A day after win streak ends to Flames in overtime loss, Rangers re-acquire Motte from Senators, Halak gets team a point

The Rangers completed their three-game Western Canadian road trip late last night in Calgary. Although they had their win streak snapped at seven, it wasn’t all bad.

After giving up two straight Flames goals over eight seconds in an ugly start, they were able to hang around thanks to Jaroslav Halak. He made 29 saves, including 28 in regulation to keep the Blueshirts in the game long enough to rally for a point.

The Flames got early goals from Andrew Mangiapane (breakaway) and Nazem Kadri (one-timer) taking advantage of sloppy play from both K’Andre Miller and Adam Fox. Before the game was a minute old, Gerard Gallant had that death look on the bench with his lethargic team struggling early in the second game of a back-to-back.

However, the third Calgary goal never came. Give credit to Halak, who’s played unbelievably lately. He entered, having won seven straight decisions. Neither goal was his fault. All he did was pick up the team by making key saves that allowed them to find their footing.

In a first period controlled by the more aggressive Flames, who used their grinding forecheck to slow the pace, they held a 13-7 edge in shots. Jacob Markstrom was only tested once. He looked sharp.

With nothing going, Gallant made a change to his lines. Vladimir Tarasenko hasn’t had much chemistry with Mika Zibanejad or Chris Kreider. After getting his first goal only 2:43 into his Rangers debut on a nifty setup from Artemi Panarin, he’d been fairly quiet.

Sensing it was time to create a spark, Gallant moved Tarasenko down to the second line with Panarin and Vincent Trocheck. He also had Kaapo Kakko take some shifts up with Zibanejad and Kreider. Barclay Goodrow worked with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. He also worked Jimmy Vesey into the top nine. That meant little ice time for Julien Gauthier and Jake Leschyshyn. Perhaps that was some foreshadowing.

Still trailing by two late in the second period, it finally clicked for Tarasenko. On a superb play started by a driving Panarin, who fed Trocheck in the slot, the center made a nice pass across for a Tarasenko finish into an open side with 3:07 left. That cut the deficit in half and changed the game.

With Halak continuing to deny the Flames on some tough chances, it felt like the Rangers would find a way to tie the game. Even after Miller was called for a phantom hook on Calgary rookie Jakob Pelletier at the end of the second that had Gallant discussing it with the refs before the start of the third, the penalty kill got it done. They usually do when the game is hanging in the balance.

Throughout this stretch, the Blueshirts have shown the capability to come back and win. They did it at Edmonton on Friday night. They won a crazy game versus these same Flames at MSG, in which Alexis Lafreniere played the overtime hero. That would actually be relevant.

On what was an equally perplexing call that sent Kadri to the box for interference on Mika Zibanejad with over nine minutes remaining that allowed the Rangers to go on the power play. They weren’t exactly lighting the world on fire. They barely tested Markstrom up to that point.

With Gallant opting to move Tarasenko back up to the top power play unit, he slid Filip Chytil down to the second unit. Although he’s been snake bit lately with goalies stoning him on point blank chances, including one key save Markstrom made, he managed to get involved in the tying power play goal.

Chytil passed the puck over for Trocheck, who circled around the Calgary net. He then centered for a Lafreniere one-timer that snuck past Markstrom and trickled in for the clutch power play goal that tied it up with 7:12 remaining.

That gave Lafreniere his 10th goal, making it two consecutive games with a goal. The surging 21-year old former top pick has 10 points in his last 11 games. The best part is that he’s finding the back of the net. Lafreniere has half his goals over the stretch. He also got the shootout winner over the Oilers. Lafreniere is up to 28 points (10-18-28) for the season.

With Halak stopping nine Calgary shots in the period compared to just three of four for Markstrom, the game would require overtime. Prior to it, an incensed Kadri gave the officials a piece of his mind. An emotional player, he received the rest of the night off with a misconduct.

I saw some of our fans angling for a power play. But the refs made the right call. It wasn’t an infraction during play. It happened after regulation concluded. Kadri obviously was still fuming over the penalty that led to Lafreniere’s tying goal.

In the three-on-three, it didn’t last long. On a play that didn’t make much sense, Panarin kept going after Tyler Toffoli in the corner. He also threw him down and probably deserved a penalty. Instead, Fox was called for high-sticking Dillon Dube at 50 seconds of overtime.

Following a timeout by Darryl Sutter, the Flames were able to get the four-on-three setup. On a Rasmus Andersson pass up top for Jonathan Huberdeau, who had one of his better games, he let go of a long wrist shot that Mikael Backlund was able to tip-in for the game-winner at 1:28. That gave the Flames a 3-2 win in overtime.

It was a frustrating way to have the winning streak end. However, thanks to Halak, the Rangers got a point. He was the best player. He has turned his year around and deserves a lot of credit. The veteran battles. That’s why he’s so well respected.

The one point kept the Rangers within two of the second place Devils, who won earlier on Saturday over the slumping Pens. They’re up to 75 points with 26 games remaining. Next up is Winnipeg on Monday. The Jets are taking on the Devils tonight. That’s a game to keep an eye on.

A day later, the Rangers decided they’d seen enough of the little used fourth line. Chris Drury made a move by sending Julien Gauthier and a conditional seventh round pick over to Ottawa in exchange for Tyler Motte. So, Motte returns.

The seventh round pick becomes a sixth if the Rangers win a first round this postseason. It’s pretty simple.

The trade makes sense. He’s familiar with how Gallant likes to play. Motte has the skating and edge necessary to upgrade the fourth line. We know he will finish checks and block shots and can kill penalties. It’s a sensible deal. He was an effective player after being acquired last year.

As far as the fourth line goes, you now have Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Motte. Only Jake Leschyshyn doesn’t fit. I expect him to be replaced sooner or later. Whether Drury can add one more affordable role player or they decide that Will Cuylle or Jonny Brodzinski are the way to go, the Rangers will have better balance moving forward.

Heck. Even Ryan Carpenter would be an upgrade over Leschyshyn. He’s scoring in Hartford. Realistically speaking, I feel like they might go with Cuylle. He can stay down with the Wolf Pack for now and continue to get top line minutes. He plays a gritty, physical game that would fit in on the fourth line. Goodrow can slide over to center.

I guess Sam Lafferty is out of the question. I would’ve preferred him due to what he brings. We’ll see what the organization decides. There’s still less than two weeks until the trade deadline on March 3rd.

There’s nothing to complain about. The Rangers have been one of the hottest teams in the league. We’ll see where things go.


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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