In assessing the Rangers, a line from the classic Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth,” comes to mind.
“There’s something happening here but what it is ain’t exactly clear.”
What is clear is that the Rangers beat the struggling Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1 at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night to remain one of the hottest teams in the NHL. The Rangers have won four in a row, 8 of their last 9 and six in a row at home, as they improved to 14-4-3. Philadelphia has lost seven straight games.
Artemi Panarin had a goal and an assist, Kappo Kakko had two assists and Chris Kreider continued his strong season as he scored his team leading 16th goal of the season.
What’s a Ranger win these days without another brilliant effort from goaltender Igor Shesterkin. The 25-year old goalie made 33 saves as he improved to 12-3-2 this season.
The Rangers, who had four days off since winning in Boston on Friday afternoon, came out flying in the first period.
Jacob Trouba cashed in on an early power play as he scored on a one timer from the top of the slot that beat Flyers goaltender Carter Hart for a 1-0 lead. Trouba, who has been playing his best hockey since coming to the Rangers, scored his third goal in the last four games.
Coach Gerard Gallant is not surprised by what he’s been getting from his veteran defenseman. “He plays hard, he battles hard every night. He’s big on our PK. Scored a nice power play goal for us, also,” Gallant said after the game.
Trouba admitted the break was awkward. “Felt a little uncomfortable sitting at home for that many days in a row. Not having a game or traveling or doing something,” he said. “I think our first couple of minutes weren’t our best. The second half, the last fifteen minutes of that first period we played a lot better.”
Later in the period, Panarin set up Dryden Hunt along the right side. Hunt was able to outwork Flyers’ defenseman Ivan Provorov and move the puck from his back hand to his fore hand where he was able to get off a shot that found the net for a 2-0 lead at 9:32 of the first period.
It was Hunt’s third goal of the season and the second time in his career that he scored a goal in back to back games. The 26 year old left wing, who was projected to be a checking forward and had to earn his spot on the roster in training camp, has been a pleasant surprise by showing some offensive skills.
34 seconds into the second period, Kakko fed Kreider in the slot and while falling down, the longest tenured Ranger put a wrister past Hart for a 3-0 lead. Adam Fox got his 18th assist on the play, which leads all NHL defenseman.
The Rangers had full control of the game against a Flyers’ team that was winless in their last six games coming in but the momentum changed when Hunt was called for a questionable charging penalty, less than two minutes into the second period. Hunt received a five minute major and a game misconduct in what looked like, at best, a two minute minor, so the Rangers were down a forward for the remainder of the game.
The Rangers were already miffed at the officials. In the first period, a goal was waved off by an off side call that appeared to be a good entry into the offensive zone.
“He definitely hit him but I didn’t see any jumping or anything like that,” Gallant said. “I just seen him going in and unfortunate, he [Flyers defenseman Justin Braun] banged his head against the glass and got cut.”
The Rangers penalty kill did the job, thanks in large part to Shesterkin who made as many saves (7) during that five minute stretch as he did in the entire third period. “Honestly, seven saves in five minutes isn’t really that much,” Shesterkin said through a translator after the game.
“A good penalty kill is a great goalie and that’s what he did. At the right time of the game he stood up and made some unreal saves,” an appreciative Gallant said.
Chants of “Igor, Igor” reverberated throughout the Garden, something that hits home with the young goaltender. “It motivates me, definitely,” he said. “The most important thing is to try to not cry right then and there.”
In the third period, the Rangers lost another forward when Barclay Goodrow was struck above the eye with a puck that deflected off of former Ranger Keith Yandle’s stick. Goodrow rushed right to the locker room.After the game, Gallant said he was okay and that he had just a cut above his eye.