The New York Rangers woes against playoff teams is fast becoming a mirage. The Washington Capitals came to the Garden for the first time in over nine months and were thoroughly dismantled by a far superior Blueshirts team. It was an impressive win.
The excuse from the ESPN team was that the Caps were coming off a one-week layoff and were “rusty.” Rust or no rust, the Rangers were able to win by keeping the Caps off balance defensively, shutting down the Washington power play and by scoring at even strength. It was a relative scoring explosion for the Rangers, their first outing with more than two goals since before their 2-week break and the first time they scored more than two even strength goals since January 22 versus Arizona.
The penalty kill was just outstanding. Washington came into the game with fourth worst power play percentage in the NHL, but they were with without T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom for much of the season. The Rangers shut them down, allowing only four shots in over seven minutes of PP time.
Of course, the last line of defense was Igor Shesterkin who had 36 saves. The only disappointment in the game was that Alex Ovechkin scored with just 1:02 left to spoil the shutout. After the game Shesterkin said “It is kind of annoying that I let a goal in at the end, but it doesn’t really matter if it’s a shutout or not. The most important thing is to finish strong especially in the last five minutes.” His personal highlight had to be stopping Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway.
Alexis Lafrenière played one of the best games of his career and had a hand in the first three Ranger goals. He is looking more and more comfortable on the right wing and is meshing with his linemates. When asked about the adjustment to right wing, Coach Gerard Gallant said, “He’s played better hockey, he’ s playing a 200 foot game and that’s what we like…I don’t know if it’s (the transition) smooth, but he’s getting better at it and he feels better at it.” Gallant joked after the game that after Lafrenière scored, he lined up on left wing.
Lafreniere talked about his role with the team. “As a player you always want to play lots of minutes. You’ve got to earn it too. I’ve been working hard, trying to get better. Kreids and Mika are really helping me.”
Chris Kreider had not scored in three games, but broke the schneid. The newly formed fourth line of Kevin Rooney, Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves had a strong game and chipped in with a goal.
Coach Gallant spoke about that line, saying that he put them together because of their size and that they matched up well against the top Capitals’ lines. “Big boys against big boys…sometimes it works for you , sometimes it backfires. I thought they did a really good job. They really accepted that job tonight, they played against one of the top two lines against Washington. They did a good job. That’s what we need from them…they’re big strong guys, they compete, they played the perfect game tonight for us.”
The win showed what the Rangers can do when they put together all of the positive aspects of their game. The fact that they did it without having to score on the power play was an additional bonus.