The New York Rangers’ 2019-20 season has been interesting, to say the least. Monday’s game against their long-time rivals, the New York Islanders, was one of the high points of the season as the Rangers continue to find their identity during this arduous rebuilding process. Let’s examine some of the key factors to their big win.
Offense Sprung to Life
After back-to-back nights when they scored five-plus goals against the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils last week, the Rangers’ offense went to sleep on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. They looked out of rhythm and there wasn’t much the Blueshirts could do to get back on track during that contest. This was a cause for concern heading into Monday’s bout against the Islanders. Would the offense look sluggish for a second consecutive game?
As it turns out, there was little to fear as the Rangers dumped six goals on the Islanders. In fact, they scored six unanswered goals. It took some time before the Rangers got their offense going, but once they started, there was no turning back. Jesper Fast was the first member of the Blueshirts’ attack to open the scoring.
He buried his eighth goal of the year from the slot off a rebound from a high shot thrown by Artemi Panarin from the left faceoff circle. The goal came 8:14 into the first period to tie the game at one. The party had just begun. Although the Rangers did not put one past goaltender Semyon Varlamov for the remainder of the first period, they were the better team, generating numerous chances around the cage.
The second period is where things got out of hand. Just a little over five minutes in, Chris Kreider tipped a shot by, guess who, Panarin to put the Rangers in front 2-1. The play was reviewed after Varlamov and the Islanders bench argued that Kreider’s stick was above the crossbar when it made contact with the puck. However, the refs ruled in favor of the Rangers and the goal stood.
Adam Fox followed it up about six minutes later with an impressive goal that was shot nearly parallel to the net. Somehow the puck found its way behind Varlamov and the Rangers extended their lead to 3-1. I am very impressed with how well the youngster Fox has performed so far. He’s looking more like a stable member of the defense and could be for years to come.
Panarin then potted a pair of goals in the third period to pile on the lead. He struck 49 seconds into the period and then almost eight minutes later with his second of the night to keep the momentum on the Rangers’ side. He was extremely impressive, making plays all over the ice and was involved in five of New York’s goals; has been the focal point of their offense since coming to the Rangers in early July. Jacob Trouba capped off the night with a power-play goal halfway through the third to make it a 6-1 game.
It was comforting to see the Rangers rebound after the Blues game. They were resilient versus the Islanders after a flat performance just two days prior. Now the question remains whether or not they will be able to maintain this offensive momentum moving forward.
Georgiev Shuts Down Isles
Another key to Monday’s success was goaltending. Longtime starter Henrik Lundqvist is past his prime and in the final days of his playing career. Alexandar Georgiev has been a serviceable fill-in for Hank during these tough times, but he has hit a few snags along the way. Before Monday’s start against the Islanders, Georgiev only got the nod one other time in the month of January.
Georgiev has been unimpressive recently, allowing four-plus goals in three of his last four starts. The Rangers even turned to rookie phenom Igor Shesterkin to start two games as a way of getting his feet wet at the professional level. There was some doubt about Georgiev heading into Monday’s contest. Nonetheless, he went out there hoping to redeem himself.
At first, it appeared he was going to be in for a long night as Jordan Eberle came in and buried a goal just 18 ticks into the game. Georgiev did not look good on the play, as he came out of his crease to make a save and missed miserably. That was not the start he had in mind for redemption. Luckily, he quickly settled in and stopped the next 32 of 33 shots. He looked sharp in net and had to come up with a few big stops to keep the Islanders off the board.
One of the more notable saves of the night occurred towards the end of the second period. The Rangers were up 3-1 at this point and the Islanders were applying some pressure to get back into the contest. Eventually, a scramble in front of Georgiev led to former Ranger Derick Brassard having two great chances to put the puck over the line. Georgiev wasn’t having any of it as he stuck out his left pad to make the first save and kept it there as Brassard aggressively hacked away on the second.
Immediately after that, the puck slid across the crease and Josh Bailey jumped in on his backhand to try and bury it. The Russian netminder was in the zone and stuck out his right blocker to make a third save on the sequence. Defenseman Tony DeAngelo then shoved the puck towards an alert Georgiev and he smothered it to freeze the play. It was a heck of a flurry of chances from the Islanders (probably their best of the night) and the young goalie was up to the task.
Who knows if the momentum would have shifted away from the Rangers had Georgiev not come up with those timely stops. It’s something we’ve grown accustomed to when Lundqvist would rob forwards of beautiful chances in critical moments all those years before. It was exciting to see Georgiev step up to the plate to help the Rangers maintain their stranglehold on the game.
All in all, it was a well-rounded performance by the Blueshirts in this contest. They looked like a different team from the one that played the Blues. The question now remains whether they will be able to ride this momentum into Thursday’s rematch with the Islanders on the road. Without the home crowd behind them, it will be interesting to see how the Rangers respond in what is expected to be an exciting and tightly fought battle.
The Rangers have improved their record to 22-19-4 with 48 points on the season. They are six points back from the Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. While many of us agree that the Rangers’ chances of a playoff berth are slim, they now have an opportunity to make something happen. It’s a long shot, but they have been a much-improved team compared to a year ago. Let’s hope they continue to trend in the right direction.