After a thrilling and much-needed victory over the St. Louis Blues on Monday, the New York Rangers followed it up with a 5-1 win over the NHL’s top team in the Western Conference, the Vegas Golden Knights. Head coach Gerard Gallant’s group used a similar script against the Golden Knights, playing well in the first period before a bad second turned things on their head. But a massive outburst in the third period sealed the win for the Rangers.
The newly minted line of Kaapo Kakko, Mika Zibanejad, and Alexis Lafreniere was noteworthy, with each player registering a goal. Although Zibanejad’s two goals came on the power play, both Kakko and Lafreniere scored at five-on-five, and the trio generated a lot of sustained pressure throughout the night.
Kakko’s goal opened the scoring for the Rangers, showing his hands on a nifty deflection off a K’Andre Miller shot in the first (from ‘Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko snaps long goalless skid,’ NY Post,12/7/22). In the second, Vegas capitalized on a Ryan Lindgren mistake, leading to a five-on-three power play, and Jonathan Marchessault knotted the game at one.
Unlike previous games, when the Rangers found ways to lose, Gallant’s group found another level in the third period. The Blueshirts held the Golden Knights to just four shots in the final frame while Zibanejad (twice), Filip Chytil, and Lafreniere scored. The power play went two-for-five on the night, and the Rangers skated out of Vegas with two crucial points.
Wednesday night’s affair gave us a lot to digest, but here are three significant takeaways from the Rangers’ 5-1 win.
Rangers are Better with Kids in Top 6
Gallant placed Kakko and Lafreniere on a line with Zibanejad to start the third period in the team’s come-from-behind win against the Blues. That line stayed intact against the Golden Knights and was again the Rangers’ best, scoring twice at five-on-five and paving the way for the win.
Chytil returned to the lineup after missing two games with an injury, scoring at five-on-five as well. Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Zibanejad will score, but getting the kids on the scoresheet is pivotal if the Rangers plan on turning their season around.
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Gallant must insert Vitali Kravtsov next game, placing him on the second line alongside Chtytil and Panarin. That spot was occupied by Barclay Goodrow on Wednesday, who made a beautiful saucer pass to Chytil on the Rangers’ third goal. Yet, Kravtsov would be the better fit on the second line and would allow the kids to be in the top six while simultaneously strengthening their bottom six.
Having Kakko and Lafreniere centered by Zibanejad works and Chytil swapping with Vincent Trocheck has seemingly worked as well. For Gallant to keep his job and the Rangers to succeed, he must continue playing the kids on the top two lines.
Rangers’ Power Play Looks to Be Clicking Again
After a slump that coincided with the Rangers’ poor performances, the once prolific power play is starting to regain its form. A two-for-five showing against the Golden Knights was the third straight game in which the Rangers scored a power-play goal, with the man advantage going 4-for-10 (40%) over that span.
Seeing the man advantage work against Vegas was a positive sign, as the goals may have come from Zibanejad’s usual spot, but how the puck got to him showed the first signs of adaptability from the first unit that we haven’t seen in some time. The Rangers’ first two power plays went by the wayside, despite generating good looks. The Golden Knights were blanketing Zibanejad, knowing that his shot was the unit’s primary point of attack. But that third power play saw a different attack that opened up his lethal one-timer.
Adam Fox and Panarin played a little two-man game, which saw Fox interchange spots with Panarin. As Fox started to sneak down the wall, Reilly Smith, who had been all over Zibanejad, dropped lower to protect the pass to Trocheck in the bumper spot. Fox made a deft pass back to Panarin, who one-touched it over to Zibanejad for the goal.
That slight variation to their setup created enough confusion to open the passing lane, and if the Rangers can find a way to get more creative when finding seams, the power play will continue to have success.
Rangers’ Need to Bring Their Road Success Home
The Rangers have been abysmal at home this season. The World’s Most Famous Arena was a gauntlet for the opposition in 2021-22 but has been a cakewalk in 2022-23. With an ugly 5-6-4 record at home, the Rangers have failed to capitalize on a favorable early season schedule.
Yet, the Blueshirts have an 8-4-1 record on the road, including a 7-2-1 stretch over their last 10 road games. They are seemingly more comfortable on the road – again proven against the Golden Knights – and maybe the cure for the poor stretch at home when they were losing similar games was a trip on the road to find their game.
The Rangers must now find a way to translate their road success to home ice. It was a masterclass of a road game on Wednesday, as the Rangers came out strong, silencing the home crowd, withstood Vegas’s push in the second, and capitalized on their chances in the third. Their poise on the road in games like this should be a blueprint for the playoffs. The lone issue is the Rangers won’t be in the postseason if their home record continues on this trajectory.
But for now, the Rangers’ success on the road has kept them afloat, and they will have another chance when they head to the mile-high city in Denver to take on the injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche on Friday.
The Rangers’ 5-1 win against the Golden Knights was massive for the standings and team morale. With back-to-back wins, they can now look to putting a winning streak together, which has eluded them all season. The upcoming stretch of games – against the Avalanche, at home against the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs – will be a litmus test, but the Rangers seem to be turning the corner at just the right time.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!