Strong response to flat start earns Rangers an important win over Kings


This isn’t going to be too long. With there being another game tonight on Turkey Eve at the Ducks, there’s no point in doing a full breakdown.

However, it was important for the Rangers to come back from two goals down after a lousy first period to earn a 5-3 win over a good Kings team at Staples Center. They needed it.

The strong response to falling behind by two was necessary. When almost everyone called them out for a flat opening period where they were fortunate to only be down by a pair thanks to a couple of crucial saves from Igor Shesterkin, there had to be some push back.

Finally, there was. Instead of letting it mount, the Rangers came back with the kind of workmanlike effort that’s been sorely lacking. If they can use the three-goal second period as a prime example for how they have to play to win consistently, maybe we’ll look back at it as a turning point.

There wasn’t much to say about the first period. It was lackluster. At times, they looked like they were sleepwalking. The Kings took advantage of an early non-icing to take the lead when Kevin Fiala was able to reach around Jacob Trouba and put in a rebound just 35 seconds into the game.

It didn’t get any better. A lazy turnover by Artemi Panarin, who hasn’t been scoring, lead to Vincent Trocheck going off for slashing Alex Edler. A miscommunication between Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox allowed Fiala to make a perfect statue of liberty pass for an easy Gabriel Vilardi finish with Shesterkin clearly frustrated.

With the exception of the checking line which remained the same, there wasn’t much for the Rangers to like. The grunt work from Ryan Carpenter, Sammy Blais and Julien Gauthier was noticeable. At least they played a simple game and generated forecheck pressure. None of the other three lines did anything.

They still were only down two thanks to Shesterkin, who made sure to keep them afloat with 11 saves on 13 shots. He was very good throughout finishing with 35 stops on 38 to earn his 10th victory. He continues to round into form.

Whatever was said between periods, the team responded well. Off a strong cycle from Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere, Braden Schneider was able to beat Kings goalie Cal Petersen from the point with both Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko in front.

Although they didn’t tie it right away, the difference in their approach was noteworthy. Instead of the predictable over skating and passing that never accomplishes much, they decided to take a more simple philosophy. That meant taking a page from the Kings, who fired pucks at Shesterkin from everywhere in the opening stanza.

Beginning to use their team speed to break through the tight checking of the Kings, the Blueshirts had more success. They spent more time in the attack zone. That also created more shots on Petersen, who was forced into some harder saves. He did well for the first half.

However, with LA backing up more, it allowed the Rangers to zip through the neutral zone and continue to pile up chances. On a simple Lindgren outlet for Trocheck, he easily gained the zone and maneuvered around a King before having a strange shot go right off Drew Doughty and past a stunned Petersen to tie it up.

A bizarre sequence if you ever saw one. Trocheck came in with speed and kind of fanned on his attempt. But it worked because the puck went off Doughty and straight in the air into the net for a 2-2 score with 7:59 left. That play was the biggest one of the game. It was unpredictable and really gave the Rangers momentum. They haven’t gotten many bounces. That was a huge one on a rare even strength goal for Trocheck.

The Kings did try to get it back. But Shesterkin was strong during the middle period. He made all 10 saves in the frame. His focus was there. It’s exactly what they need from their ace in net.

Late in the period, a delayed call on the Kings which was drawn by the third line lead to an actual goal during a six-on-five. With Mika Zibanejad on as the extra attacker, they continued to move the puck around until Chytil took a Lafreniere feed and fired a wrist shot that was partially deflected. The puck came to Kakko, who was able to get enough of the rebound to bank it in off of Arthur Kaliyev for a 3-2 lead with 76 seconds left.

It snapped a six-game goal drought. The goal was Kakko’s second of the month. After scoring two in the first four games, he’s struggled to finish. Unfortunately, he still isn’t over it. There was another frustrating sequence in the third that almost cost them.

On another dominant shift where they had the Kings on their heels, Petersen lost his goal stick. In fact, as the First Round Pick Line continued to cycle the puck, Kakko came out and had a great scoring chance with Petersen dead to rights. But instead of shooting right away, he waited too long. The shot never made it to the open net as diving Kings players sold out to block it in another crazy sequence.

Astonishingly, it was the Kings who came back down the ice and scored. On a quick counter started by Fiala, Anze Kopitar was able to set up defenseman Sean Walker for a shot that beat Shesterkin to tie it back up with 13:48 remaining. A visibly frustrated Kakko threw up his hands in disgust.

The play was so exasperating that I went off at Kakko for falling to score on such a great opportunity. He has to understand that when you get those kind of chances at the NHL level, you have to shoot the puck quickly. Not wait. He’s not the only player who does it. During the second, Panarin was all set up by Trouba on a great pass. He waited and allowed Petersen to get set and make the save. That’s a veteran star player. It’s absurd.

With Kakko and Lafreniere both trying to figure out how they didn’t score on their shift while Walker tied it, a smart play by Zibanejad lead directly to Chris Kreider scoring the game-winner less than a minute later.

Taking a Fox pass, Zibanejad fired a bank pass off the boards so the speedy Kreider could beat his man to the loose puck. Once he did to negate an icing, he surprised Petersen with a snapshot that went high short side for his eighth goal at 7:06. The goal celly told the story with both Kreider and Zibanejad pumped up.

Following the goal, Trocheck made sure to give Kakko a tap on his helmet at the bench. Just to say, ‘We got this.’ That had to be reassuring. They still had to protect the one-goal lead with under 13 minutes left.

It came down to Shesterkin. He wasn’t about to give back the second one-goal lead. Strong saves on Adrian Kempe, Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson really stood out in a third period the Kings out-shot the Rangers 15-7. They created enough chances off their cycle. But were unable to put the puck past Shesterkin, who was the difference.

With Petersen off for an extra attacker late, Jimmy Vesey passed up for Kreider who skated calmly and tucked the puck in for the empty netter with 50 seconds to go. It was a well earned win. One the team desperately needed.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 LafreniereChytilKakko NYR 1-4-5, +4 rating

2nd 🌟 🤩 Kevin Fiala LAK goal (7th) plus 2 🍎 in 18:52

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Igor Shesterkin NYR 35 saves on 38 shots incl. 15/15 in deciding 3rd

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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