The New York Rangers electrified Madison Square Garden as they bid farewell to their iconic abode before going on the West Coast. After snapping their four-game win streak with a win over the Washington Capitals on Sunday, they recorded a 5-2 win against the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday, now 0-3 at the world's most famous arena since their inception.
Mostly, this game was reminiscent of the Rangers' early-season brilliance – slick north-south attacks, pinpoint passes, and elite goaltending. Yet it didn't come without its defensive lapses. There were still many neutral zone turnovers, failed breakouts, and plenty of rush chances against them. However, there were also offensive contributions from others. It wasn't just the usual suspects from the top six. Nope, some under-the-radar names stepped up, giving the Blueshirts the boost they needed.
Rangers Revamp: Igor Shesterkin Shines, Secondary Scoring Steals the Show:
The recent chatter around the Rangers has been defending the rush, as they've become the NHL's laughingstock in that category.
Yet beneath those shadows was the need for secondary scoring. The first half of the season has been about the Artemi Panarin- Vincent Trocheck- Alexis Lafrenière trio.
Panarin's been a maestro, especially on the power play. He began his bobblehead night dancing along the left boards before sending a no-look pass to Trocheck at the far post for a 1-0 lead 8:22 into the contest. The tally snapped the team's 0 for 9 slump on the man advantage. It also tied the breadman with Vancouver Canucks star and former Blueshirt J.T. Miller for fourth in the Art Ross race with 60 points apiece.
The Kraken tied it up with a power play marker by Jordan Eberle, started by a brutal Trocheck turnover. He tried to take the puck out of the offensive zone and reset to kill time but coughed it up and paid the price. However, Trocheck was uplifted 28 seconds later when defenseman Erik Gustafsson, after a 31-game goal drought, sniped one past Chris Driedger.
In the second period, Seattle responded and brought the heat, throwing 16 shots at Igor Shesterkin. Still, the netminder stood tall, even stopping all five high-danger chances in that frame. He made two straight saves on Will Borgen and Jordan Schultz barely a minute into the period and then shut down Kailer Yamamoto's breakaway.
After that, the defense got its act together, yet they wouldn't have received a second lifeline if it hadn't been for Shesterkin. He finished with 29 saves on 31 shots and a 2.46 goals saved above expected.
"You hate to have to rely on him to make the amount of quality saves he made, but fortunately for us, that's why he's world-class. He made a bunch of big ones tonight," Blake Wheeler said.
It was because of Wheeler that New York even had a cushion. He was one of those forwards in a rut. The 37-year-old, quiet for seven games, deflected one home in the second period thanks to Jonny Brodzinski's hustle to maintain possession before a pinpoint shot from up top. He later added an empty netter to seal the win.
As for Brodzinski, he was in a ten-game drought, too, but snapped it with a primary assist and a solid showing. Aside from the apple, he had two shots on goal, won five of six faceoffs, and had a takeaway. Skating with Will Cuylle and Wheeler, they forechecked hard and applied pressure, slowing down Seattle's rapid attack.
Head coach Peter Laviolette's shuffle of the lines, looking to spice up that bottom six, has worked. Depth's still a trade deadline priority, but Brodzinski brought the thunder on Tuesday. The 30-year-old continues to make the most of his opportunity in the 24 games since being recalled from Hartford on November 28th. He's done enough to stay on Broadway despite the return of the man whom he was asked to replace.
Kaapo Kakko's Smile: A Finnish Finish courtesy of Mika Magic:
Kaapo Kakko desperately needed a goal, and his reaction when he finally scored with just under three minutes left in the second period said it all. According to a smirking Mika Zibanejad, "His face kind of said it all coming in for the hug." It was the first for the Finnish winger in his second contest since his return from an injury sustained against the Buffalo Sabres in late November, which saw him miss 21 games.
Before he went down, the 22-year-old spent eleven of his first 20 games on the top line with Chris Kreider and Zibanejad, and they were practically whispering nothing to the net. In two periods on Tuesday, they flipped the script, doubling their count. They were on for Gustafsson's goal, but the real magic happened in transition. Zibanejad soared out of the defensive zone and received a slick one-touch pass from Kreider in the neutral zone before his beautiful backhanded setup Kakko's one-timer finish to make it 4-1. Sure, Kreider and Zibanejad have been playing second fiddle to Panarin, Trocheck, and Lafrenière all season, but not on Tuesday. Zibanejad, who had two assists, six shots, and two takeaways, was the engine driving the show.
Jared McCann pulled off a power-play beauty, narrowing the Rangers' lead to 4-2 with 5:36 remaining after K'Andre Miller was penalized for tripping. Those two goals against the penalty kill were a minor hiccup in the victorious night. Seattle (19-16-9) entered Monday on a nine-game heater before stumbling 3-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again, they didn't have Andre Burakovsky, Matty Beniers, or defenseman Vince Dunn. Yet the Rangers (28-13-2) seemed too focused on fixing their internal struggles to care. When committed to their structure, they'll beat anyone on a given evening, no matter who's in the lineup. Recently, it's gotten away from them, but Tuesday was a sign of those good habits slowly returning. "It was good," Laviolette said, "I thought the balance was good, the scoring was good, we needed that." They'll need more of it as they head to the Wild West.