Lafreniere makes up for bad penalty by getting winner in third period, Rangers survive the sloppy Blues to earn a comeback victory

Two struggling teams did battle tonight at the World’s Most Expensive Arena. The tight one came away with a come from behind win to at least quiet the rumors about coach Gerard Gallant.

In what can best be described as a slop fest full of turnovers that could’ve filled up a bakery, the Rangers survived the Blues to pull out a 6-4 comeback victory at MSG. The only development is they showed enough gumption to finally get their fifth win on home ice.

At least they didn’t fall victim to the putrid Blues, who at times looked like they didn’t know how to play hockey. It’s well documented how the season has gone. They could ill afford another bad loss to an even worse team. Something we’ve seen too much of.

For two periods, you wondered if this was going to be it for Gallant. That’s how sloppy the game was. It quickly went from remaining scoreless to becoming an unpredictable mess.

Three goals were scored within a 2:18 time span late in the first period. Braden Schneider’s third goal was immediately followed up by Pavel Buchnevich tying it 70 seconds later. Before you could look up, Adam Fox scored on a power play 68 seconds later to conclude the strange period.

It wasn’t over. Following intermission, Vladimir Tarasenko scored unassisted at just 12 seconds into the second period. Before a fully recovered Sam Rosen and partner Joe Micheletti could say anything worthwhile about how bad the Blues were in second periods, the game was tied.

Less than a minute later (55 seconds to be exact), on a play started by Jacob Trouba, Artemi Panarin actually got a wrist shot through from the point that Vincent Trocheck tipped past Jordan Binnington at 1:07. It had to feel good to see one go in after all the goalposts he’s hit.

By that point just over a minute into the second, the teams had combined to score five goals within a 3:53 span. It was ridiculous. But it also typified why these two teams entered without many wins lately. Defense was indeed optional. So was checking.

After the Trocheck goal that made it 3-2, the Blueshirts could hardly do anything. It was as if they had never held a lead before. If you’ve followed this team, you can understand why. They’re a very fragile group lacking in confidence.

At one point, they went a very long stretch without even a shot on goal against one of the league’s worst goalies. Binnington entered with less than a .900 save percentage, having been pulled after two periods in a 6-2 loss at the Pens where he showed his temper. He’s the biggest crybaby in the NHL that’s known for taking penalties and screaming at opponents like he did this past weekend. Very uncharacteristic behavior for a Stanley Cup winner.

Binnington made one good save when he padded away a tricky Vitaly Kravtsov try where the former first round pick made a good move to get off a low shot. Afterwards, the Rangers did nothing. It was like they stopped playing.

During this stretch, Tarasenko lost his cool and went after Trouba for no reason. He gave him a cross-check in the corner which stopped play. Somehow, both players wound up in the box for roughing minors. Guilty by association for Trouba, who’s now viewed as some evil comic book character for the hits he delivers. Is Andrea(s) Athanasiou still crying?

Following that sequence, Ryan Lindgren hooked into Brayden Schenn to put the Blues on a four-on-three. They were hideous on it. Unable to do anything with it in similar fashion to the first minor Lindgren took back in the first period, it turned into an easy kill for the Rangers.

At that point, I was thinking about how bad St. Louis looked. Rosen and Micheletti kept emphasizing getting the next goal. That would’ve given them some breathing room. But when you’re also struggling as much as your opponent, it doesn’t come easy. It sure didn’t for the Blueshirts.

When the players all returned, Noel Acciari somehow got in behind a napping Rangers defense. But Igor Shesterkin denied his bid to tie the game. Despite it again being a tough night at the office, he did make some key saves during a game that had no sense to it. He stopped all seven Blues shots in the third to finish with 25 saves.

On a forecheck behind the Blues net, Alexis Lafreniere took a lazy penalty for holding Colton Parayko. The kind of undisciplined penalty in the offensive zone a player should never take. He really deserved to miss some shifts as Steve Valiquette later pointed out during a good intermission segment with Henrik Lundqvist. They also called out Gallant indirectly for not sitting Lafreniere.

With Lafreniere off, Kaapo Kakko had a great chance to put the Rangers ahead by two. In on a shorthanded breakaway, his shot hit the goalpost. All he could do was look on in disbelief. He’d later have Binnington dead to rights on a one on one only for his tuck in to again go off the post. It’s increasingly frustrating to watch him blow chance after chance.

Of course, the Blues tied it. Still on the man-advantage, Jordan Kyrou converted his 10th from Justin Faulk and Ivan Barbashev at 11:04. It was the latest offensive zone penalty Lafreniere took. He’s had a penchant recently for taking bad penalties. That has to stop.

Before you could even look up, Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly was left unchecked to bury a Schenn rebound with all three Rangers forwards puck watching. The closest two were Barclay Goodrow and Chris Kreider. They didn’t do anything. Julien Gauthier also was late on the coverage.

That blown assignment which gave the Blues their first lead led to Gallant giving Goodrow and Kreider a few shifts off. Finally, some accountability. They are veterans who know better. Earlier in the season, Gallant demoted Kreider to the fourth line as punishment for a similar mishap. He responded well.

After being outplayed and out-shot 13-6 to fall behind 4-3, the Rangers were booed off the ice. They sure earned it. The big question was how would they respond to more adversity. The interesting part to the Blues is they entered 5-0 in one-goal games. They’ve gotten blown out in many losses due to poor defense and goaltending.

In the third period, Gallant finally switched up the lines. Most notably, he replaced Kreider and Jimmy Vesey with Kakko and Lafreniere on the first line. They finally got an opportunity to play with Mika Zibanejad. Something I kind of wanted to see a month ago just to find out if it could work.

Kreider and Vesey went down to the third line next to Goodrow. That’s not a bad way to go when things aren’t working. What did Gallant have to lose? His job is on the line. It still is when they hit the road for late tilts at Vegas and Colorado starting Wednesday. Those will be true tests to see if this team is capable of turning it around.

Following a couple of better offensive shifts from Trocheck, Panarin and Kravtsov that saw the center have a shot turned aside by Binnington, out came the top line. After a save on Kakko, Zibanejad won a face-off. During a simple play by Lafreniere back to K’Andre Miller up at the point, he let go of a wrist shot that went right off Binnington and in to tie the score.

This was a horrible goal by a goalie who looks shot. He has no confidence. All it was a simple play. Off a forecheck, Lafreniere passed the puck up for a Miller shot that Binnington mishandled. The goal got Miller off the schneid. It tied it with 15:12 remaining.

Binnington would then deny Jonny Brodzinski on a tip-in. He redirected a wide Lindgren shot that a sliding Binnington just got in front of to make the save before covering up the rebound. In for Ryan Carpenter, Brodzinski would later make a strong back check to deny a Blues chance. Keep him in if Filip Chytil can’t go. He didn’t skate. So, I doubt we’ll see him on the road trip.

With the game still tied with less than a dozen minutes to play, Lafreniere made a good forecheck behind the St. Louis net. Able to pressure the D into a turnover, he then cut right in front to tip-in a Zibanejad wrist shot for a 5-4 lead with 11:44 left.

The goal was just his fourth. It was his first on five games. At times, he’s looked lost. That even was earlier in tonight’s game. But maybe moving him up with Zibanejad gave him a confidence boost. Just like that, Lafreniere had a goal and assist for the first time all season. It’s about being able to do it consistently.

After a pair of saves from Binnington on Vesey and Schneider, Shesterkin stopped Barbashev from the outside to keep his team in front. Lundqvist talked about making that extra save during a segment. That can be the difference between winning and losing.

This is a test for Igor. It’s mentally challenging when your team doesn’t play well in front of you. How many wide open shots did the Blues have without any resistance? That won’t fly versus the Golden Knights or Avalanche. Ditto the Devils and Maple Leafs who visit MSG next week.

Of course, Kakko again ALMOST scored. But his shot hit the post. If he’s trying to imitate Trocheck for most goalposts struck, it’s working. When will they start going in? Will he ever get number five?

With 6:21 remaining, Trocheck hooked into Tarasenko at center ice. The back ref called it which incensed him. But that’s been going on forever. Someone had to make a call. Lucky for him the Blues are so inept, a huge mistake led to Kreider getting a shorthanded goal to ice it.

With seemingly nobody on him, Barbashev clumsily fumbled the puck at center to send Kreider on a breakaway. He made no mistake going forehand-backhand to notch his first shorthanded goal of the season. It came with 5:56 remaining.

A pumped up Kreider visibly yelled, “Let’s bleeping go!”, to his teammates by the glass. Even though he was justifiably benched earlier, Kreider continues to produce. He’s up to six goals and two assists over the last eight games. He’s once again tied with Zibanejad for the team lead in goals with a lucky 13.

For all the crap he takes, Chris Kreider looks like he could wind up with close to 40 goals following his career best 52. Try telling yhe critics how vital it is that he produces. He’s ninth on the Rangers franchise all-time goal scoring list with 242 goals. He’s within four of tying Steve Vickers for eighth. Mark Messier would be next with 250.

With the game put away and feeling under the weather, I didn’t watch the final two minutes. At least I didn’t miss much. So, I decided to coast through this game recap. Better than not posting anything.

My thoughts on tonight’s win is that it doesn’t matter. Not unless they can follow it up with a better effort at Vegas. The Knights defeated the Bruins 4-3 in a shootout to hand them their first home loss. They’re good. Jack Eichel is back producing at a high level. They have good players and are a fast team that’s in first place. It won’t be no picnic.

Let’s see what happens the next two games. You have Wednesday night in Vegas and then this Friday night at Colorado. The Avalanche could be possibly without Nathan MacKinnon, who exited their loss at the Flyers early. Regardless, it could be a goalie rematch between Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev.

I have no idea if anything will materialize over the next 24 hours. This was by all means an ugly win. Not something to crow about. They got two points. That’s better than the alternative. Now, let’s see if they can build on what they did in the third period.


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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