Pastrnak cheap hit on Lindgren creates more injury issues for lacking Blueshirts

In case you missed it, there was a game last night at the World’s Most Renovated on 33rd and 7th. If you are subscribed to ESPN Plus or can somehow still find a way to watch like my brother, then you learned that the Rangers don’t quite measure up to the Bruins yet.

A dozen games into the season, they find themselves in the middle of the pack. Considering the injuries to key players, the 6-4-2 record is fine. They haven’t dug a hole for themselves. While both the Devils (4-3 stirring win at Edmonton) and Islanders are hot, each still must prove their recent play is sustainable. The Devs appear much improved. We’ll see.

Featured on ESPN Plus again, the Rangers ran into a buzz saw on Thursday night. Even without top defenseman Charlie McAvoy and second center David Krejci, the Bruins can do no wrong.

On a night neither Brad Marchand or Patrice Bergeron did anything, Boston still put four shots past Igor Shesterkin. They tacked on an empty netter to put a stamp on a four goal third period where they dominated the Rangers for a 5-2 win.

Entering the match, the Blueshirts had won three in a row. The best of the three wins came at Dallas over last weekend when they put up a touchdown in a 6-3 victory. An outlier for a good Stars team that currently sits atop the Central Division. Then, there was the 3-2 win over the Coyotes at Mullett Arena. Finally, Chris Kreider won Tuesday’s goalie duel between Shesterkin and Carter Hart in the final minute of overtime to give his team a 1-0 shutout over the Flyers.

So, they came in playing better hockey. However, the Bruins are on a different level right now. Under new coach Jim Montgomery, they’re scoring at a high clip. All while getting stellar goaltending from Linus Ullmark, who has yet to lose a game. They’ll ride him with Jeremy Swayman out. He made the necessary stops last night on what was a paltry effort from the Rangers, who were severely outplayed in the third period. They were out-shot 17-4 and only totaled 20 shots.

It was back in the first period that star David Pastrnak didn’t take too kindly to a clean hit from Blueshirt warrior Ryan Lindgren. The rugged defenseman who once was a Bruins draft pick, absolutely leveled Pastrnak with a good shoulder to chest thump against the glass that knocked the bigger scorer down.

Pastrnak responded by catching Lindgren with a cheap hit that caught him from the side. He received a two-minute minor for interference. Hardly enough punishment for a dangerous hit that came from the blind side.

Lindgren took two more shifts before leaving the game for good. That left coach Gerard Gallant with just five defensemen to rotate. Not ideal when you’re facing stiff competition. He leaned heavily on former Norris winner Adam Fox (25:07) and K’Andre Miller (26:20). Zac Jones and struggling captain Jacob Trouba each received over 23 minutes while Braden Schneider got 16:19.

Of course, Gallant didn’t use the Lindgren injury as an alibi for the defeat. But when you lose one of your most trusted defensemen, who plays the game the right way, it certainly doesn’t help the cause. Especially when he and Fox have been the most consistent players on the back end so far. Both Jones and Trouba saw time with Fox as Turk mixed and matched.

An inspired second period saw Jimmy Vesey score his first goal as a Ranger since March 29, 2019 to tie the score. Then, Schneider laid an absolute monstrous hit on Trent Frederic that drew a quick reaction from A.J. Greer. He took up for Frederic and lost a fight to the bigger Schneider. Frederic fought Barclay Goodrow in an entertaining scrap that brought the Garden to life.

Despite Greer getting the instigator to hand them a power play, the Rangers did nothing on the five-on-four. They went 0-for-2. When the man-advantage doesn’t click, it’s a struggle for them to score consistently at even strength. There’s a lot of pressure on the top six to produce. When Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider don’t, it’s a problem. You can include Vincent Trocheck, who’s only a point better than Ryan Strome despite playing with much better line mates.

Every night, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere get chances. They aren’t going in for either. Their improvement is noticeable during shifts. You see a more confident Kakko possessing the puck and being harder to take off it to the point where he’s had some quality looks. He did his part yesterday setting up the Rangers’ two goals. Lafreniere is always doing grunt work in front looking for tips and rebounds. He is tough on the wall. The goalpost hasn’t helped his luck.

The bottom line with the pair of 21-year olds is they’re getting better. Through 12 games, they have identical 2-3-5 lines. That ties them for sixth in team scoring behind the top five of Panarin (5-11-16), Zibanejad (6-8-14), Fox (3-7-10), Kreider (4-5-9) and Trocheck (4-5-9). There’s plenty of season left for the former 2019 second pick and 2020 top pick to increase the scoring. It’ll come.

When you look closely at the third and fourth lines, there isn’t much offense. Without Filip Chytil, who’s badly missed due to his unique combination of speed, skill and willingness to forecheck, there is a huge drop-off. Goodrow has two goals and two assists. He brings an honest approach. But it’s much harder to contribute on the score sheet playing with Julien Gauthier and Vesey. While both play hard, there isn’t enough skill.

The third line basically is another fourth line. Speaking of which, Sammy Blais is finishing checks. His play has improved. However, he can’t be on a checking line with Ryan Carpenter and Ryan Reaves. They are purposely bringing him along slowly due to the recovery time it takes for a player to get back to full strength from ACL surgery. At 26, it’s an important season for him. He turns unrestricted next summer. Hopefully, he can continue to make progress.

As much as Vitaly Kravtsov has struggled to stay in the lineup due to injuries and inconsistency, the Rangers will need him to figure it out. Whenever he returns, the only way for Kravtsov to regain his confidence is to play. Although I thought a conditioning stint as NY Post columnist Larry Brooks suggested sounded logical, there simply isn’t enough scoring depth to help the team’s best players.

Are we really putting our trust in Gauthier over one hustle play that saw him hit an open net? Vesey finally scored. I like him more than Gauthier due to his ability to kill penalties. I also still believe Vesey is more capable of contributing even if it’s in a fourth line/checking role.

If they need to recall a player, Jonny Brodzinski certainly knows the Gallant system well enough. While he’s not a big player, he’s a good skater who isn’t afraid to make plays with the puck. I know they want him just for Hartford due to his leadership. But Brodzinski is still someone I’d consider bringing up if the situation allows for it. Being near the salary cap upper limit doesn’t help.

With the defense not playing to capability, it becomes a problem if Lindgren has to miss any time. You hope it’s not a head injury. Of course, Pastrnak won’t face any further discipline from George Parros. Such retaliatory hits shouldn’t be part of the game. Neither should the need to respond to a clean hit with a fight.

When they say the game’s never been better, I disagree. It’s become softer. Such good open ice hits didn’t have that response in the old school era. While the game can be enjoyed by fans due to the elite talent that’s on display with scoring way up, I’d like to see more respect return.

Hitting is a big part of the game. Not one Flyer ever went after Scott Stevens the next year for laying out Eric Lindros. What about the elbow Derian Hatcher put on Petr Sykora during the Stanley Cup Finals? Was there ever retribution?

Unless it’s a cheap shot like we saw with Tom Wilson or a questionable hit that injures a player, there really shouldn’t be any fighting if it’s a clean check. We’ve heard many broadcasters including legendary Sam Rosen groan over what the game’s become. That’s because he and Joe Micheletti are right. It’s ridiculous.

Do I feel Pastrnak should be held accountable? Yes. I know he isn’t a player who drops the gloves. But maybe a skilled Blueshirt like Kreider should go after him next time. The Rangers and Bruins don’t meet again until January 19 at MSG. I doubt it’ll happen.

In terms of Sunday when the Rangers host the Red Wings following the Jets and Bills, we’ll see if Lindgren is available. They could always dress Libor Hajek and play him for Lindgren. Hajek has been okay so far. He does need to get into the lineup again. It would make sense.

Whether he does miss time or not, Lindgren has proven his value to the team. We saw what he meant last playoffs when he played through the pain to help the Rangers come back to beat the Pens and edge the Hurricanes. He’s the Dan Girardi of this generation of Blueshirts.

It’s time for both Trouba and Miller to pick it up. Neither have been particularly good. Each continue to be caught out for goals against. Trouba for three more against Boston. He can’t keep making costly mistakes. Otherwise, questions will start to surround the captaincy. He’s got a lot of character and remains the most indispensable defenseman they have. It’s not easy to replace what Trouba brings.

If they felt Schneider was further along, he’d be getting more shifts. He’s only in his second year. First full season. There are going to be ups and downs. We’ve seen it in Detroit with Calder winner Moritz Seider. It isn’t always easy the second go round for young players.

Despite not being as sharp so far, the numbers are fine for Shesterkin. All things considered, 6-1-2 with a 2.41 GAA, .916 save percentage and one shutout are still good on a team that hasn’t hit its stride. Yes. He’s given up some iffy goals like the one to Pastrnak where he somehow flipped a backhand high short side from an impossible angle in the first period.

It’s asking a lot for a repeat of last year. That was a historic season. Igor won’t be the reason if the Rangers falter. He is the rock. The most valuable player they have. If he went down for a period, they’d be screwed. Jaro Halak doesn’t inspire much confidence. A downgrade from current Avalanche starter Alexandar Georgiev.

With the Red Wings visiting on Sunday and the Islanders coming this Tuesday for the second of a preposterous three regular season games between the bitter rivals, there’s an opportunity to finish this home- stand strong. They can still take the necessary steps to get it done.

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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