After getting stoned by Hellebuyck, disjointed Rangers drop second straight to improved Red Wings, Kane rumors persist, lack of structure an issue along with defense

All winning streaks eventually fade away. When they lost to Calgary in overtime, that was acceptable. The Rangers battled back from an early two-goal deficit to earn a point against a desperate Flames, who got a much needed win on a power play goal.

Even the most recent 4-1 loss on home ice to the Jets wasn’t bad. How can you lose sleep over a game where the Rangers out-shot Winnipeg 51-21? They were stoned by Vezina candidate Connor Hellebuyck, who made 50 saves on Monday night.

The Jets also got timely goals thanks to the skill of Mark Scheifele (2 goals), Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Kyle Connor coming through. Of the four goals, Igor Shesterkin probably wanted the first Scheifele tally back. It wasn’t a good rebound to give up. Connor beat him for the key third goal high blocker. Scheifele finished it off with a wicked backhand around K’Andre Miller.

In what was their first loss in regulation since Jan. 19 versus Boston, the Rangers lost the special teams battle. Their power play took the collar while their penalty kill allowed a power play goal to Dubois, who had the fortune of a Josh Morrissey shot banking off his knee past Shesterkin.

If you wanted to critique something, it was the defense. Despite dominating most of the play at five-on-five, they gave up some easy goals due to not defending well enough. Even during the second seven-game winning streak, that had been a sore spot. They only gave up less than three goals to the Hurricanes in a 6-2 win. The Artemi Panarin four-goal game.

For a long time, they’d played well enough to put together a dominant 22-4-5 stretch that coincided with Jacob Trouba erupting during a bad home loss to the lowly Blackhawks near the end of the second period. His message got through loud and clear. They turned it around immediately by winning seven in a row.

For over two months, they went from not being in a playoff position to solidifying themselves in the top three of the Metropolitan Division. Prior to the loss to Winnipeg, it wasn’t hard to envision the Blueshirts catching and passing the rival Devils for second place.

However, it became a bit harder after Thursday night’s disappointing 4-1 loss at the Red Wings. Combine that with a riveting Devils’ late comeback to prevail 4-3 in overtime over the Kings, and the Rangers now trail their Hudson rival by six points with 24 games remaining.

It’s frustrating. However, all is not lost. As we draw nearer to next Friday’s March 3 NHL Trade Deadline, rumors persist that Chris Drury might not be done. After adding Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola, who might play a bigger role than first thought, the Rangers Team President and GM should have enough room to add another key player.

Even with TSN insiders Darren Dreger, Chris Johnston, and Pierre LeBrun all but confirming that Patrick Kane still hasn’t made a decision with the Blackhawks, there were enough off ice distractions caused by the Rangers’ decision to scratch both Vitaly Kravtsov and Jake Leschyshyn for as they termed, “roster management.”

To me, it was just a bunch of bs from a tight-lipped organization that doesn’t exactly tip-off too many insiders to what they’re doing. Things are very close to the vest with Drury running things. Kravtsov was never getting back into the lineup due to Gerard Gallant. What difference does it make? Leschyshyn is a placeholder.

So, in a perplexing decision that made no sense, the Rangers went with an 11 forward, 7 defensemen alignment. The results were predictable. They never had any chemistry or consistency during Thursday’s game. It amounted to a wasted opportunity.

With Gallant being forced to dress Ben Harpur as a seventh defenseman, he only had 11 forwards to work with while hardly using Harpur (4 shifts for 2:50). It wasn’t exactly the right time to be tinkering against a resurgent Red Wings team that’s pushing for the playoffs.

Detroit has gone from being 14th and looking totally out of it to making a charge up the standings. With their seventh win in eight, they jumped into the second wildcard position over the slumping Penguins, who look finished. They were blown out by Edmonton 7-2 at home, dropping their fourth in a row. The only saving grace is that they still have 25 games left.

While both the battle-tested Pens and Capitals (lost sixth straight to Ducks 4-2) are going in the wrong direction, the Islanders are in the first wildcard position with 67 points. They only have 21 games remaining. The addition of Bo Horvat and hot goaltending of Ilya Sorokin has carried them. The Pens have 63 points, and Caps have 62. But Washington has only 22 left, including a pivotal matinee on Saturday against the Rangers.

The Panthers have climbed back into it with 64 points. They’re playing better, but they also have only 22 to go. With an exciting 6-5 overtime win over the Lightning that featured Tage Thompson scoring his fourth hat trick of the season, the Sabres are up to 62 with 26 left. Even crazier defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin scored a shorthanded goal for his first of the season to win it.

Given how unpredictable the wildcard race is with all the aforementioned teams jockeying for position, it’s going to be impossible to figure out who’ll make it. Fortunately for the Rangers, they have a nice cushion with 75 points sitting in third place. Eight up on the Islanders. But they have three more games remaining.

The way the Eastern Conference is set up, it’s going to be some battle this spring. With both the Maple Leafs and Bruins loading up, who’s next? Boston made their big move by acquiring defenseman Dmitry Orlov and grinding forward Garnet Hathaway from the Caps in exchange for first, second, and third round picks. A fifth also went to the Wild, who retained 50 percent of the Orlov contract to help the Bruins out. Also going to Washington is Craig Smith and Andrei Svetlakov.

Prior to Boston upgrading their blue line and forward depth for what they hope will be a deep run into June for the Cup, it was the Maple Leafs who made a big splash in trading for playoff proven Ryan O’Reilly and depth center Noel Acciari from the Blues, who are big sellers. They were able to add the Leafs’ first round pick and the rights to Ottawa’s third round pick in 2023. They also received Toronto’s second round pick in 2024. St. Louis acquired Mikhail Abramov and Adam Gaudette. The Wild received a 2025 fifth round pick from the Leafs to help Toronto with O’Reilly.

These are significant moves by two serious contenders. Will the Lightning do anything before next week’s deadline to help improve their roster for the likely first round heavyweight rematch with the Maple Leafs?

In the Metro, you have the Hurricanes and Devils rumored to be interested in adding big fish Timo Meier. Is there a third team lurking? You never know.

As for Kane, he suddenly got hot. He’s scored seven goals and added three assists for 10 points over his last four games with the Blackhawks. It’s the only franchise he’s ever known. The American legend has responded by being the electrifying star player he’s always been. Showtime knows what’s around the corner. He has full control over whether he stays or goes.

We know he likes the Rangers. He felt that once they went out and got Tarasenko, that dream was dead. But not so fast. The bigger question for them is whether Kane is going to address the issues that are becoming an alarming trend.

Patrick Kane is a great player who’ll make any contender better. That’s ‘if’ he agrees to waive his NMC. He’s expected to meet his agent this weekend and discuss the matter with the Blackhawks. They’re in overtime. That’s why all the hoopla surrounding a Kane trade to the Rangers last night felt fake. When trusted sources up north stated otherwise, it made no sense for anyone to run with the story. Anything for cheap clicks.

Why don’t we wait and see how things play out? None of the talk helped the Rangers last night in Detroit. They played soft and were belted around by a hungry Red Wings pretty good.

The lasting image will be Panarin getting knocked down by Michael Rasmussen, who was a factor throughout the game. He scored and set up a goal. Then, he became the target of an incensed Adam Fox, who went after him following his takedown of Panarin, who got right up.

It’s not what you want to see. Fox isn’t the defenseman who should be fighting Panarin’s battles. He’s too valuable. You also had Alexis Lafreniere going after Jake Walman, leading to a fight behind the net. There was a lot of frustration.

That’s how well it went. In his second game, since returning for a Broadway encore, Motte dove and blocked a shot that saw the puck hit him in the face. He immediately skated off to the locker room for repairs. That left Gallant with 10 forwards for a good portion of the first period.

It wasn’t exactly fun to watch. Detroit did a good job limiting time and space. They blanketed Panarin, who didn’t find much operating room. The one time he did, he nearly connected with Tarasenko for a goal. But a Red Wings player broke it up for a key defensive play.

The Wings sure defended well by breaking up passes and blocking shots. They totaled 22 blocks, including seven from Ben Chiarot. Mo Seider blocked six. As a team, the Rangers had nine. Detroit was also more physical. They delivered a few big hits, including a textbook check by Walman that drew cheers from over 19,000 at Little Caesars Arena.

The lack of grit from the Rangers was a noticeable difference. They wound up out-shooting the Red Wings 10-7 in the first. But quality chances were hard to come by. Even an early delay of game minor that wasn’t exactly the right call didn’t get them going.

For a while, shots stayed at 7-6 Rangers. It was sloppy. There wasn’t much rhythm. If you were hoping for a track meet, that’s not how the Red Wings play anymore. They are more disciplined and structured. They’ve improved overall under first-year coach Derek Lalonde. The former Lightning assistant coach has them on the right track.

One of the things Gallant tried was plugging Barclay Goodrow due to not having a fourth line. It’s been a tough go for Goodrow lately. He’s without a goal since Jan. 16. Counting last night, that’s nine games without a point. He is a key player who can play any role. But he’s been stuck on nine goals and 14 assists for a while.

On one shift, Goodrow got caught out with Mika Zibanejad and Jimmy Vesey. It didn’t go well. Almost immediately, the Red Wings transitioned up ice, leading to David Perron and Rasmussen combining to set up Andrew Copp for an easy goal at 15:33. Zibanejad was the closest player but got beat easily to the net.

In the second period, the Rangers picked up their game. Beginning to establish more of a sustained attack, they had the Red Wings on their heels during some extended shifts. They didn’t cash in on the forecheck pressure. The Wings survived due to keeping the shots outside.

For a second straight game, Vincent Trocheck stayed hot. On a play in the neutral zone, he stole the puck and moved in and beat Husso for an unassisted rally at 6:06. It was a strong play by a player who’s on a good streak. Since scoring a goal and an assist in a home win back on Jan. 27, he has 12 points (4-8-12) over the last 10 games. It’s by far the best stretch of the season for Trocheck.

If only Sam Rosen knew it was Trocheck that scored the goal. He originally said Panarin. He wasn’t even out for it. Ugh. We all love him for what he’s provided us for over four decades. But it’s time. Rosen makes too many mistakes. We’ll always have 1994. It has lasted “a lifetime.”

Maybe the most disappointing aspect of this game was how soon the Red Wings responded. Detroit captain Dylan Larkin had enough time to center for a wide open Filip Zadina for an easy finish that Jaroslav Halak had no chance on. That restored a one-goal lead for the Wings 2:12 later. There was a lot of puck watching on the go-ahead goal. Too much.

At near the halfway point, a controversial decision took forever thanks to the sleepless NHL War Room in Toronto. Ryan Lindgren got his stick up and cross-checked Rasmussen at center ice. Nobody knew what was called by refs Jake Brenk and Chris Lee.

Both Rosen and Joe Micheletti seemed clueless as to whether the original call was a minor for cross-checking or a major penalty. It was a state of confusion that wasn’t helped by how long Lee was on with Toronto. It was ridiculous. This is exactly why I can’t stand these conferences. They take so long that it takes away from the game. The fans and viewers are just left waiting along with the players.

After what felt like forever, Lee explained that Lindgren received a two-minute minor for cross-checking Rasmussen. I didn’t agree. He easily could’ve gotten a five-minute major for that careless swing. Lindgren is a clean player. It wasn’t good to see. In any event, the Rangers went on to kill the penalty without a problem.

On what felt like a momentum turning shift where they had the Red Wings gassed, Lindgren found a cutting Fox for what looked like the tying goal. However, a quick reacting Husso dove across and on the full stretch made a phenomenal pad save to keep the puck out. It probably was on the goal line. That’s how remarkable a save it was. He’s been a big part of the Wings’ surge up the standings.

Fox couldn’t believe it. He’d later get another wide open look. However, he sent his shot from the slot over the net and out of play. Husso made 12 saves in the period. None were bigger than his clutch stop on Fox.

With under two minutes remaining, the Rangers fell asleep again to give up a crushing late goal. On this one, nobody defended anyone. Copp moved the puck over for a Perron shot that Halak made a good save on. But with Miller not staying with his man, that left Rasmussen all alone for an easy put away to make it 3-1 with 1:58 left.

Just brutal. Miller had his man and then over skated and wound up out of the play. Making matters worse, you had Tarasenko gliding back with Lafreniere and Filip Chytil, who didn’t have a good game. Neither did Zibanejad or Tarasenko, who plays too much on the perimeter for my liking. He was coming off his best game against Winnipeg. He has to be more active.

Before the late fireworks in the third with the game decided, the Rangers got caught on another bad line change. They received a bench minor for too many men. This has become a bad habit. How many times are they going to screw up a line change? That is something that must get corrected.

On the second half of the power play, Dominik Kubalik worked the puck over to Copp, who moved it back to Filip Hronek. With Oskar Sundqvist setting a good screen in front, he fired a perfect laser that went stick side past Halak, who couldn’t see it. That made it 4-1 with 15:09 left in regulation.

Even though they’ve proven they can come back due to the improved offense, the Rangers weren’t coming back against the Red Wings. With Husso dialed in and the Wings paying better attention to detail, there was no chance.

At least Motte returned to play the final two periods. He actually was one of the best forwards due to his straightforward approach. He and Goodrow nearly combined on a goal against the Jets. That turned out to be a huge difference with Hellebuyck stopping Motte in front on a delayed call.

Motte plays the game the right way. He plays it with an edge and purpose like Goodrow. Both support forwards will be key players in the postseason, just like last year. If you want to go far, you need four lines. Whatever they decide before March 3, it should be done with that in mind.

Maybe it’s not a Kane. But an Ivan Barbashev. A gritty two-way forward with skill. He’s also on the Blues, who are having a fire sale. Keep an eye on him. Mike Rupp talked about Barbashev on NHL Network. He thinks that’s the kind of player who can make a difference in the loaded East.

Perhaps it’s Sean Monahan. If he returns from injury before the deadline, the Habs could move him. He’s got experience and can plug in well on a fourth line. He’s also a center.

I am in agreement with Rupp. It’s not always the sexy move that wins at this time of year. Tampa won thanks to adding gritty guys with character such as Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Nick Paul nearly helped them three-peat last year.

In ’94, there’s no Cup without Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Ditto for Brian Noonan and the overlooked Steve Larmer, who’s been passed over too many times by the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Those were the glue guys. No run in 2014 without Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, Daniel Carcillo, and Derek Dorsett. It’s those types that are needed.

I would say more. But it’s late. The Three Stars are below. The second consecutive game, it’s all the opponent.


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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