After they were no-shows in their 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, the Rangers shot out of a cannon in Columbus on Monday and never looked back en route to a resounding 3-1 victory over the Blue Jackets. The win puts the Blueshirts in good spirits ahead of Thursday’s clash against the NHL-best 34-5-4 Boston Bruins at MSG. Here are my takeaways from the game.
The Rangers punished the Blue Jackets in the neutral zone throughout the evening and outshot them 13-4 through the first period, with two goals to show for their efforts. The first one came at the 12:39 mark of the first period when Mika Zibanejad received a short pass from Kaaapo Kako, who got it from Adam Fox before taking it up ice and sniping one over far side over the shoulder and bar down on Elvis Merzlikins to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Later in the frame, the Blueshirts went on the power play, where the first unit continued its dry spell. Still, the second one made up for it this time, as after some touch passing between Jacob Trouba and Kakko, the winger fed K’Andre Miller at the point, who sent a shot towards the net, which was tipped in by Barclay Goodrow to double the New York lead.
However, they would get four more opportunities on the man advantage, that would be their lone tally, extending the first unit’s powerless play streak to 16. Meanwhile, the Rangers’ penalty kill did their job going 4/4 and handling their business against Columbus’s power play, who rank last in the league with a 14.8% conversion rate.
KRAVTSOV FINALLY NETS ONE:
The other sizable silver lining aside from the victory was Vitali Kravtsov being rewarded for his hard-nosed play on the scoresheet with his first goal in 11 games.
It’s been a rough month for the winger, who was removed from the power play altogether and dropped from the second line with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck to the third with Barclay Goodrow and Filip Chytil.
Yet, he made the most of it at the 11:47 timestamp of the second period when Goodrow flipped the disc to Chytil, who saw his new linemate crashing the net and put the puck right on the tape from behind the net for an easy tapper and a 3-0 Rangers lead. The Blueshirts dominated most of the frame as they dictated play and had Columbus on the ropes often with their ferocious offensive forecheck.
HALAK’S REVENGE GAME:
The netminder’s worst performance as a Ranger came back on October 23rd, when he served up five goals in a 5-1 loss to these Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden, meaning Monday’s start was an opportunity for revenge. Although Halak wasn’t tested much throughout the first two periods, the Blue Jackets gave him everything they had in the third.
They ruined the shutout bid when Andrew Peeke roofed one for his fourth goal of the season and third against the Rangers to make it a 3-1 contest. The Blueshirts had opportunities to pull away and stymie the ruthless Columbus attack, but Panarin missed the net on several good looks.
Fortunately, Halak was up to the challenge and stopped the next 12 shots, saving everything and anything that came his way, particularly over the final three minutes after the Jackets had pulled Merzlikins for the extra attacker. It appeared as if Gustav Nyquist had cut his team’s deficit to 3-2 after rifling one from the right circle, but Halak got a piece of the shot with his glove and deflected it to hit the post and bounce away.
The final frantic seconds saw Ryan Lindgren make three blocks to help out his goaltender, who made 24 saves on the night to seal the victory and a happy plane ride home.
MARV’S 3 STARS:
HONORABLE STAR: Jaroslav Halak
The victory for Halak’s 290th of his career, who has won four straight starts and five of his last six. Safe to say he’s been fulfilling what the Rangers asked of him when they signed him on a one-year $1.5 million deal the previous Summer. The 37-year-old made 24 saves on 25 shots to the tune of a +2.43 Goals Saved Above Expected.
3 KAAPO KAKKO:
His two assists ended his five-game pointless streak, and he now had 11 assists and 20 points in 45 games this season. But more importantly, he looks comfortable and best on the first line with Zibanejad. He’s come a long way from being healthy and scratched before game six of the Eastern Conference finals last season.
2 MIKA ZIBANEJAD:
Zibanejad became the sixth player in franchise history with six straight seasons of 20+ goals, joining Jean Ratelle, Andy Bathgate, Vic Hadfield, Rod Gilbert, and Bryan Hextall Sr.
1 BARCLAY GOODROW:
Goodrow earned the Broadway hat and victory “Blue Jacket” on the night, as he recorded the game-winner and an assist while being impactful defensively, especially when up against Patrick Laine and Johnny Goodrow.
Hajek scratched again:
Libor Hajek was listed as a healthy scratch for the 15th straight game, and it’s gotten to the point where I personally don’t see him being a Ranger beyond this season when his contract expires and he becomes a restricted free agent.
The 24-year-old rejoined the club last offseason on a 1 year $800,000 deal after playing 22 games and bouncing around between Hartford and New York, a year after he appeared in 44 of the 56 games in the truncated 2020-21 campaign.
Libor played in 16 of this season’s first 30 games but has since been surpassed on the depth chart by Ben Harpur, who Gallant has lauded for his physicality something that Hajek seemingly hasn’t unlocked yet. It’s possible he can be packaged in a deadline deal which would honestly be best for both sides but that’s anyone’s guess.
Credit to Hajek though, for he hasn’t complained about his current status and continues to work hard in hopes of an opportunity to see game action again.