Well New York Rangers fans, the 2021-22 season is finally upon us. This offseason felt like a whirlwind, and the dizziness gave way to a regular season filled with nearly equal levels of excitement and confusion. This first week gave us some real good looks at a new coaching staff and an updated lineup.
I am incredibly excited to resume my coverage of this team and will be dropping these reaction articles on a weekly basis from now until the end of the season. For those of you who didn’t catch any of this series last year you can read my final pieces of the 2020-21 season here and here.
This series is pretty simple; I cover every game of the season in a condensed manner, allowing readers to catch up with the Blueshirts three to four games at a time. My target audience is casual fans who don’t have time to read game recaps multiple times a week, let alone actually watch every game of the season. Every article will include a section for fan sentiments and organizational moves, as well as a look forward at the coming week. I make takeaways and stress some of my feelings about the team, but my goal isn’t to pedal any sort of narrative about the Rangers. My goal is to inform you, the fans, so you can draw your own conclusions.
The train has left the station. All aboard!
Game 1: Loss @ Washington (1-5)
The NHL knew what it was doing when these teams got scheduled to face each other on the second night of the regular season. This matchup featured tension that had been bubbling since Tom Wilson rag dolled Artemi Panarin in the last week of the 2020-21 season. The lack of toughness on the Rangers roster led to a full organizational overhaul, including the ousting of the head coach.
This was our first look at what Gerard Gallant offers behind the bench. The Rangers rolled into this contest carrying a more physical lineup, though it didn’t translate to much drama on the ice. Perplexing enough, Alexandar Georgiev got the start in net and without a doubt showed exactly why the crease belongs to Igor Shesterkin. Georgiev is a capable spot-starter, but it was a bit of a letdown seeing him get the opening night nod. On a good night he is leaky at best, and in this contest, he surrendered five goals on 27 shots against, not counting a sixth goal that got disallowed due to offsides.
This loss doesn’t rest squarely on his shoulders. The Rangers looked flat and committed too many penalties, giving the Capitals six powerplays, three of which they converted. That being said, some of the goals Georgiev gave up were just downright ugly. His glove hand looked slow, his rebounds were too big, and more than once he was in the right position but still allowed pucks to sneak through his pads.
The Rangers managed one single goal on offense despite playing against the Capitals backup goaltender, Vitek Vanecek. The Rangers lone goal was a Chris Kreider classic, a tip in from around the crease on the powerplay. The Capitals got goals from T.J. Oshie, Justin Schultz, Hendrix Lapierre, and two from Alex Ovechkin. The Rangers managed 24 shots on goal compared to the Capitals 27, won more faceoffs, and outhit the Caps 27 to 12.
Game 2: Loss vs Dallas (2-3, OT)
A loss is a loss, I know this, but this result definitely allowed some Rangers fans to breathe a little easier. Shesterkin got the start in net for this home opener and the Blueshirts showed life both on offense and defense. It was the first career NHL game for young, Swedish defenseman Nils Lundkvist, and it was a sketchy bounce off his stick in the neutral zone that led to the first goal of the game by another rookie, Jacob Peterson, coming as the clock dwindled down at the end of the first period. The Stars also got a goal in regulation time from Radek Faksa, who cleaned up a blocked shot on the powerplay in the second period, putting the Stars up 2-0.
The Rangers scored both of their goals in the second period in response. Adam Fox notched his first of the season, cycling back towards the point and ricocheting a shot in off a Dallas defenseman. A Chris Kreider deflection tied the game at two. Miro Heiskanen scored the game winner in overtime.
The Rangers managed 33 shots on goal, 27 against the starter, Braden Holtby, and 6 against Anton Khudobin in relief. Both goals came against Holtby. Shesterkin stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced. The Rangers went 0 for 4 on the powerplay and 1 for 2 on the penalty kill.
Game 3: Win @ Montreal (3-1)
This game had to feel good for the Rangers. Chris Kreider opened the scoring halfway through the second period. This was his third goal in as many games, and yet again this one comes while he takes up residence on the crease. Mika Zibanejad slid a crisp pass towards the net, allowing Kreider to tip it in for a powerplay goal. Jonathan Drouin scored the only Canadiens goal of the night about halfway through the third period, tying it up.
The Rangers broke the tie not even 30 seconds later, with Alexis Lafrenière scoring the first of his season off a slick cross-crease pass by Zibanejad. This was extra special for Lafrenière, as it was his first career NHL game in his home province of Québec, and the first time his family could be in attendance for one of his NHL games. Kevin Rooney sunk an empty netter to seal this one.
If you couldn’t tell, Zibanejad really drove the offense in this game, and seems to be on pace for a quicker start than last year. Shesterkin was in net for this game, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced. Jake Allen was in net for Montreal, he stopped 21 of the 23 shots the Rangers mustered. The Rangers managed one powerplay goal on four opportunities and were solid on all three of their penalty kills. They were outhit 31 to 23 and lost the faceoff battle 61% to 39%.
Game 4: Win @ Toronto (2-1, OT)
This victory got my blood pumping. I’m talking dangerous levels of heart rate, cardiac stress, but sheer elevation in every regard. Two things: 3v3 overtime hockey was one of the best decisions the NHL has made, and Igor Shesterkin is an absolute animal. We can talk about overtime in a second, first Shesty. It’s so fortunate for the Rangers to go from the likes of King Hendrik Lundqvist to this Russian prince of a netminder in Shesterkin. He completely dominated this game, making 40 saves and carrying this team to victory.
Mika Zibanejad scored the only Rangers goal in regulation, putting one up high off the inside of the post in the first period. Michael Bunting scored in the second period for the Maple Leafs. Neither team scored in the third despite heavy pressure at both ends of the ice. The overtime period was high intensity, back-and-forth hockey where both teams had chances to end it. They swapped opportunities for minutes on end. Shesterkin stood tall for the Rangers while the Toronto goaltender, Jack Campbell, fought off every shot he could. Shesterkin even made a save dangerously far out of his crease. Artemi Panarin notched the overtime winner off a snipe from the left faceoff circle. I will post the whole overtime sequence below; it is must-see hockey.
The Rangers managed only 23 shots on goal while the Maple Leafs sent 41 on net. The Rangers won the hitting battle 33 to 19 while vastly being outdone in the faceoff department, winning only 24% of the time. Both teams went 0/3 on the powerplay.
Fan Sentiments and What to Look Forward to Next Week
If you polled the fan base following the first game of the season and following the fourth, you’d probably get drastically different responses. Any sentiment following the games this early in the season should be tempered. That being said, there was frustration felt after the opening game against the Caps, mostly due to the goaltending choice, but also just disappointment in the team as a whole. The three games following, even the overtime loss to the Stars, did a lot to assuage fan concerns and won some trust in the new regime. Fans have to remember that the season is young and it’s too soon to call anything a trend. We will know more about this team and about Gallant a month from now, and anything this early would be making assumptions.
The hottest topic outside of the on-ice product is the situation with Vitaly Kravtsov. For the second year in a row Kravtsov was designated for assignment in Hartford. He refused and the team informed him that he will be allowed to seek a trade partner. This is the second coaching staff to question the Russian winger’s attitude and effort, and this is the second time that Kravtsov has handled it poorly. Hopefully the situation can be remedied, as the Rangers lack depth on the right side and Kravtsov has the potential to be an elite offensive talent.
I’m hearing that the team is still willing to work this out, which presumably means that any interested franchises came in under asking price. This is also in light of the recent story that came out suggesting this as a conflict between the General Manager Chris Drury and Kravtsov that has been ongoing for multiple years now, including multiple incidents of the two of them butting heads. This would seem to place a large portion of the blame on the Rangers, especially considering they moved Pavel Buchnevich knowing that Kravtsov was their depth at right wing behind him.
Drury certainly has some questions to answer, but in the meantime it’s the head coach Gallant who is attempting to mend the relationship with Kravtsov. Rangers fans will be anxiously waiting until this saga concludes. There will be three games played between now and my next Rangers Reactions edition. Thursday night they play the Predators in Nashville and on Saturday they face the Senators in Ottawa. They return to Madison Square Garden to play the Calgary Flames at home on Monday the 25th.