Rangers Reactions Week 8: Splitting Victories

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Rangers Reactions Week 8: Splitting Victories

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Rangers Reactions Week 8: Splitting Victories

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This week was a little bit of a fall back to earth for the Rangers. They had their win streak broken and went 2-2 across the four games played this week. There was an element of drama involved and this team is going to have to play consistently night in and night out as league-wide there seems to be a target on their back. Start the season this hot and everybody notices. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising.

Let’s get to the games.

Game 25: Win @ Chicago (6-2)

This game featured the highlight of a career milestone being achieved, but it also featured the supreme lowlight of a player leaving the ice on a stretcher. While it was so much fun to watch Artemi Panarin notch his 500th career point in the NHL, the lasting memory of this game will be Jujhar Khaira falling unconscious following a devastating hit by Jacob Trouba.

The hit occurred with just under 14 minutes remaining in the second period. The game was tied at two. Khaira was attempting to collect a pass while exiting the defensive zone, looking down while the puck bounced between his skates. Trouba made the appropriate play by stepping up for an open-ice check, limiting the breakout. Though his check was clean, the main point of contact was shoulder to chest, and unfortunately, Trouba first clipped Khaira’s chin.

This whole sequence was scary to watch and made even this longtime hockey watcher a bit squeamish. It has incited all sorts of debate about whether or not this style of body checking should still be legal in the league. This kind of hit reminds many viewers of the old days of hockey when this sort of collision was actually quite commonplace. I don’t believe this to be the place for me to debate the merits of this rule. The discussion would have to be quite nuanced and this style of writeup doesn’t allow such a deep dive into rule book optics. To put it frankly, I’m actually not sure where I stand.

There was actually a good bit of hockey played otherwise with a full 60 minutes’ worth of scoring for the Rangers. They got the scoring started with a goal by Trouba one minute and one second into the first period. He collected a pass from Panarin, moved into the open ice, and rifled a wrist shot past the blocker of Marc-André Fleury. The assist was Panarin’s 500th career NHL point.

The Blackhawks struck back 43 seconds later on a goal by Erik Gustafsson where Alexandar Georgiev was screened by Rangers defenseman Patrik Nemeth. Chicago would strike again in the first period, this time with a goal by Kirby Dach. The first period ended 2-1 in Chicago’s favor.

The rest of the game was all New York. The only goal in the second period was scored by Panarin to tie the game at two. He fired the puck into a mostly open net when it bounced out to him on the left-wing.

The Rangers scored four times in the third period. Chris Kreider scored a powerplay goal off of, yeah you guessed it, a deflection from the crease. He tipped in a perfectly placed shot from Adam Fox. Fox also collected an assist on the next goal for the Rangers, a snipe by Kevin Rooney. Ryan Reaves made a nice play along the boards and sent the puck between his legs to Fox who made a little pass to set up Rooney in the slot.

Panarin scored his second of the game on an empty-netter with just over three minutes remaining. His backhand from near the blueline surprised pretty much everyone in the arena. The final goal of the game was another tally by the fourth line. Reaves took a shot from the left-wing, up close to the crease, that rebounded right to Barclay Goodrow who tapped it in.

Georgiev finished with 24 saves on 26 shots while Fleury had 24 saves on 29 shots. The Rangers had a 100% day on special teams, scoring two powerplay goals on two opportunities and killing off all four penalties.

Game 26: Loss vs Avalanche (7-3)

This game was an ugly fall back to earth for the Rangers. This was a team playing the second leg in a back-to-back, returning home from Chicago, and playing their fourth-string goaltender. Boy, did it look like it. Huska was thrust into the starting role due to the injury to Igor Shesterkin, Georgiev needing a rest day, and Keith Kincaid catching a mild illness.

The Rangers didn’t just look like they had tired legs, they also appeared to not fully have their heads. Sure, a couple of the goals allowed by Adam Huska were soft and would’ve been guaranteed saves by the other three goalies ahead of him on the roster, but the Rangers also hung him out to dry repeatedly. The Rangers would’ve needed a godly effort from the young goaltender to keep them in this one.

The positive side to this loss was the goal by Nils Lundkvist, the first of his NHL career. His awareness surrounding the offensive opportunity and the potent shot he showed off should leave Rangers fans very confident about his future.

The other scorers were Trouba and Filip Chytil. Trouba has been on a tear offensively. For the second consecutive game, he recorded a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, registering a goal, an assist, and a fight. The fight was a reaction to another vicious open-ice hit that he delivered, this time briefly sending Nathan MacKinnon to the locker room. The league has made it clear they view these checks as being clean so fair warning to the rest of the league, keep your head up if Trouba is on the ice.

The Avalanche got two goals each from Mikko Rantanen and Logan O’Conner. They also got goals from Alex Newhook, Nazem Kadri, and MacKinnon. Huska finished with 32 saves on 39 shots while the Avalanche goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, finished with 26 saves on 29 shots. He was very briefly spelled by Jonas Johansson who made a save on the only shot he faced in his 1:33 of play. Both teams were 1/5 on the powerplay.

Game 27: Win @ Buffalo (2-1)

There’s no such thing as a Ranger game without drama. This contest proved that point mightily. The Rangers were riding a superb performance by Georgiev, and heading towards a shutout victory off the back of two goals. The shutout was halted with just about five minutes remaining in the third when the Sabres banged home a close-quarters goal to close the gap to 2-1.

With about a minute remaining, they would score the would-be tying goal just to have it called back for offsides. The NHL has since informed both teams that the call was made incorrectly and the goal should have stood. The goal was automatically reviewed because it was scored with under a minute remaining in the game.

Now, to understand what the league is looking at, you need to understand a slightly complicated manner of thought. When the puck entered the zone, Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was clearly offsides. What the league is in fact saying is that by the time the puck was touched in the offensive zone, Dahlin had touched up, thus making him onside.

This has caused a league-wide stir as everybody is pretty evenly split at whether this was the correct interpretation. Some would say Victor Olofsson was stickhandling at the time of zone entry, thus making his motion of play continuous, rendering the play offsides.

What the league is suggesting is that the two touches were completely separate plays, and by the second touch Dahlin was onside, implying that Olofsson wasn’t carrying the puck at entry but rather touching it once as sort of a pass to himself before receiving it again. There is also the argument that if replay is inconclusive the call on the ice must stand, meaning this would be a good goal.

Either way you cut it, this is clearly a very Buffalo Sabres-esque way to lose a hockey game as if the hockey gods just don’t intend for their fan base to know relief.

The misery started early for the Sabres when the Rangers wildly converted on the powerplay. A pass by Panarin ricocheted off of a Buffalo skate, then off the post, right onto the stick of Mika Zibanejad. He coolly finished the play to make it 1-0 in the first. The Rangers struck again in the second period to make it 2-0 when Alexis Lafrenière finished a rebound of an Adam Fox shot.

Georgiev was stellar in net, stopping 36 of 37 shots. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen finished with 29 saves on 31 shots. The Rangers had the one powerplay goal on two chances, while Buffalo failed to convert on both of their powerplays.

Game 28: Loss vs Predators (1-0)

The Rangers actually didn’t play poorly in this game. Getting shutout at home is never ideal, but I will attest that the Rangers did everything they could to win this game. They kept the score close against a hot team, limited the opponent’s opportunities, and they actually generated a fair bit of high-quality chances. They just ran into an even more impressive goaltender.

This whole recap really could be about the play of Juuse Saros alone. He carried the Predators to victory even when the Rangers applied immense pressure in the third period. He made 32 saves on the night, and every single one of them mattered. The Predators got the only goal they needed early in the second period. The Rangers’ defense had all sort of collapsed to one side of the ice, leaving Philip Tomasino wide open. He sent the puck home after it was slid into the high slot.

Again, in regards to the Rangers, not much to be upset about. Georgiev had another solid game, stopping 23 of 24 shots against. Trouba continued his highly physical level of play, Zibanejad played well, and the youngsters Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko continue to be dominant on the puck. Both teams went scoreless on the powerplay. The Rangers 0/2, the Predators 0/1.

Fan Sentiments and What to Look Forward to Next Week

I have been incredibly impressed with Rangers fans this week. The responses to both losses have been quite measured, reasonably so. The team went 3-2 in games without Shesterkin, 4-2 if you count the end of the Sharks game last week. That’s a more than desirable outcome, all things considered.

This team is still wired to compete for the rest of the season, and they have the identity to make noise in the playoffs. I’ve been impressed with the level of play from Reaves and I’ve been impressed with the physical presence that the Rangers have had in games. I don’t know if it’s the new players on the team, or if it’s Gerard Gallant behind the bench, but this team looks different than they did last year. Guys are protecting their teammates, fighting opponents, and banging bodies in all corners of the rink.

Seeing Zibanejad score a goal this week was important. He has been struggling a bit so far this season which draws comparisons to his slow start last season. His goal this week was only the fifth of the season for him in 26 games played. His offensive output will be needed if Kreider ever slows down. That being said, he has also been a great enabler of Kreider’s offense. He has 21 points this season, mostly off the back of assists on deflection goals.

The Rangers have a small west conference trip planned this week. They play in Colorado on Tuesday with hopes to avenge the rough loss from this week. On Wednesday they play in Arizona as the second leg of a back-to-back. On Friday they return home to host the Golden Knights. There is hope that Shesterkin will be healthy enough to return to the lineup soon, and we should know shortly if that will be this week or not.

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