The Madison Square Garden scoreboard read 6-2 in favor of the Rangers over the previously red-hot Florida Panthers on Monday, but don’t let that fool you, for they spent most of the night on their toes, out-chanced and outplayed.
“I didn’t think we were good enough,” Gerard Gallant lamented, and the stats prove it, as Florida beat New York in the shot count 35-26 and, to put things into perspective were victorious on the moneypuck.com “Deserve to win O-meter” 56%-44%.
Yes, while the only numbers that matter are the ones on the scoreboard, Gallant is a coach that always looks at the big picture. He understands his team is still trying to make up ground in the standings following their sluggish start to the season after reaching the final four last year.
New York is focused on climbing up the Metropolitan Division leaderboard. They’re five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils and seven behind the top-seeded Carolina Hurricanes. It’s safe to say the contest felt like a must-win affair following Thursday’s humbling loss to the 37-5-4 Boston Bruins, and the Rangers rose to the occasion emphatically with an offensive barrage. Here are my takeaways from the victory.
SPEED PAYS DIVIDENDS:
Both teams are known for their up-tempo play, but it was the Rangers who found themselves on the back foot for most of the first period where at one point, they were being outshot 7-1.
Luckily by that point, they had already done damage against Panthers third-string goaltender Alex Lyon, who filled in for IR-bound Sergei Bobrovsky, and backup Spencer Knight, who made two starts over the weekend in the AHL rehabbing from an injury of his own before being recalled on Monday afternoon.
With the sizable edge in the netminder department, as they had reigning Vezina-winner Igor Shesterkin on their side, the Blueshirts struck quickly. At the 3:03 mark, Adam Fox received an outlet pass from Artemi Panarin, deked past the defense, and scored to give his team an early 1-0 lead. The Cats entered the contest having vaulted themselves back into the playoff hunt with 13 points in their past nine games and a rejuvenated power play ablaze.
It didn’t take long for that to be on display, as the Rangers were penalized for too many men, and Carter Verhaeghe capitalized, finishing a pass off an odd-man rush from Anton Lundell to tie it.
Later in the frame, after receiving a slew of consecutive saves from their goaltender, the Rangers wrestled back momentum courtesy of their man-advantage play following Gallant’s changes to the order of operations, as he began with the second unit rather than the first. The response was a Mika Zibanejad rocket from left dot, which snapped an 0 for 19 dry spells for a 2-1 New York lead going into the first intermission.
An area where the Blueshirts have struggled this season is net-front scoring. Still, in games like these, where the east-west approach is akin to the opponents, greasy goals were required to put this one in the win column. “I think every team talks about them, but until you get a few, you don’t have them,” said Jimmy Vesey, who, at the 15:03 mark of the second period, crashed the cage and banked Barclay Goodrow’s rebound opportunity off of Aaron Ekblad’s stick and across the line, doubling the Rangers advantage.
The tally surprisingly accounted for the lone one of the period, where New York was outshot 14-7.
The winger’s resilience seemingly unlocked the tenacity aspect of Alexis Lafreniere’s play as the 2020 #1 pick snapped a 17-game dearth at the 7:56 timestamp of the third.
He converged with his linemates like vultures around the crease and poked the puck past Lyon before Zibanejad sniped his second of the contest 14 seconds later to make it a 5-1 game.
Desperate, Panthers coach Paul Maurice pulled his goaltender for the extra attacker with 9:05 left, leading to Barkov flipping the disc over Shesterkin’s shoulder to give his team life.
Throughout the evening, Florida feasted off an abundance of the Rangers’ 24 turnovers and turned them into quick offensive zone entries only to be denied by the New York stopper. Unsatisfied with his 33-save performance, Shesterkin tried for a goal himself, flinging a shot down the ice towards the empty cage, but to the crowd’s dismay, missed wide and wouldn’t get another opportunity as Filip Chytil scored a few minutes later to seal the victory.
BACK TO THE LINES BLENDER:
At Saturday’s open practice in front of 6,500 fans at the Garden, Gallant unveiled his new line combinations which he wasn’t pleased about despite the victory. “You win 6-2, and you question your lines again. We’ll see what happens tomorrow and go to work. We can be better than that.”
The new top unit consisted of Panarin, Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider. At the same time, Vesey, Vincent Trocheck, and Goodrow served as their heirs, with the “Kid line” of Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Chytil coming in third. The trio of Vitali Kravtsov, Jake Leschyshyn, and Julien Gauthier rounded things out as line four.
The odd man out was Sammy Blais, who was demoted to the Hartford Wolfpack for a conditioning stint following the game in exchange for Will Cuylle’s services. Given the complete overhaul, it seems appropriate to hand out an “MVL” award for this recap in addition to my traditional three stars following Rangers wins. The honors go to the “TVG line” who all contributed to Vesey’s second-period goal.
MARV’S 3 STARS:
HONORABLE: Igor Shesterkin:
What stood out from his 33-save performance was how he stopped 7/9 high-danger chances.
3 Mika Zibanejad:
His 22 goals are the most on the team, and his 49 points rank second, one behind Artemi Panarin.
2 Artemi Panarin:
The breadman’s pass-first preference paid off, as he recorded three assists in the victory and became the first Ranger this season to eclipse the 50-point plateau.
1. Adam Fox
The defenseman had a goal, three points, and was a +5 in 22:47 of ice time. His two assists tied Brian Leetch for the most assists within a player’s first four careers in NHL seasons in Rangers history with 177.