The New York Rangers opened their highly anticipated 2019-20 campaign with a 6-4 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. It was a back-and-forth battle from both teams, but ultimately, it was the Rangers night.
Over the course of 60 minutes, some key moments occurred and changed the game immensely. Here are a few of those moments from the first game of the season:
New Additions Were Worth It
Every dollar spent, every fan-favorite traded and every draft pick used was absolutely worth it. At least, on the first night of a very long season. It was a Broadway debut for Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko. Each of them had positive contributions and were able to help the Rangers start the season on a positive note.
Panarin was a presence on the ice every time he stepped on it. Even without the puck on his stick, he was able to use his speed and superb offensive awareness to keep the Winnipeg defense honest. When the puck was on his stick, however, that is where the fireworks were. He was able to find the puck off of a rebound and sniped it to the top left corner of the net for his first goal with the Rangers. The Russia native was also able to add an assist later in the game, on a goal scored by Trouba.
Speaking of Trouba, he was able to net a nice knuckle-puck goal and added two assists. He also played a very physical game, leading the Rangers in hits with five of the teams’ 24 hits. In his first game against his former team, he didn’t let anyone off easy and played hard for 24:26 of ice time.
It was a set of debuts for not only the Madison Square Garden crowd but the National Hockey League for Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox. Kakko was in the spotlight for the entire game, and you were on the edge of your seat each time he grabbed the puck. He ultimately didn’t get a chance to contribute a point but was able to take three shots on goal. Fox had a seemingly better night overall, with impressive awareness in his own end of the ice. On two occasions, he was able to look up ice and dangle around a forechecking Jets player and then deliver a tape-to-tape outlet pass. He also didn’t generate a point and only had a block added to his score sheet in 12:24 of ice time.
Pavel Buchnevich Must Do Better
The first line of Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich was as good as expected. Panarin, as mentioned above, had a direct impact on the outcome of the game. Zibanejad was able to net one on a breakaway and added three assists for his four-point night. But, the only downside to that line, was the lackluster performance from Buchnevich.
Often times, he seemed to be lost in transition and a lot slower compared to his two linemates. Unlike his line-mates, he failed to register a shot on net. Buchnevich wasn’t able to have any standout moments in the first game of the season, and that is understandable considering the circumstances. It is his first time as the first-line right-winger, and he has only played a handful of shifts with the two superstar caliber players at his side.
Over this long season, it will be imperative for him to improve. That is certainly possible, and Buchnevich has all of the tools around him to get better. The Rangers have expressed that he is the first-line right-winger going forward, and that won’t change after just one game. He is regarded by many to be the breakout star of the season, but it wasn’t seen after that first game.
Henrik Lundqvist Played a Strong Game
One of the biggest question marks entering the 2019-20 season was if Lundqvist still has what it takes to be the starting full-time goaltender. After the first game of the season, against a lethal firing squad in Winnipeg, he certainly still has it.
With 43 saves on 47 shots, Lundqvist helped keep the Rangers in the game, and ultimately got the win. It was the 450th victory of his storied career, moving him into sixth place all-time in the NHL record books. But, looking at some of the saves he had to make, and the saves he couldn’t make, this win was a tough one.
Being peppered by 47 shots is tough enough, and a good majority of them were in high-scoring areas of the ice. The top-line for Winnipeg, consisting of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers, combined to shoot 21 shots at Lundqvist. The Rangers, as a team, had 32 in total.
Even though he had a strong game against Winnipeg, there were still some saves that he should have made, but didn’t. Letting up four goals in the first game is concerning, but it was warranted with the number of shots he had to face. For the rest of the season, it will be crucial for the Rangers defensive core to limit the number of pucks being thrown at Lundqvist. This season can be a rebound year for The King and the clock is running out on his historic career – the time is now for this team to win it all.
Mika Zibanejad Got Better
As hard as it is to believe, Zibanejad has gotten better from last season. A lot of talk has circulated, and was ultimately shot down, at the prospect of the “C’ being stitched on No. 93’s chest. Even without the letter, he is still the leader of the Rangers.
Opening night showed that leadership. With a four-point night, he was able to help the Rangers secure the first victory of the season. Zibanejad was also able to contribute seven shots and deliver two hits with a blocked shot in 20:39 of ice time. He had time on both the power-play and penalty-killing units and was 48 percent from the faceoff dot.
This uptick in point production was to be expected with the new additions. Alongside Panarin and Buchnevich, the three have been able to click thus far. Whether it is a 5-on-5 situation or a chance on the power-play unit, the trio has already shown an ability to produce. The leading point scorer of the 2018-19 season has amazingly gotten better.
Brett Howden Will Have a Breakout Season
After an intense back-and-forth battle, the Rangers were finally able to claim the victory with a game-winning goal from Brett Howden. He had a great game overall, and this could be the year that he pulls away from the rest of the young forwards.
The goal was great, but there were other key moments to back up the claim that this season will be a breakout year for the 21-year-old. From being able to keep the puck out of the net on the penalty kills and added three shots, two blocked shots, he was all over the ice. Howden was able to make an impact all game long, and if he can consistently play at that level for all 82 games, he will have a chance to move up the Rangers ladder.
The main focus of this young forward group has been on Kakko, Filip Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov and Lias Andersson. Howden has slipped under the radar and that is a good thing. This season just got underway, and he is doing all of the right things to help the Rangers win.