullett Arena, the Rangers will see those John Tortorella Flyers on Tuesday.

The start of the game wasn’t exactly what you want to see. On a Stars offensive shift, the second line lost a board battle along the wall. Even worse, they all flew the zone leaving Trouba and Miller by themselves. That allowed Marchment to receive a Tyler Seguin pass and beat Shesterkin with Miller lost in coverage.

However, the Rangers were able to draw even. On a good low shot from Schneider, the puck took a bounce off Nils Lundkvist to Kakko, who had it come right to Kreider for an easy finish at 8:41.

Ironic that it was Lundkvist since he was facing the Rangers for the first time as a Star. He played over 20 minutes and had three shots in the game. He also took a penalty and drew one in the first period.

With the game still tied, Stars forward Ty Dellandrea purposely skated through the crease and tripped Shesterkin down to the ice with 18 seconds left. He had to be tended to. Fortunately, he was okay to continue. The Rangers were incensed. Of all people, Artemi Panarin went after Dellandrea leading to matching roughing minors. Dellandrea received the extra two for the original.

With the power play carrying over to the second period, they made Dellandrea pay for his cheap play. After Kakko hustled to keep the puck alive, Adam Fox moved it down for Zibanejad who sent it across for a Trocheck one-timer past Oettinger 59 seconds into the period.

But the lead was short-lived. The Stars came right back 29 seconds later with Roope Hintz able to get to a rebound off a Joe Pavelski tip to beat Shesterkin. On the play, the Stars were able to win the battle along the boards to get the puck up top for Robertson. Trouba, who lost a battle to Pavelski then was too late to pick up Hintz, who tied the game at 1:28.

In a recurring theme, the Rangers kept going after Dellandrea. They wanted to get the message across loud and clear. Shesterkin is off limits. Trocheck and Dellandrea got into it for matching roughs. Kreider especially let him know about it throughout the game. Exactly what you love to see.

Another Stars penalty allowed the Rangers to go back to work on the five-on-four. This time, it was Zibanejad who was able to redirect a Panarin feed past Wedgewood to give the Rangers another lead with 5:42 remaining. Kreider won the draw and then Panarin found open space to pass in front for a neat Zibanejad tip-in.

But late in the period, Robertson struck to score unassisted off an offensive draw. With a little bit of a mix-up in coverage due to a loose puck, he took advantage to snap a wrist shot underneath Shesterkin at 18:46 to send the game to the locker room tied at three.

The third was played mostly at five-on-five. Although the shots favored Dallas 8-7, it was the Rangers who made the big plays to win the game.

On a forecheck, Gauthier raced to keep a puck alive. That allowed Trocheck to find an open Jones at the point for a good shot that beat Wedgewood to break the tie score with 8:42 left. That gave him goal number one in the NHL. Congrats to Zac.

With the crowd still buzzing, Jones got the puck to Blais, who tried one of those lob passes. It worked. With Wedgewood aggressively coming way out of his crease, he was beaten to the loose puck by a flying Gauthier who then went around and put a good shot into the empty net for his first of the season to suddenly make it 5-3.

We’ve seen Gauthier miss those chances plenty of times. Or go wide. This time, he was able to score to make it two straight goals in 19 seconds. It stunned the crowd.

On a strong offensive shift, they drew a delayed penalty on the Stars. However, being the patient puck possession team they are, they kept moving it around. On a quick reset, Panarin made a nice play at the Dallas blue line to get onside and slip the puck ahead for Lafreniere.

He then passed in front for Zibanejad. Instead of shooting it, he redirected a nice pass for Trocheck to bury for the second of the game at 13:25. That finished it off.

After killing a Blais penalty, Barclay Goodrow decided to knock down easy target Dellandrea with under a minute left to go off for roughing. It didn’t matter. The game was over. It was the right time to get an extra shot on Dellandrea for his shenanigans.

Next up are the Coyotes. They played their first home game Friday night on the campus of Arizona State at Mullett Arena. In a nice touch, they had franchise great Shane Doan at center ice with son Josh Doan, who is a Sun Devil the Coyotes drafted. The elder Doan dropped the ceremonial first puck before face-off against the Winnipeg Jets.

Whatever your feelings are towards the ‘Yotes playing their games at Arizona State with a cap of 5,000 seats, it definitely is a unique situation. They’ll have a college environment at home. Something you don’t see in the NHL. It actually could be better than what existed at the old arena where there were many empty seats.

Is it ideal? No. But that’s what’s happening. Commissioner Gary Bettman refuses to relocate the Coyotes. The hope is they’ll get a brand new arena built that will keep them in the Desert. That’s supposed to happen. It must for there to finally be financial stability.

The Rangers and Coyotes will face-off at 8 EST tomorrow night. Arizona might not possess much talent. But they do work hard. So, the Blueshirts can’t take them lightly. Will Turk give Shesterkin a back-to-back? I would. But it’s his decision.

THREE STARS 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Vincent Trocheck NYR 2 goals (3rd, 4th) plus 🍎, 9-5 on draws, +1 in 20:40

2nd 🌟 🤩 Julien Gauthier NYR 1st goal of season plus 🍎, +1 in 10:45

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Zac Jones NYR 1st career NHL goal and 🍎, +3 in 15:38

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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