The New York Rangers played their best and, more importantly, the most complete game of the season thus far. They started slow, and it looked like it would be a long night until they made a simple but effective change that turned the game around. Head coach Gerard Gallant shook up the forward lines, and the team responded, especially his wake-up call to Alexis Lafreniere, who’s struggled of late.
Rangers’ Most Complete Game of the Season
The Rangers played their most complete game of the season from front to back. It was a total team effort where pretty much everyone made an impact, and each player played a 200-foot game. All four lines rolled throughout most of the game, and they all did their part. It paid off with a 4-0 shutout win while the power-play (PP) finally showed up. They spent most of their PP time in the offensive zone. Before last night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Rangers’ power play ranked 29th (11.54%) in the NHL behind the Arizona Coyotes and, believe it or not, the high-powered Colorado Avalanche. Chris Kreider, who was named the game’s third star, had two power-play tallies giving him six goals on the season, all with the man advantage.
The penalty kill was great, too, topped off by a vital kill, about halfway through the third period while the game was still in question. A goal on that Blue Jackets power play would have made the score 3-1 and certainly given them a boost while finally cracking the Igor Shesterkin wall. Shesterkin, the game’s first star, made 31 saves, with several during the first five minutes and other key saves sprinkled throughout the third. Kreider put away his second of the night shortly after that key third-period kill, which sealed the game.
Lundqvist, Fox and The Turning Point
The Rangers started slowly. During the first five minutes, they were outshot 9-5. If Shesterkin wasn’t on his game, they could have easily been down 3-0. However, at about the seven-minute mark, the Rangers made a change to their strategy. Whether it was Gallant’s move or someone else on the bench, it worked. The defense started to join the rush, which changed the game’s shape in the Rangers’ favor. Nils Lundqvist got his first NHL point feeding Artemi Panarin, who made a nifty move just inside the offensive zone and hit Ryan Strome, who beat Blue Jackets’ goalie Elvis Merzlikins glove side for the Rangers first goal of the game.
The Blueshirts added a second goal before the end of the first period when Adam Fox took a neutral zone feed from Lafreniere and drove wide around the net to give a pass that probably 90% of NHL players couldn’t make. Lafreniere hustled after making the initial pass and put himself in position to bury the beautiful feed from the reigning Norris Trophy winner. While celebrating, he was seen asking Fox, the game’s second star, “How?” he made that pass in disbelief. By then, the whole game changed, the Rangers took that momentum and didn’t look back while the backend kept pushing play up the ice throughout. Fox, along with Panarin, had three assists.
Gallant’s Wake Up Call to Lafreniere Worked
On Monday, the Rangers’ 5-1 lackluster loss to the Calgary Flames prompted Gallant to hold a late-night video session, which rarely happens in the NHL. However, it was effective. Gallant pointed out to the media that his team needs to play grittier, less sloppy and have a higher “battle level.” He singled out Lafreniere, though subtly, he still mentioned his name, saying, “I want Laffy to do more.” (From “After being called out, Alexis Lafrenière shows he has the right demeanor for New York”, lohud, 10/26/21.)
Lafreniere responded after Tuesday morning’s practice saying, “I have to be better. Last game wasn’t a good game for me. It was a physical game, a tough game, and you’ve got to be able to win your battles one-on-one. It wasn’t good enough for me, so we’ll try to fix some things and get back at it Friday night (against the Columbus Blue Jackets).” He was demoted to the third line, but it worked. Not only did he score a goal, but he was also involved in the play during every shit. He had over 11 minutes of ice time which was pretty much all five on five and he made his presence felt. He had four shots on goal (SOG) and one blocked shot (BLKS), doing all the little things needed along the way.
Gallant Made the Right Moves
After the dismal performance against the Flames Monday, Gallant did the right things to set the team straight. The boys responded in the right way and played the way they’re capable. The power play came alive and everyone contributed in some form. The question is can they do it more consistently?
Scott Blair is an author and journalist from Los Angeles, CA, by way of Detroit, MI. Uniquely diverse experiences have shaped Scott’s life in both of those places he calls home. He is now traveling the world, learning and growing as a human and a writer. He was a professional hockey player and then turned to the arts, becoming an actor for about 15 years. His passions turned to poetry, prose, politics, and journalism when he got tired of the Hollywood machine and what it represents. Scott is available for interviews and welcomes questions and topic ideas.