Lundqvist, Zibanejad continue to lead Blueshirts to victories

After taking the NHL by storm with a six-game winning streak, the New York Rangers headed to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Nov. 15. The Rangers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period thanks to a goal by Mika Zibanejad. The game stayed that way up until the end of the second period, mainly because the Rangers failed to capitalize on numerous power play opportunities, something that fueled their hotwinning streak.

The Blackhawks tied the game at 1 in the final minute of the second period and proceeded to score three early goals in the third period. Down 4-1, the Rangers pulled goaltender Henrik Lundqvist from the game after allowing four goals on 34 shots. Ondrej Pavelec replaced him in goal. That sparked a comeback attempt by the Rangers, as they quickly scored two goals, courtesy of Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash. But the Blackhawks were just too much to handle and closed the deal with two goals of their own to win 6-3.

Former Ranger Artem Anisimov recorded his first career hat-trick in the game for the Blackhawks. Two days later, the Rangers were in Columbus to battle their division rival Blue Jackets. The game was a display of world-class goaltending by Lundqvist and Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Lundqvist out-saved Bobrovsky 40-36, but the Blue Jackets outscored the Rangers 2-0, handing them their second consecutive loss.

The Rangers could not create many high-quality scoring opportunities and struggled to stave off the pressure from the Blue Jackets. After these two consecutive road losses, the Rangers found themselves back at .500 at 9-9-2. They headed home for a game against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday, Nov. 19. Lundqvist was in net again for the Rangers and continued his fine play with a 20-save shutout en route to a 3-0 Rangers victory. Michael Grabner, Hayes and Zibanejad scored for the Rangers. Lundqvist recorded his second shutout of the season and the 63rd of his career, passing Hall-of-Famer Turk Broda for 16th all-time in that category.

Coming off a dominating 3-0 shutout win at home, the New York Rangers looked to start a brand-new winning streak and keep pace in a very tight Metropolitan Division. They would have to do that without their captain and defensive leader, Ryan McDonagh, who suffered an abdominal strain in the win over Ottawa.

Losing such an important piece of their team did not stop the Rangers, however, from dominating that week. They won all three games to extend their overall winning streak to four games and their home winning streak to eight games. That is their longest home winning streak since nine straight home wins in October and November of 2015. On Wednesday, Nov. 22, the Rangers hit the road to take on the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Rangers controlled the pace of the game from start to finish and the 6-1 final result certainly reflected that. Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast scored two goals apiece, with Zibanejad and Paul Carey each adding a goal.  Lundqvist dominated with 32 saves in the victory. Zibanejad’s goal was a gift, as he chipped the puck into the Hurricanes’ zone from center ice and Hurricanes' goaltender Scott Darling could not catch the puck in his glove. The puck fell into the back of the net as a result, and Zibanejad had his team-leading 11th goal of the season.

For a team that was struggling to win games on the road, the Rangers looked like there was no rust in the first place. They looked to carry that momentum back home against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, Nov. 24. The game was a display of world-class goaltending, with Lundqvist and Red Wings' netminder Jimmy Howard stopping practically every shot they saw.

After Detroit’s Tomas Tatar opened the scoring on the power play just over four minutes into the third period, the Rangers responded when Kreider beat Howard five-hole with a backhand shot. The game remained 1-1 until sudden death overtime. Just 37 seconds into the extra session, Mats Zuccarello beat Howard with a shot over his glove to win the game for the Rangers. The 2-1 overtime thriller was the Rangers’ seventh consecutive home victory.

Lundqvist made 40 saves in an outstanding performance. Up next, the Rangers hosted the Vancouver Canucks, one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, on Sunday, Nov. 26. The Rangers started off very shaky, carelessly turning the puck over and not paying attention on defense. They found themselves down 2-0 late in the second period. The Rangers responded in a big way with a goal by Fast late in the second period, his third goal in his last three games, and a goal by Grabner 19 seconds into the third period, his 10th of the season.

The Canucks responded 41 seconds later, scoring off another Rangers turnover and a fortunate bounce. The Rangers did not quit, as four and a half minutes later, Jimmy Vesey tied the game at 3-3 resulting from beautiful passing work by Hayes and Nash. The game went to overtime tied 3-3 and stayed that way through the entire 5-minute extra frame. Thus, the game went to a shootout, where the aforementioned Vesey was the hero for the Rangers, scoring the game-deciding goal in the seventh round.

The Rangers’ 4-3 victory was their fourth straight overall, their eighth straight at home, and their ninth in the past 11 games. The power play, which was the driving force behind the Rangers’ previous six-game winning streak, struggled this week, going 1-for-6. In fact, the power play has gone an abysmal 1-for-15 since the Rangers’ six-game winning streak ended against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 15.

Despite their struggles on the power play — which dropped to 22.2 percent, ninth in the league — their even strength play and their penalty kill has remained dominant, and is now ranked 12th in the NHL at 81.3 percent. The Rangers are also getting increased contribution from all four lines collectively, a great sign moving forward. But the biggest factor in the Rangers’ recent surge has to be the play of Lundqvist in goal, who has played out of his mind during this stretch. He has a ridiculous 1.39 goals-against-average and .958 save percentage in his last five starts and has drastically improved his overall numbers to a 2.62 goals-against-average and a .918 save percentage. Zibanejad still leads the Rangers in goals, with 11, and points, with 22. Zuccarello leads the Rangers in assists, with 15.

Currently in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division with a 13-10-2 record and 28 points, however, they are only 5 points behind the division leading Blue Jackets.

SportsFelix MalamudComment