Before Wednesday night’s record-setting clash with the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers were faced with the unique challenge of having their entire coaching staff (yes, you read that right) get placed on the COVID protocol list. (from ‘Entire Rangers coaching staff missing Flyers game due to COVID-19 issue,’ NY Post – 03/17-21) Head coach David Quinn and assistant coaches Jacques Martin, Greg Brown, and David Oliver were all unavailable for the game, paving the way for Hartford Wolf Pack’s head coach Kris Knoblauch to man the bench.
Gord Murphy and former Rangers captain Chris Drury hopped behind the bench as well, finalizing the make-shift coaching staff for Wednesday night. Despite the negative news surrounding the coaching staff’s COVID status, both Pavel Buchnevich and Adam Fox cleared protocol and were able to rejoin the Rangers, making their presence felt in a 9-0 win, while forward Phil Di Giuseppe remains on the COVID list.
Zibanejad Explodes in 9-0 Win
What has happened to Mika Zibanejad? Why can’t he score? How can the Rangers win if he doesn’t get going? All the questions we have heard for the past 27 games were wonderfully answered on Wednesday, as Zibanejad rallied off six points in the second period, including a natural hat trick. He is just the second player in NHL history to have six points in a period, joining Bryan Trottier.
Entering the match with just three goals on the season, Zibanejad doubled his total against the Flyers, flashing his playmaking ability and finishing ability, tantalizing Rangers fans in ways he has yet to this season. More impressively, he scored his natural hat trick at three different strengths, with a goal coming shorthanded, on the power play, and at even strength.
Zibanejad’s performance puts him at six goals and 11 assists in 28 games this season, as his play continues to get better each game. Although he contributed to six of the team’s nine goals, Zibanejad wasn’t the only Ranger to have a massive game.
Buchnevich returned in grand style, recording two goals and two assists. Jacob Trouba blasted home his first of the season in addition to picking up a helper, finishing with two points. Fox made a beautiful play and dish to Brendan Lemieux, who gave his squad a 1-0 lead. Artemi Panarin did his usual thing, recording a goal and an assist, pushing him to 24 points in 17 games. Alexis Lafreniere, Ryan Strome, Chris Kreider, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and Filip Chytil also recorded points in this smashing.
Alexandar Georgiev got the start in goal after a couple of rocky games, holding down the fort en route to his second shutout of the season. He stopped 26 shots, including a miraculous toe save on Flyers forward Nolan Patrick while the Rangers were shorthanded.
The Rangers’ next game is Friday at 7 p.m. against the Washington Capitals (19-6-4). They will look to carry over their offense from Wednesday and move to 3-0-0 against the Caps this season.
Tarmo Reunanen Records Point in Debut
Due to the Rangers’ continued bout with COVID-19, Tarmo Reunanen was called up from Hartford on Monday night to take Fox’s spot, who was placed in COVID protocol. The 23-year-old Finnish product managed to record an assist after a brilliant passing play to set up a Panarin goal.
Reunanen was an invitee to the Rangers’ brief 10-day training camp, but was ultimately sent to Hartford despite opening some eyes with his playmaking ability. He will likely be battling for a spot next season, but will have to compete with the likes of Hajek and Nils Lundkvist.
He played just under nine minutes in his first NHL game, looking as poised as a youngster making his NHL debut could look. The fourth-round pick back in 2016 had been a fixture on the Finnish World Juniors squad and their professional league before coming to North America. His play indicated that he is ready for the NHL, but it will serve him well to get top-flight minutes the rest of this season in Hartford, where he can develop and attempt to make a big splash in 2021-22.
Igor Shesterkin Remains Day-to-Day
The Rangers’ goaltender is still being called day-to-day, and it appears that all necessary precautions will be taken when it comes to Shesterkin’s health. According to Vincent Z. Mercogliano of LoHud Sports, coach Quinn said that the injury to Shesterkin had become a nagging situation.
In the meantime, the Rangers will continue to roll a tandem of Georgiev and Keith Kinkaid in Shesterkin’s absence. If he cannot return for this upcoming two-game set against the Capitals, we likely see both Kinkaid and Georgiev suit up in a back-to-back situation.
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!