Rangers knew the way to beat San Jose.
Just have Chris Kreider score two goals, including the first shorthanded tally of his career and have young defenseman Braden Schneider make his NHL debut a memorable one as the Rangers shutout the San Jose Sharks, 3-0 last night SAP Center at San Jose.
Schneider scored his first NHL goal and had four hits and two blocked shots. Any player who makes his debut, no matter the sport, wants to hear that ol’ cliche’, “He looks like he belongs.” That was an apt description for the 20-year old’s first game.
“I was in the right place at the right time. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better myself,” Schneider said after the game that had his parents in attendance.
Schneider didn’t look nervous and played under control as he skated with Patrik Nemeth for just under 15:00 of ice time. “I wanted to show that I could play physical and perform at this level,” he said.
By the way, a goalie named Igor Shesterkin cleared protocol and didn’t skip a beat in his return after missing 11 days. The Rangers #1 netminder made all 37 saves he faced, including some key stops in the third period.
Shesterkin blanked Tampa Bay in his last appearance on January 2nd, so he’s been unscored upon in consecutive games. It’s the third shutout this season for the Vezina trophy candidate who blanked San Jose in New York on December 3rd for just over 45 minutes before leaving the game with an injury.
With the Rangers leading 2-0 in the third period, Shesterkin made two huge saves within a :30 second span on San Jose’s Matt Nieto and Jonathan Dahlen, the son of former Ranger Ulf Dahlen.
In the previous game against the LA Kings, the Rangers were bottled up in the neutral zone, but they made some adjustments for this game and were more efficient. “Against LA, we were forcing pucks. We did a better job re-establishing the fore check,” said Kreider.
With Ryan Strome in the penalty box for cross-checking, Kreider took a pass from Mika Zibanejad in the offensive zone and buried a wrist shot past Sharks goaltender Adin Hill for a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Adam Fox had the secondary assist, his 32nd which ties him for the league lead among defenseman with Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman.
The goal held up through two, then early in the third, Strome had the puck in deep. Schneider joined the play and took a feed from the Rangers center and fired it past Hill for his first NHL goal that gave the Rangers a little more breathing room and a 2-0 lead.
The Rangers traded up to nab Schneider with the 19th overall pick of the 2020 NHL Draft and the 20-year old didn’t disappoint in his NHL debut. Schneider became the seventh defenseman in Rangers’ history to score a goal in his first NHL game. (Thomas Pock was the last to do it in 2004. Hall of Famer Harry Howell also did it)
“Fil [Filip Chytil] created a good turnover, he passed over to Strome and As soon as it went, I was coming down and I was calling for the puck,” the young defenseman said. “As soon as I said [sic] spun around and put it right on my tape and all I had to do was try and get it on net.”
Kreider completed the scoring with an empty net goal with :28 seconds remaining, his 23rd of the season and the 200th of his NHL career.
There was a nice local angle to the game as Queens native Anthony Greco made his Ranger debut. Greco played well and had five shots on goal in less than ten minutes of ice time, second best on the team behind Kreider’s six shots. Greco’s dad, Paul, was a fireman who passed away in 2020 due to 9/11 related illnesses.
The Rangers improved to 2-2 as they completed the Western portion of this five game road trip, which concludes Saturday night in Philadelphia.
The Rangers moved back into first place in the Metropolitan Division with 52 (24-10-4) points. Carolina is second with 50 points, but they have four games in hand. Washington is third with 49 points and have a game in hand on the Rangers.