Wings Have Rangers Seeing Red in awful loss, Gallant shuffles the deck, Kreider demoted to fourth line, Halak shows frustration after overtime defeat, Kakko plays well


On football Sunday, the Rangers hosted the Red Wings in an Original Six match-up at The Garden. Instead of making it a very good day following the Jets’ huge upset of the Bills, they suffered an uninspired 3-2 overtime loss to the Wings.

What really made it a an awful loss was that they played a team who traveled the day before and was playing the second game of a back-to-back. The Red Wings were on short rest compared to the Rangers, who had plenty of time to digest Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Bruins. A team that further humiliated itself by releasing Mitchell Miller from a contract following predictable outrage from the hockey community.

In regards to what transpired at MSG, there’s a lot to say about the second straight defeat. The Rangers were fortunate to get a point. They can thank backup Jaro Halak for that due to him making a couple of gigantic saves late in regulation just to force the contest to overtime.

He fell to 0-3-1 in four starts. It wasn’t his fault. Halak played well making 33 saves on 36 shots. That included nine of nine while his team was shorthanded during regulation. There was a highlight reel pad save where he robbed Lucas Raymond on the full stretch. He’d also deny Filip Hronek’s bid to win it late in the third period.

Halak deserved better than what he got. None of the three goals he allowed were on him. But rather the lack of focus from his teammates. A few were put on notice by a displeased Gerard Gallant. Chris Kreider was demoted to the fourth line for the third period. When asked why, Gallant said, “He deserved to be where he was at. He wasn’t alone.”

Nobody would argue that point. As the coach noted during a brief postgame conference that lasted less than two minutes, it’s been coming. The lack of effectiveness by last season’s 52-goal scorer at five-on-five while playing with Mika Zibanejad is self-explanatory. More is expected out of Kreider. He took his shifts with Ryan Carpenter and Julien Gauthier during the third before getting a reprieve by starting overtime with Zibanejad.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’d have even sent Kreider back out for the three-on-three. But I understand why Gallant made the decision. He went with his best tandem with Adam Fox to try to steal the extra point.

I would’ve liked to have seen Kaapo Kakko get an OT shift. He was by far the best forward for the Blueshirts. The 21-year old Finn had one of his finest games. He scored his third goal to start the scoring and finished with a team high five shots in six attempts while also making a good defensive play to break up a Red Wings chance. This was the most confident he’s looked as a Ranger.

So, it wasn’t all negative. Seeing Kakko hold onto the puck longer and get more shots is a good sign for the team. He is an important player who’s in his fourth year. He seems to be figuring it out while playing on the top line with Zibanejad. It’s where he should stay when the Islanders visit town on Tuesday.

Will Artemi Panarin remain on the first line for that big rivalry game? That’s where he finished up in the third period. Panarin then took a shift with Vincent Trocheck in overtime. Trocheck sure seems to miss the net a lot for a player who replaced Ryan Strome. Is it the number? He missed the net three times. His 16 place third behind Kreider (20) and Zibanejad (28). Somewhat curiously, Strome only has missed the net three times for the dreadful Ducks. Maybe it’s the jersey.

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Kakko and Zibanejad, who connected on the power play off a terrific two-way passing play from Fox and Panarin, the Rangers forgot to show up for the second period. They were lethargic and out of sync while the Red Wings improved their neutral zone play and picked up the intensity.

The combination of the teams trending in opposite directions led to predictable results. With the Rangers leading by two thanks to 14 saves from Halak in the first, Moritz Seider intercepted a pass and gained the Ranger zone. On the cycle, Seider moved the puck across for a Ben Chiarot point shot that Matt Luff tipped in at 2:56 to cut the deficit to one.

On the play, neither Braden Schneider or Carpenter were able to tie up Luff, who was isolated in front to deflect the shot home for his first of the season. It was a gritty goal for the journeyman who played sparingly on the fourth line under new Detroit coach Derek Lalonde.

Skating without Ryan Lindgren, the Rangers had revised defense pairings. As expected, Miller teamed up with Fox on the top pair. That left Zac Jones to play with Jacob Trouba. The third pair was originally Libor Hajek with Schneider. Things would change later following the second period malaise.

Filip Chytil returned after missing six games with a concussion. Anyone knew that following his setback that kept him out for recent games. He originally was between Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey. That lasted until the third period when Gallant shuffled the deck. Encouraging is that Chytil looked alright in his 13:39 of ice time. He definitely was missed.

With Gauthier sliding down to the checking line with Sammy Blais and Carpenter at least initially, Ryan Reaves was a healthy scratch. Considering what Gauthier brings in energy and skating, that should remain. I don’t care if it’s the Islanders in two days. Reaves shouldn’t play much anymore. The lineup has more balance without him. We’ll see what Turk decides.

In fact, it was the fourth line that drew two penalties in the first period. First, Gauthier drove hard to the net to force Alex Nedeljkovic into a save. Hronek slashed him on the play. Although they didn’t score on that power play, the Rangers capitalized on their second chance following Blais drawing an interference minor on Chiarot.

Already leading by one thanks to Kakko converting his third off a broken play for his first goal in nine games, the Rangers’ top unit got it done. On a long shift that stayed in the offensive zone, Fox made a nice back pass for Panarin. With the four Detroit penalty killers exhausted, he sent a perfect pass across for an easy Zibanejad finish past Nedeljkovic at 16:58. It was the sixth power play goal for Zibanejad (7th overall). That tied him with Connor McDavid for first in the league.

Despite having the better of the play at full strength, the Rangers were out-shot 14-11 in the first period. That’s because the Red Wings had two strong power plays where they really moved the puck well and forced Halak into some tough saves. That included him getting enough of one shot to push it off the far goalpost. He’d deny David Perron and Dominik Kubalik. They also helped by missing shots wide with Chytil off for hooking late in the period.

Then came the second. It started off poorly. Following an early Nedeljkovic save on Kakko, Seider had the key takeaway in the neutral zone that allowed him to set up Chiarot for a shot that Luff redirected less than three minutes in.

It didn’t get better. While the Red Wings made the necessary adjustments by defending better, the Rangers couldn’t mount a consistent attack. Instead, it was the more aggressive Wings who were more dangerous at even strength. Following a Halak stop on Perron, who was his usual feisty self throughout, it was just a matter of time.

Following a good offensive shift by the top line that resulted in Kakko having a shot blocked from the slot, the Red Wings quickly transitioned the other way. With all three Rangers forwards going off for a bad line change, that left only Jones and Trouba back to defend an odd-man rush.

After consecutive saves from Halak on Dylan Larkin and Hronek, Suter was allowed too much time by Jones to slam in a rebound to tie the score at 8:37. It was the pits. While Jones didn’t do a good job on the play, the real blame lied with the forwards for not recognizing the situation. They hung minuses on Lafreniere, Trocheck and Panarin for their poor change.

On the next shift, Trocheck had an open shot in the slot, but missed wide. Well, he does wear number 16. Strome’s old number. Maybe he’s trying to replace him in more ways than one. He has to hit the net more. He has had some great opportunities both at five-on-five and on the power play. Trocheck remains stuck on four goals. Since his two-goal, assist effort at Dallas in a 6-3 win, he’s without a point in four straight.

With Fox in the box for interference, the Rangers penalty kill did a stellar job. They didn’t allow a single shot on the third Detroit power play. The only attempt by Larkin went wide. Good efforts from Goodrow and Schneider kept the Red Wings from getting anything.

Right after the successful kill, Kakko put a low shot on Nedeljkovic that he handled. It was only the fourth shot of the period for the Rangers. They were being out-shot 8-4 and 22-15 overall.

A bad pinch from Schneider allowed Elmer Soderblom to skate down and get a shot on Halak, who handled it. Soderblom is 6-8. He isn’t exactly that fast. But he had a couple of good shifts for the Winged Wheel in less than 10 minutes.

At that point, I concluded that it wasn’t fun to watch. The Rangers were skating in quicksand. They didn’t have any sustained pressure. The only players who looked interested were Kakko, Lafreniere, who kept looking for tips. Is that all Gallant wants from the former top pick? Plus the hard-working types like Goodrow, Blais, Vesey and Carpenter. I’ll give Chytil a passing grade too. His line wasn’t invisible.

By the final shift, Gallant had seen enough. He sat Kreider and had Goodrow take his spot with Zibanejad and Kakko. A clear sign that he wasn’t happy. The Red Wings led in shots 10-6 for the period and 24-17 after two.

By the third, Gallant had rearranged all four lines. Panarin was with Zibanejad and Kakko. Vesey and Blais were with Trocheck. Lafreniere was back at his natural position of left wing with Chytil and Goodrow. Kreider was banished to the fourth line with Carpenter and Gauthier. The D pairs outside of Miller and Fox, were mixed up.

It was well deserved. This team better understand one thing. It isn’t last season anymore. There are no easy nights. They found that out already with bad losses to the Blue Jackets and Sharks on home ice. The losses to the Jets and Islanders were acceptable due to the effort. But those are games they need to win. Plus you’ve had Gallant vocal about ugly victories against the Wild and Ducks. Even the 1-0 shutout of the Flyers last week was a struggle due to the offense.

They aren’t scoring enough at five-on-five. The secret is out. Opponents know this isn’t the same team as the one that went to the Eastern Conference Final. They are feeling the losses of Andrew Copp (who returned tonight), Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte and Justin Braun. Even Strome is missed because he had better chemistry with Panarin. It isn’t an easy adjustment for Trocheck, who adds more on face-offs and on the penalty kill.

Don’t forget that last year, the Rangers beat most of the bad teams. The competition might be improved. However, when you see an opponent that isn’t as good, those are the ones you have to win. They’re not banking two points in these games. It isn’t automatic. You still have to play up to standard.

The third period was better. With the exception of Jones, who took one shift before Gallant went down to five defensemen, he rolled all four lines. He really leaned heavily on Miller (27:05) and Fox (29:38). With the schedule allowing for it, he can afford to do that. However, it’s not wise to do it often.

It was nice to hear both Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti pay tribute to the late Peter McNab, who lost his battle with cancer. He was 70. I really liked McNab, who was a good color analyst for the Devils before Chico Resch replaced him. He moved onto the Avalanche. McNab was not only entertaining, but is remembered for a great hockey career in which he scored 363 goals and totaled 813 points in 954 games. He’s a member of the US Hockey Hall Of Fame. He’ll be sorely missed.

If there was a theme for the third period, it was get shots on Nedeljkovic. With a simpler approach, the Rangers tested the backup more. They just didn’t get much traffic. If he saw it, he stopped it. At least Lafreniere looked more comfortable playing where he belongs on the left side. He also has good chemistry with Chytil and Goodrow, who’s played with them before.

Not surprisingly, that was the best line. They had a great shift where they had strong puck possession with the Red Wings on their heels. But a key block of a Miller shot allowed the Wings to survive. At the end of his shift, an over aggressive Fox turned the puck over, causing a Kubalik chance. But Halak made the big save by getting a piece of it with the shaft of his stick.

Late in regulation, a slight misread from Miller allowed the Red Wings to nearly set up a pinching Hronek for the winner. However, Halak got across in time to make the tremendous save. Without him, no point. He was superb.

In overtime, Miller tried to make a play at the Red Wings blue line. It was close to the end of his shift. Instead of getting the puck deep, he skated with it only to have the gritty Perron make a good defensive play. He took away the puck and Miller grabbed hold of his stick for a penalty.

Penalties like that usually cost you. Even though they asked Gallant what he thought of the call (like duh), it was the correct call. On the four-on-three, Seider got the puck over to Perron in the right circle. Always a shooting threat, this time he made a perfect backdoor pass for an easy Kubalik tip-in to give the Red Wings the win at 2:43.

Both Trouba and Halak showed their frustration by breaking their sticks. Neither were happy. On the play, Trouba took Perron, but he still snuck the pass through for Kubalik, who Fox never switched over to.

It was very frustrating. You could feel the disappointment for Halak. Asked if he played his best game, he wisely said, “We didn’t get a win. So no. It’s about winning and we lost the game again.”

He gets it. He’s been around the block. This isn’t about him. He was the biggest reason the Rangers got their brownie point. I don’t say that lightly. Overall, this was a step backwards. They better kick it into gear tomorrow night. No excuses. If they don’t, that could be problematic.

THREE STARS 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Kaapo Kakko, NYR 3rd goal of season, 5 SOG in 6 attempts, +1 in 16:02

2nd 🌟 🤩 Dominik Kubalik, DET scored PPG overtime winner at 2:46, 6 SOG

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Jaro Halak, NYR 33 saves on 36 shots including 9/10 down a man

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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