On the fifth anniversary of “The Letter,” where the Rangers promised their fans their rebuild would be focused on adding “young, competitive players that combine speed, skill, and character,” it was only fitting that the “kid line” would be the ones guiding them to their fourth victory in their last five games.
Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere scored while K’Andre Miller racked up three assists en route to the Blueshirts’ 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, improving their record to 18-4-3 in their last 25 games, suitable for 29-14-8 overall while boasting the seventh best points percentage(.647) in the NHL.
Moreover, the letter included the organization emphasizing their “singular commitment” to build a Stanley Cup contender, which they honored on Thursday afternoon by acquiring All-Star Vladimir Tarasenko in a trade with the ST Louis Blues.
Here are my takeaways from what’s been an enthralling last 24 hours in Rangerstown.
FILL THE THRILL:
The Rangers struck first 6:53 into the opening frame when Chris Kreider scored the 250th goal of his career, tying Mark Messier for seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. The shot came on a two-on-one rush with Vincent Trocheck after receiving K’Andre Miller’s outlet pass off the boards directly following a save from Igor Shesterkin.
They would double the lead 98 seconds later courtesy of the exuberant Chytil, who netted one for the fifth consecutive match after winning an offensive-zone faceoff, leading to Miller wrapping the puck around the Vancouver net. Then, Kaapo Kakko outmuscled defenseman Riley Stillman and shoveled the puck to the slot, where the center roofed it over Canucks goaltender Spencer Martin, accounting for his 11th goal and 15th point in the last 13 games.
THE HORVAT-LESS EFFECT:
It’s no secret to anyone who follows hockey the Vancouver Canucks have become a public dumpster fire, given last week’s trade with the Islanders, where captain Bo Horvat was dealt for prospect Aatu Raty, a top 12 protected 2023 first-round pick and Anthony Beauvillier.
The deal followed a recent change behind the bench, where Rick Tochet was hired, and Bruce Boudreau was fired.
Naturally, the turmoil translates to opponents taking them lightly, which didn’t go unnoticed in the mind of Rangers coach Gerard Gallant.
“It was 2-0, and we were playing excellent hockey, and then all of a sudden, we changed our game a little bit and started turning the puck over in the neutral zone,” Gallant said in his postgame presser, “It’s a little frustrating, but that’s what happens. You get up and think it’s going to be easy, and then suddenly, it’s a hockey game.” The Blueshirts had 31 turnovers in 60 minutes, with 20 qualifying for the “giveaways” column, thus allowing Vancouver to remain within striking distance throughout the contest.
THE KIDS ARE HERE TO STAY:
With New York needing an insurance marker after Conor Garland sliced the Canucks deficit late in the first period when he took advantage of soft defensive coverage by the Blueshirts, Alexis Lafreniere poked home his second goal in as many games, finishing a net-front rebound attempt following a point blast Jacob Trouba, who received a seam pass from Miller, increasing the Rangers lead to 3-1.
The tally punctuated another stellar performance from the “Kid line, who, in 11:41 of ice time, outshot Vancouver 7-1. It’s nights like these that bode well for Lafreniere, Miller, and Chytil, who are all set to become restricted free agents at season’s end, where they’ll rightfully demand bigger paydays. The Rangers will do whatever it takes to keep their foundation intact, including giving Chytil the approximate $4 million he deserves over his current $2.3 million salary, effectively leaving no room for any Summer splashes.
The harsh reality of their cap situation is why team management sees the upcoming March 3rd trade deadline as the time to strike. They acquired Tarasenko(50% of the $7.5 million salary retained) following the game instead of Patrick Kane or Timo Meier.
While they would’ve been great additions, it may have required giving up one of their youngsters, and if Wednesday showed you anything, the genuine pieces to a potential championship lie in the kids, who have combined for 21 points over their last seven games.
SECURING THE DEUCE:
A Vasily Podkolzin deflection off a JT Miller shot for his first goal of the season made it a 3-2 game late in the second period, leading to New York playing conservatively in the third.
While the disciplined defense turned into Mika Zibanejad’s team-leading 25th goal of the year when his stick got a piece of another Trouba point shot, with 4:05 remaining, the momentum was short-lived as Elias Petterson flipped one over Shesterkin 11 seconds later.
The close scoreline created a frantic finish, but despite making it more challenging than it had to be, the Rangers skated away with the all-important two points in the standings.
LANDING THEIR STAR:
A tip of the helmet to my fellow Blue Line Station contributor Lucas Standel, who earned it for his fabulous piece last week on why the Rangers should trade for Vladimir Tarasenko, which came to fruition a few days later. As Standel noted, “Tarasenko requested a trade from the Blues a few years ago, but the Blues decided to hang on to him.”
Now in the final year of the star’s eight-year $60 million contract, they finally caved and dealt the ten-year veteran with 262 goals, 553 points, and a Stanley Cup to his name, along with shutdown defenseman Niko Mikkola(1 year, $1.9 million cap hit) in exchange for the latter of the two 2023 first-round picks the Rangers posses, a 2024 fourth round pick which becomes a third should the Blueshirts make the playoffs, former Blue Sammy Blais, and Rangers prospect Hunter Skinner.
Although Tarasenko’s even-strength production has fallen off compared to what it used to be, he still consistently creates scoring chances and should mesh well on the top line with Artemi Panarin, who reached 500 career points with his assist on the fourth Rangers goal, and Zibanejad. Per New York’s press release, the 31-year-old has skated in 38 games this season, tallying ten goals and 19 assists for 29 points.
Meanwhile, expect Mikkola to be paired alongside Braden Schneider, with him and Ben Harpur rotating between being a healthy scratch and the team’s sixth defenseman.
To make room for the newcomers on the roster, the Rangers placed Libor Hajek on waivers while Will Cuylle was reassigned to Hartford.
MARV’S 3 STARS:
3. Alexis Lafreniere(1 goal, 2 hits, 2 takeaways)
2. Jacob Trouba(Two assists)
1. K’Andre Miller(Three assists)