Chytil provides spark in Rangers’ come from behind win over Devils in overtime, Shesterkin stops Hughes on penalty shot


Something needed to change. It was more of the same early on for the Rangers against the Devils. Playing their archival for the second time at MSG, they found themselves in a two-goal hole quickly.

A goal originally credited to Jonas Siegenthaler off a lost face-off would later get changed to Nico Hischier. His deflection of a long point shot snuck past Igor Shesterkin at 3:05. He wasn’t exactly alert in the first period. Neither were the Rangers. They kept fumbling around pucks right to Devils for scoring chances.

Jacob Trouba was the biggest culprit. After having coughed up a puck that Shesterkin erased a chance on prior to the Hischier tally, he completely butchered another loose puck basically caving under pressure. That allowed Dawson Mercer to bury a one-timer past Shesterkin on what originally was a Jack Hughes pass. That also was changed due to Trouba’s latest hiccups.

Before the game was even five minutes old, coach Gerard Gallant was scrambling for answers on the bench. He decided to adjust his defense by splitting up Trouba from K’Andre Miller. Taking a page from a suggestion I made watching the early mess, he went back to Miller and Braden Schneider as the second pair while demoting Trouba to third pair with the equally inept Libor Hajek.

At the very least, that slowed down the Devils dominance. Gallant also corrected his lineup by switching Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere back with Filip Chytil. He then tried Artemi Panarin and Barclay Goodrow with Mika Zibanejad on the first line. Chris Kreider stayed with Vincent Trocheck and Jimmy Vesey. The checking line remained Jonny Brodzinski centering Sammy Blais and Julien Gauthier.

So, basically these drastic changes after falling behind by two goals allowed the Rangers to recover. Eventually, they found their footing and were able to bounce back and pull out a nice come from behind 4-3 win in overtime over the first place Devils at the World’s Most Expensive Arena.

It sure wasn’t easy. It shouldn’t be. The Devils remain a much faster and skilled team that can skate you into the ground. They are a very aggressive team capable of causing chaos with their speed and transition game. It explains how they erased a 2-0 deficit in a 5-4 win during the first meeting when The Garden turned into a sea of red.

At two goals down, you half expected them to blow the doors off the Rangers, who again looked out of their element. But somehow, their game steadied enough to get back in it. It helped to have the Devils go wide on at least three dangerous scoring opportunities from the slot area. Had they hit the net, it could’ve gotten ugly.

Instead, the Devils shot total remained on six for a while. The Rangers eventually got their first shot on Vitek Vanecek. Then, suddenly turned the first period around by winding up with the last seven.

That included a game changing play which allowed Kreider to convert on a two-on-one off a Trocheck feed that cut the deficit in half with 1:35 left in the first. Vesey started the play with a simple pass for Trocheck, who then skated it out and found enough room to gain easy entry. With Kreider dusting Siegenthaler, that allowed Trocheck to dish across for his 14th to get the Rangers crowd back into it.

It was part of a good night for Trocheck, who would later add a key power play goal that allowed the Blueshirts to rally back from a 3-1 second period deficit in quick fashion. The two-way center finished with a goal, assist and went 50 percent (8-for-16) on face-offs in 20:04 of ice time.

If there was a player who provided a spark when things were looking bleak, let’s give credit to Vesey. In what had been a very tame first period, he gave Damon Severson a chop after the whistle that led to the Devils defenseman retaliating with a slash. Each went off with 6:21 remaining in the period to lead to some four-on-four.

Though nothing happened offensively with the two sides playing to a standoff, it definitely energized the Rangers and brought the building into the game. Sometimes, a team needs that when things are going badly.

The Rangers entered winners of three straight having taken care of the Golden Knights and depleted Avalanche while I was down with the flu. I didn’t even see the Vegas game. The Avalanche win I tuned in on my phone. They did what they had to do to get some revenge on Alexandar Georgiev.

This was going to be a better test. A healthy Devils team that’s really been impressive so far. In first leading the Metropolitan Division with 21 victories in their first 27 games and only five regulation defeats, they are much improved. It’s been repeated verbatim. I’m not going to rehash it. Hasan has certainly voiced his pleasure at what’s gone on there.

When it comes to our side of things, the Rangers aren’t a very good offensive team. They still rely too much on Zibanejad, Kreider, Adam Fox and Panarin, who does some of his best work on the power play. Kreider and Zibanejad are the only players who were in double digits in goals until last night when Trocheck joined them by scoring his 10th.

There isn’t a lot of balance. They’re trying different things with the lines. The fact that Gallant has to desperately move Panarin around at five-on-five should tell any fan how difficult it’s been without Ryan Strome. He is producing the assists by adding his team-leading 29th helper that led directly to Chytil’s overtime winner at 2:15. But Panarin remains stuck on six goals. Not enough production for their highest paid forward. That must change.

With the coach set in his ways which translates to Vitaly Kravtsov trapped in Rangers Siberia, you’ll continue to see the same 12 forwards as they figure things out. While I’ll never understand why they’ve decided to devalue another former first round pick after GM Chris Drury decided on a Broadway reunion with the soon to be 23-year old Kravtsov, I can at least appreciate what Brodzinski brings to the table.

Since waiving Ryan Carpenter, who never ever made sense (except to Drury and Gallant), the speedier Brodzinski has fit in well on the fourth line. I never understood why he didn’t get more reps last season. But at least the recently waived Kevin Rooney was ahead of him on the depth chart. So too was Dryden Hunt and Ryan Reaves. Both playing for their new teams out West. Reaves seems to be fitting in well in Minnesota.

Brodzinski also adds some grit. He isn’t afraid to take the body. He even had a big hit during this crazy game that was like three rolled into one. Obviously, the role of a fourth liner isn’t going to determine many games. But I like what I see from him. He got 14 shifts for 9:58 including 54 seconds on the penalty kill. An area that was a team strength. The Rangers killed two Devils power plays. They struggled with the puck pressure.

Jack Hughes turned over some pucks. As good as he is already, the 21-year old leading scorer of the Devils will commit mistakes due to his tendency for taking high risks with the puck. He was guilty of some turnovers and got victimized twice on Rangers goals. He’s not as complete a player as teammate and captain Hischier.

If we were to look at the second period, it was a tale of two different periods. In the beginning, you had the Devils on the attack looking to increase their lead. For a while, it looked like they’d do just that and maybe pull away. Especially after a pass from Dougie Hamilton up for Mercer trapped a pinching Miller deep.

Hughes took off past a weak covering Lafreniere and exploded right by Schneider before flipping a backhand over Shesterkin to give the Devils a 3-1 lead with 9:50 remaining in the second. He did it so matter-of-fact that it looked too easy. Almost as if he was playing a video game. Kind of like something you’d see in NHL ’94. He’s that good.

Before you could even look up, here came Hughes again. After getting behind the Rangers defense, he was in on a breakaway. But Schneider wisely took him down to prevent the shot, leading to the most exciting play in hockey. A penalty shot.

Hughes versus Shesterkin. One on one. Unlike when it happens during game action, there’s a pause. Then, the player gets to make their move against the goalie. This favors the goaltender. It allows them to reset. When Shesterkin aggressively came out to poke check Hughes’ backhand-forehand deke, he made him look silly to deny the penalty shot with 7:10 left in the period.

I felt Hughes tried for too much and cut his angle off. It allowed Shesterkin to read the play and react quickly. He won the battle. That was the biggest play of the game. If he scores there, it’s a three-goal game. Given how hard it can be for the Rangers to consistently find offense, that’s probably game over. I’m not suggesting that they couldn’t still come back. But at that point, it would’ve been tough. They would’ve only had a period plus the remaining seven-plus of that second to do it.

On the next shift, Siegenthaler went off for interference on Goodrow. Power play, Rangers. This was the moment they had to make it happen. Of course, it involved Fox because he truly is our best player. Not only should he win his second Norris, but garner Hart consideration if this team turns it around. That’s how important Fox is to the team.

Taking a Zibanejad pass, he patiently waited at the point before letting go of a wrist shot with both Trocheck and Kreider in perfect position to redirect. It was Trocheck who got his stick on it to tip it past Vanecek with Kreider screening for the clutch power play goal that cut it to 3-2 at 13:58.

With the fans on their feet, it didn’t take long for the Blueshirts to tie the game. Off a face-off at center ice, Chytil gained the Devils zone and then maneuvered around Hughes to make a backhand feed back to a pinching Miller. He cut in and easily found Kakko for an easy one-timer past Vanecek to tie the game at 14:05.

It happened that fast. It was a great play by Chytil. He trapped Hughes and it led to a great passing play with Miller finding Kakko for his sixth. The two goals seven seconds apart were a record against the Devils. They’d never given up two faster consecutive goals in their history. The Rangers were also the opponent the last time that happened, scoring twice five seconds apart versus the Colorado Rockies. Go figure.

The third was completely different. While the Devils had more shots getting nine towards Shesterkin, who really steadied during the second prior to the penalty shot, the Rangers could only muster four on Vanecek. But the play was more controlled. It was a more deliberate tempo. This favored the Rangers.

Outside of Hughes exploding for one great chance which this time Shesterkin got a piece of with a huge glove save to keep it out, the Devils were more limited offensively. Mercer also hit the goalpost. He was the best Devils player by far. He was dangerous during most shifts and very noticeable. I thought he stood out by far over the other key stars.

They really shutdown Jesper Bratt. He wasn’t too visible in this game. A big change from the first meeting two weeks ago. Hischier was good overall. But outside of a fluky goal, he didn’t do much offensively. He was excellent on face-offs, finishing 13 and 11. Mike McLeod dominated on draws going 12 of 14. That’s ridiculous. As a team, the Devils won 58 percent in the dot (31-and-22).

If there was one noticeable difference that worked in our team’s favor, it’s that Gallant chose to roll four lines. Lindy Ruff didn’t. He hardly played Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Boqvist and Alexander Holtz. They were guilty on the Kreider goal in the second. Boqvist was on with Hughes and Mercer for Kakko’s game-tying goal. That was Ruff’s reasoning for benching them.

Gallant and assistant Gord Murphy controlled the shifts for Hajek and Trouba with the struggling captain eventually supplanting Schneider for a couple of shifts late in the third period back with Miller. Hajek received 12:24 in 15 even strength shifts. Trouba got 16:37 at even strength for the second fewest among Rangers defensemen. He also received 2:04 on the penalty kill.

Miller logged the most shifts at even strength going 23:13 while adding 1:51 shorthanded. His 25:04 game total led all skaters. Fox had 24:18 including 19:37 at even strength, 2:31 power play and 2:10 penalty kill. Schneider was 17:50 all at even strength. Ryan Lindgren totaled 21:47 in 28 shifts including 19:52 even strength and 1:55 shorthanded.

With the Maple Leafs coming to town tomorrow night, this should be interesting to follow. Especially given the fragile state of the blue line. Ben Harpur isn’t coming in for Hajek with Zac Jones down on the farm.

How will they handle Mitch Marner (22-game point streak), Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander? It’ll be tough. For the time being, let’s enjoy what was a rewarding win.

In the three-on-three, the Devils played keep away with the puck. Ruff surprisingly went Hughes and Hischier together with Hamilton. The trio of Zibanejad, Kreider and Fox defended it well with Kreider almost taking the puck from Hughes for a clean break. But Hamilton recovered.

After Bratt, Mercer and Severson fiddled around with the puck, Shesterkin made a stop on Severson. During a partial change that saw Panarin stay on with Chytil replacing Trocheck and Miller staying on, they capitalized in transition when Panarin found Chytil open long enough for him to snap a wrist shot past Vanecek for the deserving overtime winner at 2:15.

The scoring play victimized Hughes, Tomas Tatar and Severson. It was good to see them get that goal. If the Devils didn’t want it, then why not us? It was the Rangers who were more determined this time in digging out of a pair of two-goal deficits to get the win on home ice and give their fans something to cheer for.

This was more like it. They haven’t had a lot of good wins at home. That was a start.

While the media went Hughes, Trocheck and Chytil for the game’s three stars, I’ll go with the three most deserving players.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Dawson Mercer, Devils goal (8) plus 🍎, 3 SOG in 8 attempts, +1 in 26 shifts (20:12)

2nd 🌟✨️ Vincent Trocheck, NYR power play goal (10) plus 🍎, 8-8 draws, +1 in 23 shifts (20:04)

1st ✨️🌟⭐️ Filip Chytil, NYR scored overtime winner (6) at 2:15, assist, 5 SOG in 8 attempts, 17 shifts (14:49)

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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