Blueshirts’ top guns combine for most of damage in an ugly win over the defenseless Canucks, Panarin and Zibanejad stay hot in sixth straight win, Shesterkin struggles along with defense

It was a case of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Rangers in what amounted to an ugly 6-4 win over the defenseless Canucks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

The good is that they continue to find offense. For a third consecutive game, the Rangers scored at least six goals in a victory. By getting a touchdown, thanks in large part to top guns Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider, who combined for five of the team’s six goals, they won for a sixth straight game.

The bad is that they got sucked into the Canucks wide open style, which is devoid of defense. That made for some lousy sequences that saw plenty of stick checking and puck watching on Vancouver goals. There were also a few other dangerous chances that could’ve resulted in goals against.

The ugly was how the game was played. This wasn’t fun to watch in the least. It was Defense Optional with hardly any battles in the trenches. Outside of Jacob Trouba, who took the body with his usual edgy play, it was like watching pond hockey. It’s not the kind of style this team excels at.

If you want to be positive, it was another win that allowed them to gain ground on the idle Devils and Hurricanes. That’s another two points gained in the standings, pushing the Rangers up to 72 points with 28 games remaining. That’s three behind the Devils and six in back of the Hurricanes. Each has 29 left.

Another good development is the continuation of Artemi Panarin scoring goals. He notched two more to make it six over the last two games. He also recorded an assist, giving him eight points (6-2-8) over the last two games.

The Bread Man seems to have found chemistry with Vincent Trocheck and complementary two-way forward Jimmy Vesey. It appears Gerard Gallant might finally have found the missing ingredient to help Panarin and Trocheck coexist. The tenacious Vesey continues his strong play by fitting in well on the new second line. He picked up a primary assist and was involved on both Panarin tallies.

Mika Zibanejad keeps scoring. His hot February continued when he lit the lamp twice more to give him seven goals during a five-game goal streak. Over that stretch, he has nine points (5-4-9). In fact, since Jan. 16, he has 10 goals over the past 10 games. Dating back to Dec. 29, Zibanejad has scored 14 goals over 18 games.

That’s the same Zibanejad who went on a tear and scored a career high 41 in 2019-20 before COVID ended the regular season. There was the astonishing five-goal game where he basically beat the Alexander Ovechkin Capitals by getting the overtime winner at MSG. With 29 goals, he very much is on track for the second 40-goal season of his career.

At 29, it’s all clicking for Zibanejad. After a slow start, he’s hit his stride. They’re going in for him again. He leads the Rangers in goals (29), power play goals (17), shots (190), and is second behind Panarin in points (58). He ranks third in plus-minus, moving past Filip Chytil for tops amongst forwards with a plus-19. Only defense tandem Adam Fox (+26) and Ryan Lindgren (+25) are ahead of him.

With a goal early in the second period, Chris Kreider is up to 22 for the season. After struggling initially following an injury that kept him out for three games, he’s back to being the effective power forward he is. In a recent post, I misspoke on Kreider passing Mark Messier for seventh on the all-time franchise goal scoring list. He’s now done it with career goal number 251. Next up is Camille Henry.

In fact, Kreider is on a pretty good run. Since tallying on Jan. 27 in a home win over Vegas, he’s on a six-game point streak (3-4-7). The 31-year old is the best Rangers first round pick since Alexei Kovalev. While Kovalev performed well in helping the franchise win its fourth Stanley Cup before eventually falling out of favor under Colin Campbell, Kreider has been a mainstay for a decade. With 251 goals and 209 assists for a total of 459 points in 704 games, he continues to move up the all-time scoring list. There’s a chance he can tie and pass Adam Graves (507) for 10th by some time next season.

With a goal that turned out to be pretty important, K’Andre Miller is up to six on the season. He reached 30 points in a season for the first time in his young career. The former 2018 first round pick continues to add offense to his game. Continuing to log key minutes with partner Jacob Trouba, Miller is maturing as a player. Another 10 points, and he hits 40, which would build a case for a long-term contract. It’s looking more likely that he’ll get between $5 to 5.5 million per year.

I listed plenty of positives from the win. If there’s a negative, it was the lack of attention to detail. Vancouver can get you into their game that has no rhythm. They’re a fast skating offensive team who likes to open it up. If you get into a track meet with them, that means defense isn’t being played, and that leaves the goalie vulnerable to their quick transition game.

Igor Shesterkin struggled. Truthfully, it wasn’t an easy game to play. He felt the constant pressure from the freewheeling Canucks, who seemed to come at the Rangers in waves.

That meant a bad rebound that led to Curtis Lazar getting credit for the game’s opening goal. It was a play where all five Rangers skaters got caught napping with Kaapo Kakko, letting a hustling Dakota Joshua get to the net to create a rebound Lazar put in.

After Zibanejad fooled Vancouver rookie call-up Arturs Silovs by patiently waiting an extra second to go five-hole to tie the score, Vesey found Panarin wide open for an easy one-timer 1:13 later that gave the Blueshirts two consecutive goals for the lead.

But with Alexis Lafreniere off for hooking, J.T. Miller buried a one-timer from the far right side on a superb Elias Pettersson pass that went past Shesterkin, who was without his goal stick. Quinn Hughes helped set the power play goal up.

However, the goal fest wasn’t done in a chaotic first that also featured Trouba doing what he does by leveling Joshua with two clean hits. Nothing ever materialized. On just an innocent looking shot from Niko Mikkola, Panarin was able to redirect the puck to sneak it past a shaky Silovs, who had a rough NHL debut, allowing five goals on 27 shots.

That made it 3-2 and gave Panarin six goals in the last four periods. He had just posted a career high four in a win at Carolina over the weekend.

If you were looking for a good sign, an easy passing play started by Vladimir Tarasenko to Zibanejad allowed Kreider to score an easy goal that looked right out of the classic video game NHL ’94. It took just 50 seconds for the goal to be scored, which made it 4-2 early in the second period.

After a Mikkola penalty had just expired, Andrei Kuzmenko made a great move and fired a shot off the goalpost. Conor Garland was able to put in a backhand rebound with Kakko again puck watching. That made it 4-3 and foretold the story of the game.

Despite their deficiencies, the Canucks don’t quit. Something new coach Rick Tocchet has noted in his short time there since replacing Bruce Boudreau, who’s returned to NHL Network to entertain fans. The demanding Tocchet wants his team to defend harder. It doesn’t come easy for them.

On a play at the Vancouver blue line, Miller made a good move and fired a seeing eye wrist shot that hopped off a Canuck stick past a perplexed Silovs, who by that point must have wished he was back with Abbotsford. This was a tough spot to bring the inexperienced 21-year old into. I felt bad for him.

Still trailing by two in the third, the Canucks never gave up. Moved up by Tocchet to the first line, Kuzmenko showed off what makes him special. On a Pettersson feed, he skated into open ice and rifled a wrist shot past Shesterkin to the glove side for his 23rd with 11:09 left.

That made it a one-goal game. It was again too close for comfort. The Rangers have a bad habit of allowing opponents to hang around. Fortunately, the Canucks never found the equalizer. They out-shot the Rangers 11-6. But Shesterkin was better, including making a good glove save on Tyler Myers off a Brock Boeser face-off win.

After they pulled Silovs, the Canucks came close to tying it. However, after some near misses from Vesey and Panarin, who almost made it two games in a row with a hat trick, Zibanejad was able to rebound home his 29th into the open net with 1:34 left.

That allowed the Rangers to breathe easier. They didn’t play well. But it didn’t matter. They did enough to get the two points. Now, it’s two in a row at Edmonton and Calgary this weekend. Those should be tougher tests from Alberta rivals competing for the postseason.

One other note. I don’t understand why MSG Network refuses to fly out Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti to the West Coast. It’s insulting to the fan base. This isn’t the past couple of years. Why should they call the game from the studio? It really is a bad look. It really comes off cheap.

Also. Next time he opens his trap, can Steve Valiquette think before he speaks? He really thought this game would be easy. He must not pay attention. Teams like the Canucks give the Rangers fits due to their speed and skill. Adam Fox struggled mightily. Not much defense was played.

I’m also tired of Shesterkin underperforming. If he keeps playing like this, it’s hard to see this team getting out of the division.

The fourth line has no real scoring threat. Jake Leschyshyn is just out there. He’s a placeholder until Chris Drury gets a real player to fill out that line. Julien Gauthier is back to being a player who can’t score. He works hard but isn’t consistent. Barclay Goodrow is the only offensive player that line has. That’ll have to be upgraded.


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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