Kappo Kakko scored for a second straight game and Igor Shesterkin made 31 saves as the Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2 at Madison Square Garden last night for their fourth straight win. It was also the Rangers’ 200th win vs. Montreal in the long history of these two “Original Six” teams.
The Rangers are 10-3-3 and are tied with the Washington Capitals for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 23 points. They trail first place Carolina by one point, but the ‘Canes have two games in hand.
Kakko is beginning to play like a second overall pick as he opened the scoring with his second goal of the season at 15:46 of the first period. Artemi Panarin, who has 12 points in his last 9 games, made a beautiful pass into the slot where Kakko was able to one time it past 22-year old Canadiens’ goaltender Cayden Primeau, who was making his first start of the season.
After having no points in his first ten games, Kakko has two goals and three points in the past two games. “I have been waiting [for] those goals. Just going to the net and ‘Bread’ or [Ryan] Strome, they’re gonna find me and I can just shoot it into empty net,” Kakko said after another strong game by the 20-year old.
Montreal tied the game at one early in the second. Christian Dvorak was able to corral a loose puck and he banged it in off of Shesterkin’s shoulder for his second goal of the season at the 2:17 mark.
The Rangers took a 2-1 lead just 1:33 later. Chris Kreider continued his hot start as he took a gorgeous pass from Mike Zibanejad and the veteran winger was able to poke the puck past Primeau for his 12th goal of the season.
“Kreids seems to be around the net a lot. His speed goes to the net on the back door,” Gallant said about the team’s leading goal scorer. “He’s got a player like Zibanejad who can make those passes to him. Kreids keeps doing what he does, he’s gonna get a lot of goals this year.”
Kreider’s go ahead goal came just 28 seconds after Ryan Reaves levied a hard hit on Montreal’s 23-year old left wing Micheal Pezzetta, who challenged the Rangers’ noted bruiser to drop the gloves. There was no doubt as to who won this one. “It was the second time in my career I was confused on whether a guy from the minors, an absolute killer trying to make a name or something, but both ended the same way,” Reaves said.
It was no coincidence that Reaves’ first fight as a Ranger got the team energized. “Sometimes it can go either way,” he said. “Crowd was into it, boys got one for me there which is good. It’s always nice to be in the box after a fight and the boys go get one.”
In the third, Julian Gauthier stole the puck from Canadiens center Nick Suzuki and while he was falling down, he was able to back hand the puck into the net for a 3-1 lead. It was Gauthier’s first goal of the season but the two goal lead was short lived.
It took just 22 seconds for Montreal to narrow the lead. Canadiens right wing Josh Anderson was able to beat Rangers defenseman Nik Lundkvist to the puck and put it past Shesterkin to make it a 3-2 game.
From there, the Rangers clamped down on defense, although Montreal did produce some prime scoring chances. With less than two minutes left, Shesterkin made a huge save to deny Montreal’s Tyler Toffoli from scoring the tying goal. The 25-year old goaltender continues to play like a Vezina Trophy candidate as he improved his record to 8-2-2.
Gauthier will get an opportunity to be a steady presence in the lineup. The Rangers learned earlier in the day that gritty winter Sammy Blais will be out for the season after he tore his ACL against the Devils Sunday night.
Gallant feels confident that Gauthier will take full advantage of this chance. “He’s forechecking better, he’s skating really well. He could always skate fast but I think he feels real comfortable in the NHL now. Over the last couple of games we see that,” he said.
The first year Ranger coach has been preaching more pucks to the net and the message is getting through. The Rangers outshot Montreal 34-33 and in their last three games, they’ve put 116 shots on net. “We’ve talked about it for awhile, let’s get some pucks to the net. We started doing it the last three games and we’re getting good results from it,” Gallant said.