Thursday’s Rangers matchup with the lowly Montreal Canadiens was supposed to be the dawn of a new day that involved a synchronized offense with Patrick Kane at the forefront. Although that did happen with #88 registering his first goal and assist with his new club, several careless defensive mistakes allowed the Habs to hang around before Igor Shesterkin shut the door in the shootout, lifting the Blueshirts to a dramatic 4-3 victory, snapping their two-game skid. The contest was a fast-paced, wide-open affair and underscored issues New York needs to solve over their final 18 regular season games entering the postseason.
From the moment the puck dropped on this one until the final buzzer in overtime, there was no Rangers defense in sight, as a slew of turnovers led to an abundance of odd-man rushes and breakaways for Montreal. Still, Shesterkin, for the most part, stood tall and masked their issues as part of a 23 save, +0.07 Goals Saved Above Expected outing. It took the Habs a mere 35 seconds to send the Bell Centre into a frenzy when Kaiden Guhle spun and fired a shot past Shesterkin for an early 1-0 lead. The tally was the fourth goal allowed by New York within the first minute of game this year, good for fourth most in the NHL, and set the tone for a period dominated by the Canadiens at even strength. The lone Rangers’ noteworthy moment came on a power play tip-in by Quebec native Alexis Lafreniere to tie it. Yet once the teams returned to five-on-five hockey, the hosts flew through the neutral zone with ease and peppered Igor’s cage, keeping New York’s defense on their heels, before being rewarded for it on the scoreboard when Alex Belzile skated past K’Andre Miller to start an odd-man rush and on his off end, beat Shesterkin short side to put Montreal in the driver’s seat after 20 minutes of play.
The second period brought more of the same, as following an early goal 48 seconds into the stanza by Rangers captain Jacob Trouba, who gave Kane his first assist as a Ranger and out-waited the Canadiens defense before roofing the biscuit over Sam Montembeault, the Habs feasted off of Blueshirts giveaways and applied sustained offensive zone pressure, only for a barrage of Trouba blocks to settle things down.
New York would clamp down defensively to begin the third period, but a late lapse nearly cost them when Niko Mikkola was caught pinching in, leading to a Josh Andreson breakaway which Shesterkin stopped to keep the game tied. Then in overtime, Miller tried to go off for a change but, while doing so, coughed up the puck. It nearly resulted in a game-winner, but help from the goalpost spared the defenseman, who was returning after sitting the last three games for spitting at Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings back on February 26th, from becoming Rangerstown’s scapegoat of the night. As time wound down in the bonus frame, Adam Fox was boxed for holding putting Montreal on the power play. Yet despite some great looks, the Canadiens couldn’t beat Shesterkin or the goalposts, before eventually meeting their fate in the skills competition.
When the dust cleared, the Rangers were charged with 23 turnovers, which is only a recipe for winning if you’re playing an understaffed bottom feeder, which they luckily were in the last-place Habs.
A MUCH NEEDED POWER UP:
The revamped Rangers power play units both received ample time in this one, and it immediately paid dividends. Mostly gone were the overpassing tendencies this team has been known for throughout the season, and in stepped players who weren’t afraid to let it rip. The first unit consisted of Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Kane, Lafreniere, and Fox, who scored twice. Of course, the center of attention was on Kane, as the newest Blueshirt showcased his defensive deficiencies and offensive firepower in 71 seconds. Following a solid first two man-advantage sessions, one of which resulted in Lafreniere’s goal, Kane received a cross-ice pass from Panarin early in his third go-round before proceeding to lose control of the puck, leading to an Andreson rush the other way, who wasted no time, also taking advantage of a mysterious slide by Fox, and blasted the disc into the twine to give Montreal a 3-2 lead at 13:20 of the second period. Yet still out there on the power play, a determined Kane redeemed himself and buried a wrister from the left circle for his first goal as a Ranger, delighting teammates who thunderously banged their sticks against the boards in jubilation. “It’s not a play you want to see,” Kane said when describing his turnover, “But credit to the coaching staff for leaving us out there and allowing us to get it back, which we did.”
Meanwhile, although they didn’t find the back of the net, the second group featuring Mika Zibanejad, Filip Chytil, Vladimir Tarasenko, Vincent Trocheck, and Trouba registered three shots on goal, with Zibanejad looking comfortable back above the left hash marks, as opposed to him playing the bumper position the last couple of games on the first unit.
On the flip side, despite being down stalwarts Ryan Lindgren and Tyler Motte, who both sat out due to injury, New York’s penalty kill, led by Jimmy Vesey, Trouba, Zibanejad, and Mikkola, stymied the Canadiens’ attack all three times, including saving Kane’s bacon after he took a slashing penalty late in regulation and Fox’s, when he was penalized in overtime.
FINDING A WAY:
While they were far from their best, New York still had the opportunity to skate away with two points by winning the shootout, and did so courtesy of Zibanejad’s second-round goal, held up by Shesterkin, who stopped Rem Pitlick, Nick Suzuki, and Belzile, securing the win.
“You want to play better defense,” Lafreniere said postgame, “But we battled back and got the two points which are all that matters.”
REF MAKES HISTORY:
Before squaring off, the Rangers and Canadiens honored referee Marc Joannette, who worked his 1,500th game , by presenting him with a jersey sporting his name and the milestone on it.
MARV’S 3 STARS:
3 Patrick Kane(1 Goal, 1 assist, team Broadway hat)
2.Jacob Trouba(1 Goal, 1 assist, 5 shots, 2 hits, 3 blocks, 23:59 of ice time)
1 Igor Shesterkin(23 saves and stopped all 3 shots he faced in the shootout)