Sports

‘We’re going streaking:’ Rangers rebound to win three straight

A difficult four-game road trip could not have started any worse for the New York Rangers. After getting absolutely outmatched against the Chicago Blackhawks, en route to a 4-1 defeat, the Rangers showed a disappointing effort in a 4-3 loss to the lowly Los Angeles Kings.

These were not the results that head coach David Quinn envisioned for his team, as much tougher competition awaited them this week. They capped off their West Coast swing with matchups against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks and capped the week off with a home game against an up-and-coming Buffalo Sabres team. This was a critical stretch for New York, as they had an opportunity to gain some ground in the relatively weak Metropolitan Division.

First up was a very difficult matchup at San Jose on Oct. 30 against the surging Sharks. San Jose started to put together a solid stretch of wins and points, as its offense finally began to click. This was bad news for the Rangers, who have had difficulties finding consistency on the offensive end.

The Sharks, not surprisingly, struck first in this game, as star defenseman Brent Burns beat Henrik Lundqvist with a big shot from the point 3:22 into the game. Burns became the first Sharks defenseman to record points in nine straight games in the process.

But the Rangers responded well after falling behind early, as they started to break down San Jose’s defense. It didn’t take them long to score the equalizer, as just 59 seconds after Burns’ tally, Mats Zuccarello beat Sharks goaltender Martin Jones from the top of the right circle. The Rangers outshot the Sharks 17-6 in the first period, but the score remained leveled at 1-1.

Neither team scored in the second period, but Lundqvist and Jones had plenty of work, making timely saves for their respective teams to keep the game tied.

The third period was a different story, with both teams going back-and-forth with chances at both ends. Chris Kreider gave the Rangers their first lead of the game, with a one-timer just 1:13 into the frame. But the Sharks found a way to even things up again, with Timo Meier blasting a one-timer of his own on an odd man rush seven minutes after Kreider’s goal. But Kreider was not done, as less than two minutes after Meier’s equalizer, he gave New York the lead.

A defensive breakdown by San Jose left Zuccarello alone after he got the puck from Mika Zibanejad off an offensive zone faceoff. Zuccarello then found Kreider on the other side of the net, who wasted no time beating Jones to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.

It looked like the Rangers had this game wrapped up, as they held onto their lead into the final seconds of regulation. But San Jose’s Tomás Hertl had other plans. He muscled his way from behind the net and found a seam past Lundqvist to shoot through. That was more than enough to tie the game with 1.3 seconds to go. The game went to overtime, where neither team broke through. Thus, a shootout was to decide this one.

In that shootout, the Rangers had a chance to win in the third round after the Sharks failed to score on all three attempts. Kevin Shattenkirk beat Jones with a perfect backhander to win the game for New York. Despite some last-second hiccups, the Rangers escaped with a
well-deserved 4-3 victory.

Two nights later, Alexandar Georgiev and the Rangers were back in Southern California to take on the Ducks. Anaheim was playing slightly below its usual game, with the offense struggling to score consistently.

The Ducks’ defense, however, was very sharp, keeping them in the game. They did, however, enter this game on a six-game losing streak. Georgiev got his third start in net for New York.

After a scoreless first period, the action picked up in the second, as the Rangers struck first less than two minutes in, thanks to Kevin Hayes on the power play.

Ducks forward Ryan Kesler blocked Brett Howden’s shot, but Hayes was able to corral the deflection and fire it past Ducks goaltender John Gibson for his third of the season.

Anaheim tied it with a power-play goal of its own about 10 minutes later, as Jakob Silfverberg scored on the rebound of a shot by Rickard Rakell that went off Georgiev’s blocker.

But less than two minutes after that, Howden was left wide open in front and scored off a pass from Jimmy Vesey. The goal was set up when Eric Staal had the puck near the blue line and found Vesey near the left faceoff circle in the Ducks’ zone.

Once again, the Rangers held a one-goal lead until the final seconds of regulation. Once again, New York found a way to squander it. With 25.3 seconds to go and the Ducks having already pulled Gibson in favor of an extra attacker, Ryan Getzlaf passed the puck cross-ice through the entire Rangers defense over to the left side of the net. Rakell was right there and wasted no time firing a one-timer past Georgiev to tie the game at 2.

This was the third game in a row the Rangers allowed a goal in the final minute of regulation. They were not as fortunate against the Kings but got away with it against the Sharks.

In this game, the Rangers had to play yet another shootout, as neither them nor the Ducks cashed in during the five-minute overtime. New York made quick work, as Zuccarello and Zibanejad scored in the shootout, while the Ducks missed both shots. The Rangers escaped Anaheim with yet another dramatic win, this time by a score of 3-2.

After a successful and dramatic finish to their road trip, the Rangers returned home for a matchup against the Sabres on Nov 4. Buffalo started to show signs of progress, as its young core began leading the way.

The Sabres dominated the entire first period, outshooting the Rangers 20-7. They threw everything they had at Lundqvist, but the veteran netminder stood tall and stopped every shot he faced.

New York needed to pick up the pace in the second period, and it didn’t take the team long to really get going. In fact, it took just one minute into the frame to score not once, but twice. Just 41 seconds into the period, defenseman Neal Pionk blasted a wrist shot that sailed past goaltender Carter Hutton to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Pionk skated from the right point to the left, completely untouched, and Vladislav Namestnikov found him on a perfect cross-ice pass for the goal. Only 19 seconds later, Vesey doubled the Rangers’ lead. Howden set him up with a nifty drop pass, and Vesey converted on a wrist shot from the slot.

Lundqvist kept making big saves in that second period, although he did suffer a near-scary collision with Rasmus Dahlin, the first overall pick in June’s NHL draft. However, after an extended look from the trainer, Lundqvist remained in the game.

New York entered the third period with a 2-0 lead, but the Sabres were able to slice that in half just over six minutes in. Conor Sheary took advantage of a turnover by defenseman Brendan Smith to pull the Sabres within one as he scored off his own rebound.

No lead was safe for the Rangers, especially as the final two minutes approached. But Vesey scored an empty-netter with 1:51 remaining to give New York a 3-1 lead.

The Rangers needed to maintain that lead, and their defense was up to the task. Lundqvist finished his best performance of the season with 39 saves, as the Rangers defeated the Sabres by a score of 3-1 for their third consecutive win.

Despite some late-game drama on the road, the Rangers were able to find ways to win, which is an incredibly encouraging sign.

However, their special teams need to improve, as their power play has been inefficient, and their penalty kill has been subpar. Discipline has also been a problem for New York, as the team has taken some careless penalties at the wrong time.

This is a rebuilding team, and mistakes are inevitable. There is still a whole season to improve, but the current three-game winning streak is a step in the right direction.

The Rangers play a home game against the Montreal Canadiens, another pleasant surprise in the Atlantic Division, as well as two road games against the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets in the coming weeks.

November 12, 2018

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Felix Malamud


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