This past Monday night was rough for the Rangers as they lost by a score of 5-3 against the Dallas Stars. Henrik Lundqvist was chased from his net and the defense overall looked quite sloppy. Wednesday night was a chance for the Blueshirts to redeem themselves in front of their home crowd as they hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto has been struggling as of late, especially with their starting goalie Frederik Andersen out with a neck injury. This was the perfect opportunity for the Rangers to bounce back. As you all know based on the title, the Rangers wound up defeating the Leafs 5-3 and earned a much needed two points in the process. Let’s dive in and examine what transpired at the Garden.
Shesterkin Impressive Once Again
It was announced on Tuesday by head coach David Quinn that Igor Shesterkin would get to start in the crease for Wednesday. Shesterkin was going to start in just his fifth career NHL game. The 24-year-old Russian goaltender had looked impressive in his previous four outings as he posted a 3-1-0 record with a 2.51 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. There is a lot of buzz around him and the great potential he has for his future in the NHL. The task for the rookie netminder would not be easy though as he was going to take on a very talented offense led by Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
Early on in the contest, it appeared the Maple Leafs were going to get the better of Shesterkin as he allowed a goal 7:36 into the first period. The sequence began when Jake Muzzin passed the puck over to William Nylander in the neutral zone. Nylander then entered New York territory and sent it over to Justin Holl. Holl threw it back over to Nylander who snapped a shot on goal. Shesterkin made the initial save but gave up an appetizing rebound in the slot. John Tavares came swooping in and buried it for his 20th of the year.
The Rangers’ defense was mainly to blame as no one picked up the talented forward in the slot. Shesterkin could’ve done a better job with the rebound, but he is a rookie and is still adjusting to the professional level. He’s going to need more support from his defensive mates in the future until he can avoid those errors. Regardless, the Rangers found themselves down 1-0 early on in this contest. Fortunately, Shesterkin came up with some key saves afterward that helped the Rangers get out in front of Toronto and not look back.
During the opening minute of the second period, Shesterkin had to be sharp as he faced a series of shots by a desperate Maple Leafs group. Matthews was found deep in the left corner of the Rangers zone as he flung a pass out to teammate Mitch Marner who zapped one towards the young Rangers goalie. Shesterkin was ready as he made the save but gave up a rebound in front. There was a cluster of bodies everywhere as Zach Hyman somehow located the puck and chipped one on net. Shesterkin quickly turned that one aside and the puck squirted out to Tony DeAngelo.
DeAngelo made an attempt to clear it out but Matthews intercepted it and threw the puck around behind the boards. It then found its way to the other side where Hyman was as he re-positioned himself among the mass of humanity in front of the cage. It seemed it was going to be a slam-dunk goal as Shesterkin appeared to be out of position. Miraculously, as the puck was heading into the gaping net, Shesterkin threw out his right pad just in time to make one of the best saves of the evening.
Calm, cool, and collected he was in that situation. He didn’t waver and displayed to us some of his brilliance in that particular situation. Even though he did give up two goals to Matthews later on in this contest, he also made more impressive saves that outweighed the negatives. The future certainly looks bright for Shesterkin. For now, he will be in a three-way time-share with Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev, but that will eventually change as time progresses. I’m very excited to see what this young man has in store for us as he continues to blossom right before our very eyes.
Pavel Buchnevich Steps Up
Pavel Buchnevich has got to be one of the most frustrating Rangers on this roster. What I mean by that is there are times where he can be really good and others where he’s nonexistent. Too many times have we experienced long stretches where he would not produce a point. He has so much talent which is precisely why the Rangers were excited to bring him up a few years ago.
He still has yet to fully pan out and critics are beginning to wonder if the Blueshirts should unload him with the impending trade deadline coming up. It’s a big decision to make, but for now the Rangers are hoping he can somehow find ways to contribute on offense. Wednesday was quite a memorable night as he scored a goal and provided assists on tallies by Chris Kreider and Greg McKegg (empty-net).
Buchnevich was benched for the majority of the third period in Monday’s contest against the Stars as coach Quinn was not pleased with how he was performing that night. It seems the benching incised something in Buchnevich because he had a little more jump to his game. He capitalized on his opportunities and was a huge help in their offensive efforts.
His goal occurred late in the second period and turned out to be the eventual game-winner. It began when Kreider came speeding in to collect the puck from behind the Toronto net. He popped out from the other side and attempted to throw a pass over the middle for a scoring opportunity. Matthews was standing in his way and he managed to block the pass. A scrum ensued along the boards between the two huge forwards.
At the same time, Maple Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson lost his stick as he was bracing for a scoring chance when Kreider attempted to pass the puck. This was a great chance for the Rangers to take advantage of and they would not miss. The puck was eventually dug out by the Maple Leafs and it was heading towards Matthews in the slot for the clear. Brady Skjei jumped in and poked it away from him. Buchnevich sensed this and was ready for the turnover as he grabbed the puck and flung it on net.
Hutchinson was scrambling throughout this entire sequence as he still didn’t completely gather picking up his stick from seconds earlier. Buchnevich’s shot successfully went in between the goaltender’s legs and as a result, the Rangers had regained their two-goal cushion thanks to his efforts. They entered the third period up by two and wound up prevailing in the end, as previously mentioned.
Had Buchnevich’s tally not occurred, Matthews’ goal in the third period would have knotted the game at three. The entire complexion of the game would have changed had the Rangers not taken advantage of that golden opportunity in the final minutes of the second period. Let’s also not forget how Buchnevich contributed on both Kreider’s and McKegg’s goals, as well. His efforts were one of the major factors as to why the Rangers were able to outlast Matthews and the Maple Leafs Wednesday.
This was a big win for the Garden faithful to witness as their thin playoff hopes are still alive. Now, the Rangers will prepare to face off against a struggling Buffalo Sabres squad at home on Friday night. It is a great opportunity for them to build on Wednesday night’s success and gain some momentum down the final stretch of their schedule.
As I have mentioned in the past, even if the Rangers fall short of making the playoffs — which is very likely — we can’t ignore the significant strides they have taken with the young talent on this roster. It will be interesting to see what moves they decide to make at the trade deadline that is just a few weeks away. Will guys like Kreider and Buchnevich still be around at the beginning of March? Only time will tell, and if they aren’t present during the final month of the season, then who will be taking their place?
Management certainly does have their hands full and will need to think this through carefully in order to continue the so-far successful rebuild process in New York. For now, the current roster is focused on taking one game at a time and will continue to compete no matter what the circumstances around them look like.
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I enjoy watching and writing about hockey. My favorite team is the New York Rangers. My most memorable moment is that waffle board save Henrik Lundqvist made to stop Thomas Vanek from scoring in the second period of Game 6 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals.