Blues Gameday Preview: New York Rangers – 03/02/22

The St. Louis Blues head to New York in a heavy-weight showdown tonight against the New York Rangers. The two teams are separated by one point in the overall standings, the Rangers with 71 points to the Blues’ 70. The Blues will look to extend their winning streak to five games, while the Rangers will look to break their two-game losing streak.

2 Storylines: Blues (32-14-6)

Pavel Buchnevich Returns to New York

For the first time since he was traded, former New York Ranger Pavel Buchnevich is returning to the place he called home for five seasons. He found immediate success and consistency among the top two lines with the Blues. This season, his 19 goals and 46 points over 46 games rank second on the team behind Jordan Kyrou. If he continues to score at this pace over the remainder of the season, he could eclipse the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career. Buchnevich is currently three points away from setting new career-highs after scoring 48 points in 54 games during the 2020-21 season.

Pavel Buchnevich St. Louis Blues
Pavel Buchnevich, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Blues acquired Buchnevich from the Rangers on July 23, 2021, in exchange for forward Sammy Blais and a 2022 second-round pick. Due to salary cap constraints, the Rangers knew they would be unable to re-sign the Russian forward and were forced to part ways with him as a restricted free agent. Four days later, he and the Blues agreed on a four-year contract worth $23.2 million.

Through no fault of his own, Blais has only appeared in 14 games with the Rangers this season after suffering from a season-ending ACL injury on Nov. 11, 2021, against the New Jersey Devils. Through his 14 games, he has recorded four assists.

Jordan Binnington Returns to Form

From Oct. 2021 until the end of Jan. 2022, Jordan Binnington’s play was less than stellar as he carried a .901 save percentage (SV%) that ranked 46th in the NHL, while his counterpart helped keep the team afloat with a .941 SV%. The performances were polar opposites of one another, as Ville Husso brought the club a 9-3-1 record, with a 1.90 goals-against average (GAA), while Binnington went 11-9-3 with a 3.27 GAA.

Related: Blues Need Binnington, Husso & Tarasenko for Stanley Cup Run

The Blues’ goaltender seems to be finding his groove again as the push for the playoffs rages on. Since Feb. 1, Binnington is 2-1-0 with a .928 SV% and 2.01 GAA. This is good news for the organization, as the club now boasts two reliable goaltenders that they can turn to each night.

2 Storylines: Rangers (33-15-5)

Igor Shesterkin Holding Rangers Together

The heir to the New York goaltending throne, Shesterkin has not only answered the call but has done so in MVP fashion. The 26-year-old Russian is 25-6-3 this season with three shutouts, a 1.95 GAA, and a .941 SV%. His statistics this season are good enough to bring him into the Hart Trophy conversation as possibly the ninth goaltender to ever take the honor in NHL history.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To add to his case, his goals saved above expected (GSAx), an advanced statistic to project how many goals a goaltender would usually allow based on the quality of shots they face each night, Shesterkin’s 31.1 ranks number one in the NHL among goaltenders appearing in at least 30 games. Only one other goaltender, Frederik Andersen of the Carolina Hurricanes, has a number above 30, while the rest have not even reached 20. Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Rangers are listed as the NHL’s seventh-best team with a subpar offense that ranks 20th in goals for per game (2.89).

Former First-Overall Pick Lafreniere Finding His Groove

The start to his NHL career has not gone as many in New York would have envisioned. With his rookie season coming in the middle of a pandemic, Lafreniere produced 12 goals and 21 points over 56 regular-season games. Many hoped that the forward would have a bounce-back season once things returned to normal and, so far, that has not been the case. The former first-overall draft choice has 12 goals and 16 points this season, good enough for eighth on the roster.

“He looks [like a] confident, stronger player,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “I think he’s a young kid growing, he’s in better shape. He’s doing the right things” (from ‘Alexis Lafreniere finding his groove on Rangers’ top-line,’ New York Post, 3/1/22).

Over the last three games, Lafreniere has seen a shift to the top line, right-wing position, centered by Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on the left-wing. With the adjustment to the lineup, he has produced two goals and three points with a plus-three rating. At 20 years old, the sky is the limit for a player with his raw talent and potential.

Players to Watch

St. Louis: Robert Thomas – two goals and eight points in the last six games. He has been shooting the puck more with 15 shots over those six games.

Rangers: Mika Zibanejad – two goals and five points in his last six games. He has a plus-three rating in those six games and averaging 20 minutes of ice time.

Projected Line Combinations

St. Louis Blues

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Brandon SaadRyan O’ReillyDavid Perron
Pavel BuchnevichRobert ThomasVladimir Tarasenko
Jordan KyrouBrayden SchennIvan Barbashev
Dakota JoshuaTyler BozakOskar Sundqvist
Left DefenseRight Defense
Niko MikkolaColton Parayko
Torey KrugJustin Faulk
Jake WalmanRobert Bortuzzo
Starting Goalie
Ville Husso

New York Rangers

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadAlexis Lafreniere
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeDryden Hunt
Greg McKeggFilip ChytilJulien Gauthier
Barclay GoodrowKevin RooneyRyan Reaves
Left DefenseRight Defense
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox
K’Andre MillerJacob Trouba
Patrik NemethBraden Schneider
Starting Goalie
Igor Shesterkin

Blues’ Next Game: Saturday, March 5th vs New York Islanders (11:30 AM CST)

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