Rangers Bottle Caps to End Losing Streak but Warts Remain

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Getting a win for the Rangers in the last eight days was like pulling teeth, but they held on by the skin of their teeth for a big, 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden that snapped their four game losing streak.

Artemi Panarin scored in the first minute of the first period and linemate, Alexis Lafreniere scored in the final minute of the period and it proved to be enough.

Igor Shesterkin made 24 saves, including a couple of big stops after Washington cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period.

T.J. Oshie, who scored the Caps only goal and now has 15 career goals against the Rangers, was denied on a deflection in front. Late in the period, Shesterkin made three huge saves in the final 30 seconds to keep the Rangers in front.

I think it was important for Igor to give us a good game and I thought he did,” Coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought we did a better job in front of him tonight than maybe his last start [last Thursday vs. St. Louis] where I don’t think we did a good job.”

Shesterkin had to be his old self as Caps goaltender Charlie Lindgren (Ryan’s brother), who had already beaten the Rangers twice this season, made 29 saves and was standing on his head to keep Washington in the game. One of the highlight stops came in the third period when Jimmy Vesey was wide open with the puck in front, but Lindgren made the save.

Rangers outshot the Caps, 31-25, but Washington is not a high scoring team but they are stingy defensively and they don’t give the opposition a whole lot. “It’s not one of those teams that you’re running up 45 shots, 48 shots. You got to play the game that you’re being dealt,” Laviolette said.

The Rangers were 0-3-1 in their last four games, thanks to a number of factors, including a power play slump, poor puck management, not getting more pucks to the net and not winning 50-50 battles, among other things.

The Rangers were riding as the #1 power play in the NHL but they were 0 for 5 in this one and have fallen back thanks to a pair of games against the Caps this weekend where they were 0 for 8 overall. Rangers are now 2 for 16 over the last five games with the man advantage. 

After the Rangers failed on their fifth attempt with the man advantage, the fans began chanting, “Shoot the puck,” invoking memories of the past. If you’ve followed the Rangers long enough, you can’t count how many times fans have uttered that phrase throughout the years.

Nearly a quarter of the Rangers goals this season have come on the power play. The analytics seem to indicate that the Rangers have been victimized by some bad luck at five on five, but that doesn’t account for the poor decisions with the puck.

In the opening minute of the game, the Rangers were on a rush as Vincent Trocheck carried the puck over the blue line and found Panarin on the left side.

The Rangers leading scorer wasted no time as he turned his body to get a better position to shoot and fired a blast past Lindgren for his team leading 27th goal and a 1-0 lead just :50 seconds into the first period. Panarin has scored in 35 of the Rangers’ 42 games this season.

The goal gave Panarin 400 points as a Ranger and he’s the fastest in team history to reach that mark (310 GP). Trocheck’s helper gave him 13 points in his past eight games (five goals) and 17 points in his past 14 games. I feel like every night he’s [Panarin] scoring,” the Russian winger’s linemate Lafreniere said. “He’s been a really good player for us. I feel this year, he’s dominant every game.”

The second, and what proved to be the game winning goal, came with less than a minute left in the first period. The Caps tried to clear the puck but Daniel Schneider kept it in and found Lafreniere wide open below the dots and behind the defense.

Lafreniere skated in front and tried to stuff it in, but Lindgren made the initial save. The former first overall pick stayed with it and was able to lift the rebound over an outstretched Lindgren for his 11th goal fo the season and a 2-0 lead with :50 seconds left in the first period.

A poor decision with the puck led to the Capitals goal. Erik Gustafsson had the puck, just to the left of Shesterkin, when he tried to lift it out of the zone.

Oshie kept it in near the blue line and fired wide, but the Caps were able to retrieve the puck. Dylan Strome fired the puck on net and it deflected off of Oshie’s skate and into the net making it a one goal game.

Shesterkin had to make two big saves in the opening minute of the third period, while Lindgren was equal to the task with two saves on Panarin while the Rangers were on an early third period power play.

The Caps pulled their goalie and kept the pressure on but Shesterkin made a nifty glove save to deny Evgeny Kuznetsov’s wrister with less than 10 seconds left.

The line of Panarin, Trocheck and Lafreniere continues to be the Rangers best line of late. The Rangers have scored 12 goals in their last five games and the P-T-L line has accounted for 8 of those tallies.

The game marked the return of Kappo Kakko, who had missed 21 games and had not played since November 27th. “It’s been a long time, a lot of recovery, working out. Never fun but good to be back,” Kakko said.

Kakko got 21 shifts and had two shots on goal in 16:04 of ice time and brought some needed physicality to the contest. He also created some scoring chances while skating on what is purportedly the Rangers top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

Laviolette was glad to see Kakko back as the Rangers look to get healthier. “I thought he [Kakko] was a contributor offensively, I mean he had some chances to score and that’s what you want to see, the opportunity and chances. Those will eventually drop for him so he did create out there, I thought he was good,” said Laviolette who was named an All Star coach for the fourth time.

In the last five games, Zibanejad (who missed one of the last five with an illness) has no goals and one assist while Kreider has no goals and two assists.

The longest tenured Ranger’s frustration was evident in the second period.

With less than five minutes left and the Rangers on a 5 on 3 power play, Kreider had the puck in front. His first shot was stopped but Kreider got his own rebound and appeared to have a lot of open net to bury the puck, but Lindgren made a fabulous glove save to keep it a one goal deficit for the Caps. Before the ensuing face off, MSG TV went to a close up shot of Kreider, who gave off an incredulous look as he could not believe that he did not score.

The Rangers used Kakko on that line to begin the season but since then, there’s been a line of players who Laviolette has used to try and get some chemistry, including Blake Wheeler, Jonny Brodzinski and Will Cuylie. Brennan Othmann even got a shift with Zibanejad and Kreider when he was up. I felt good, I woke up this morning, saw the lines. I knew it was going to be more ice time like I got before,” Kakko said.

Despite how bad it looked, the Rangers never lost their confidence during their longest losing streak of the season.

For the most part, we weren’t playing bad hockey,” Ryan Lindgren said. “Seemed like a couple of games, we were dominating and spending a lot of time in the O-zone but we would get too aggressive and boom, it’s a breakaway or whatever, odd man rush and that’s tough for a goalie.”

A lack of secondary scoring that has held the Rangers back in some games that were winnable. If the Rangers expect to make a long playoff run, GM Chris Drury will need to address that need by the trade deadline in March.

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