Rangers coach David Quinn didn’t need an e-mail or a text message. He didn’t need Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to get a message across to his team. A seat on the bench for a struggling star player seemed to wake the team up as the Rangers scored six unanswered goals in a 6-1 win over the Devils in Newark.
Chris, Mika and Igor is not the Rangers’ top line, but those three dominate the story lines from an important Ranger win.
Chris Kreider, who is on fire, paced the offense with his second hat trick in the past five games. Mika Zibanejad was the one who found himself on the bench for most of this contest. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin was superb but suffered a scary non contact, lower body injury in the third period.
“Zibad” has eight points (2 goals, 6 assists including one in this game) in 21 games this season and is not “earning his keep.” Zibanejad got no ice time on the power play until the third period and totaled a little over 13:00 for the game. His ice time has steadily declined over the past five games.
“I didn’t love his game, I didn’t love what we were seeing,” Quinn said in the post game zoom. “I just thought him, sitting him for awhile would kinda maybe give him a jolt and give our team a little bit of a jolt.”
It wasn’t like Pop Fisher telling Bump Bailey to sit down in “The Natural,” but Quinn rolled the dice and kept Zibanejad on the bench for most of the second period. You can argue whether or not that move was the impetus for a change of momentum because that was a different Ranger team that took the ice for the final 33 minutes of the game.
The Devils were dictating play from the opening face off as they had the Rangers on their heels for most of the first period. It paid off when New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen fired a shot off the end boards that rebounded right to Jack Hughes who caught Shesterkin and defenseman Adam Fox by surprise with a quick release for a 1-0 lead.
The turning point came just under seven minutes into the second period. New Jersey’s Miles Wood found a loose puck and was all alone to Shesterkin’s right but the Ranger goaltender made a huge stop to keep the game at a one goal deficit.
About 90 seconds later, Kreider began his fabulous night by tying the game at one in the second period with a pretty power play goal off a nice feed from Ryan Strome. From his own zone, Fox found a streaking Pavel Buchnevich at the red line. Buchnevich, who has been one of the Rangers’ best two-way players all season long, entered the Devils’ zone and found Strome on right wing who passed the puck to Kreider who was heading towards the net, where he was able to tap it in past Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood.
Kreider deflected Ryan Lindgren’s shot past Blackwood for his second goal and a 2-1 lead after two.
:23 seconds into the third period, the longest tenured Ranger completed the natural hat trick (4th of his career) with a shot from the slot to make it a 3-1 game. Kreider has now scored 9 goals in his last six games and has suddenly moved into fourth place on the NHL goal scoring list with 13. “I’m trying to stick around the front of the net. Obviously, it’s working for us right now.”
After Buchnevich scored his seventh to make it a 4-1 game, the Devils changed goaltenders. How symbolic that just a few days before the 50th anniversary of Ali/Frazier I at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers knocked out Devils’ goalie Mackenzie Blackwood.
Brendan Smith scored his second and Alexis Lafreniere added his fourth goal of the season to round out a much welcome offensive output.
With a little under seven minutes left in the third period, Shesterkin came across the crease to deny Damon Severson and then went down face first with what appeared to be a right leg injury. He was helped off the ice and replaced by Alexandar Georgiev, but was still awarded the “Broadway Hat” (symbolic of the Rangers’ MVP in a win) after the game.
After the game, Quinn did not have an update on Shesterskin.
The Rangers have ten games remaining (five each) against the Devils and Sabres, the two teams below them in the standings. If the Rangers hope to make the playoffs, they’re going to need a “large chunk” of those points to give themselves a chance. Kreider looks at the schedule as a chance to make a run. “In a normal year, we say the divisional games are a four point swing, right? We have an opportunity to edge our way back in this every single night.”
The Rangers needed to have a good start to this important six game road trip because it’s not too late to start scoreboard watching. “This is obviously a big stretch of games,” said Strome. “Winning the last two, it doesn’t matter how we do it, I think it’s important to get these points in the standings and we gotta be ready to go on Saturday.”
The Rangers have won five of their last seven games and currently occupy sixth place in the East. They are four points behind fifth place Pittsburgh and six points back of the Flyers and Bruins, who are third and fourth respectively. “We kinda continue to climb out of a hole we dug ourselves,” Quinn said.
There’s still some climbing to be done.