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Look, there were silver linings to this one, most definitely so, but at the end of the night, the Rangers were still drenched under that black cloud that has followed the team’s putative offensive stars and the power play from game to game to game.
Three contests at the Garden this week, a sum of two goals scored, with those put into the net by Kevin Rooney and Julien Gauthier. That adds up to three defeats (albeit with one loser’s point) following Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Bruins in as combative a contest as the Rangers have played.
It was the Baby Blueshirts and the Big Bad Bruins (well, for this era, though fellas like Wayne Cashman, Ted Green, Pie McKenzie and Derek Sanderson would chortle over that appellation) and the more experienced, deeper, better team was able to come away with the two points.
But it was not easy. The Rangers were not an easy opponent even if they did not do enough to disrupt Jaroslav Halak in nets and once again pretty much didn’t do a thing with the extra man to disrupt Boston’s penalty kill on any of their six power plays.
Sorry, my mistake: the Blueshirts had two extra men for the final 1:02 of the contest with Charlie McAvoy in the box for delay of game and Igor Shesterkin pulled from the ice. In perhaps the most futile snapshot of these power-play blues, the Rangers couldn’t even win a series of puck battles below the goal line despite owning numbers.
The Rangers competed all night. The young guys hung in against an opponent that is 10-1-2 and, as essentially has been the case for the last 11 years, a top-shelf Stanley Cup contender. It was, in many ways, a playoff-type contest, crisp and fast in the first period, then contentious right from the drop of the puck in the second.
“The game started to become a man’s game and, listen, they have more men than we do. That’s just a fact,” said David Quinn, who probably could have used a little bit better phraseology there. “But I liked the way we stood up, we didn’t back down, we kept playing, and they get a goal we were not able to get.
“That’s a team that’s competing for the Stanley Cup and built to win right now. They play the right way and we can learn an awful lot of lessons from them, but I was proud of the way we stood toe-to-toe with them.”
One of the lessons management might learn is that a no-nonsense, hard-edged bottom six is necessary for ultimate success. Perhaps cap limitations prevented such construction last offseason, but that must be Priority One this summer.
By the way, playoff-type contests are about as close as the team is going to come to the real thing if they continue to get nothing from Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and now Pavel Buchnevich, shuttled down to Line 4 for a couple of shifts over the final 10:58 after another sub-par performance.
Zibanejad, at 10 straight without a goal for the first time since he suffered through a 15-game drought midway through his first season on Broadway in 2016-17, took a step back from Wednesday. No. 93 was on the outside all night. Not one of his eight attempts hit the net, with six of them blocked. Kreider did not assert himself until the final shift. And Buchnevich, who engaged in a spirited second-period fight with Jeremy Lauzon, has only one empty-netter to show for the last 11 games.
The kids took lead roles in this one. Kaapo Kakko appears to have taken a quantum leap over the past week or so, playing with confidence and a swagger. He wants the puck. He is diligent without it. It has been exciting to witness.
Perhaps because of his experience on the larger ice surfaces in Europe, Kakko just has not taken the puck to the middle of the ice or driven the net very often. He sure did in this one, though, notably keeping it on a right wing two-on-one rush with Alexis Lafreniere on the left, then taking it to the net before his close-in try was deflected away by defenseman Brandon Carlo midway through the third period.
Lafreniere, who stood in for Artemi Panarin (lower body, day-to-day) on the line with Kakko and Ryan Strome, also impressed. When Quinn reshuffled his lines in the final 10 minutes, he moved Kakko up with Zibanejad and Kreider while moving Colin Blackwell into Kakko’s spot. Mistake. It would have been better for the coach to double-down on his best line rather than trying to jump-start the Zibanejad-Kreider combination.
So there was a lot to like in this one. Nevertheless, the team left the rink with four wins in its first 13 games (4-6-3) and was all wet when the night ended.
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