Heading into Thursday night, the New York Rangers were coming off of an impressive 6-2 victory against their long-time rivals the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Monday. Just three days later, the two squads were scheduled to meet again, but this time it was at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Rangers were looking to ride their momentum from Monday night into Thursday’s game and leave with two big points. Our Blueshirts did just that and now have gained some much-needed life back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Let’s examine some of the key takeaways from Thursday’s action.
Chris Kreider Steps Up
Reading the above title may seem like a bit of a surprise to some fans considering how disappointing Chris Kreider had been playing earlier in the season. To put things into perspective, he had produced just six goals and seven assists through the first 28 games of the year. Then it was almost as if a switch got turned on. Starting on Dec. 8, Kreider has been producing at a level a lot of us were probably hoping he would have been at a long time ago.
Before puck drop on Thursday, he was averaging a point per game in his last 17 contests while burying nine goals and dishing out eight assists in the process. He rode that momentum right into Long Island and made one of the biggest plays of the game.
He was fairly quiet to start, as he only generated a pair of shots and a two-minute interference penalty through nearly the entirety of the match. It appeared Kreider’s hot-streak was going to cool down a bit considering that time was ticking away in the third period. Despite time being of the essence, Kreider still found a way to pull through for his team.
The score was tied at two and all signs pointed towards overtime. Then the Rangers found themselves on the power play after former Blueshirt Derick Brassard cross-checked Jesper Fast with 54 seconds remaining in regulation. Head coach David Quinn sent out his top power play unit to work, which consisted of Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, Artemi Panarin, Tony DeAngelo, and of course, Kreider.
Eventually, Panarin entered the Islanders’ zone and got the puck over to Zibanejad who wasted no time as he shot it right at goaltender Semyon Varlamov. The Russian netminder made the initial save but let up a juicy rebound right around the crease of the cage. Kreider was at his usual post which was parked right out in front of the net to block the goalie’s line of vision. When the shot came through, Kreider turned around to see the puck sitting there like a lame duck. He took full advantage of it and buried it with 24.6 seconds remaining in the game to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
While the Islanders had one last rush immediately after to try and tie the game, the Rangers hung on and won the contest. Kreider managed to keep his hot-streak alive as he now has 18 points in his previous 18 games played. With the trade deadline approaching in a little over a month, the Rangers have some serious questions to answer as to whether they should move on from Kreider or not. His recent high level of production has certainly thrown a monkey wrench into the whole thought process. We will just have to wait and see what happens, especially if he can keep it up between now and the end of February.
Power Play Efficiency
Another major reason why the Rangers ended up on top in Thursday’s clash at the Coliseum was their power play unit. They struck not once but twice while on the man-advantage, and made the Islanders pay for their sloppy mistakes. Now with those last two goals on the man advantage, the Rangers find themselves in the top-10 for power play tallies this season. They are also clicking at an efficient 21.0%.
They have always had trouble being productive on the power play in years past, so it is great seeing this department finally acting functional. Without those two power play goals, the Rangers would have been looking at a 2-1 deficit and possibly a loss as a result rather than a win.
The first power play goal was quite a strange one as it initially did not count. This occurred back in the second period of action when the Rangers were down 1-0 at the time. With 7:27 remaining until intermission, the Rangers took an offensive faceoff to the left side of Varlamov. Zibanejad won the draw and Strome dumped the puck in the corner behind the net. Kreider jumped in and threw it around the boards to DeAngelo who then played a little catch with Panarin at the blue-line. Eventually, DeAngelo ripped a shot towards the net and that’s when all chaos broke loose.
Varlamov made a save but failed to locate where the puck was after he made contact with it. At first, I thought the refs were going to blow the play dead because there was no siting of the puck, but suddenly it appeared as it slowly trickled out from underneath the goalie’s legs. A mad scramble shortly ensued as players in both sweaters were swatting away at the flat black disc. Zibanejad was found at the side of the net whacking away when his stick finally made slight contact with it.
No one except for a few Rangers players on the ice noticed at first that it had crossed the line before Ryan Pulock smacked it away with his right hand. The refs didn’t blow the whistle so play continued as if no goal occurred. Finally, play ceased and the refs were able to go to the booth and review the scoring opportunity that the Rangers had a little earlier in the sequence. After further review, it was determined that the puck had fully crossed the goal line before Pulock had knocked it clear of the crease. Therefore, the Rangers had a good power play goal tying the game at one.
We all know about the second power play goal as that was scored by Kreider with 24.6 ticks remaining in regulation to give them a 3-2 lead and an eventual victory. Special teams played a big part in their success Thursday, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the puck.
While there were a lot of positives to take away from Thursday’s game, there also were some negatives too. Discipline was a huge issue for the Rangers all night long as there were way too many penalties that were committed for any fan’s liking.
It was a very hard-fought, physical game and it is expected that penalties may occur at a bit of a higher rate, but that is where being smart comes in. Sometimes emotions run high, or players tend to panic and make some questionable mistakes, but they can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing a game.
The Rangers as a team committed six total penalties throughout the entirety of the contest. They are fortunate that the Islanders didn’t capitalize on any of those opportunities otherwise, we could be having a different conversation.
Funny enough, the Blueshirts were pretty disciplined in the first period as Marc Staal was the only one who served time in the box after being called for a slashing penalty on Scott Mayfield. Then in the second, a pair of infractions occurred involving Adam Fox as he tripped Mathew Barzal and about two minutes later Ryan Lindgren got caught for cross-checking Jordan Eberle. The penalty-killing unit stepped up in those first two periods to keep the Rangers in it despite the undisciplined misgivings.
Then in the third period, we witnessed the Rangers double the number of penalties committed for the entire game. DeAngelo and Kreider both got pinched for interfering on two separate occasions and Panarin was nailed for embellishment after Casey Cizikas hooked him. Panarin’s penalty above all the other ones committed in this game bothers me the most in particular. The reason being is because the Rangers were set to go on the power play in the second half of the third period while up 2-1 at the time.
Instead, Panarin tried too hard to sell the infraction that was already being called and he ended up negating an opportunity for his team. Then 11 seconds later, Anthony Beauvillier notched his 12th of the year to tie the game at two. If Panarin doesn’t get called for embellishment, then it’s very possible the Islanders don’t tie the game up. We are fortunate it wasn’t a mistake that cost the game but these are penalties that can be easily avoided. As much as I like Panarin for all he has done since coming to New York, this is one thing I’m a little disappointed about.
Overall though, the Rangers played a very impressive and tough game against a talented team in the Islanders. They beat them twice within the span of four days. Now New York will head back home to host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night. It will be interesting to see how Panarin performs against his former team for the second time this season. Last time they met, the “Bread Man” scored a goal against them while generating five shots on net in 19:41 of ice time.
Also keep in mind that the Rangers will meet with the Islanders again at home on Tuesday night as their final contest before the All-Star break. It will be cool seeing these two bitter rivals go at it again for a third time within eight days. Now our Blueshirts are currently sitting with a 23-19-4 record and just six points out of a Wild Card spot. As it stands, the Blue Jackets, and Philadelphia Flyers are in a two-way tie for the final Wild Card slot. This game against Columbus is critical if the Rangers want to have a chance at sneaking into the playoffs come April. Let’s see how they respond on Sunday.