The Rangers showed the sizable gap between a team that’s contending for a championship and a team that seems to have no plan when they wanted to on Wednesday night against the Canucks. In the end, they got the expected two points, but it wasn’t as easy as it probably should have been.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers.
1. There aren’t many games I expect the Rangers to win, but Wednesday night against the Canucks was one of them. The Canucks are a poorly-run organization with a bad on-ice product that just changed head coaches midseason in the oddest way possible and also traded their captain a month before the the trade deadline. They are a mess. They are a team that has Connor Bedard aspirations and the Rangers are a team that has Lord Stanley aspirations, and the disparity was evident when the Rangers wanted it to be on Wednesday.
2. The Rangers scored 6:53 into the game on a beautiful, no-look pass from Vincent Trocheck to Chris Kreider on a 2-on-1. From just inside the blue line until his pass, Trocheck kept his eyes on Spencer Martin, making everyone believe Trocheck would shoot. He didn’t and the Rangers took a 1-0 lead. One minute and 38 seconds later, the Rangers scored again.
Filip Chytil scored his 19th of the season to extend his goal-scoring streak to five straight with his seventh in the last five games. (He now has 11 goals in the last 13 games as well.) It’s easy to forget Chytil is 23 years old because this is his sixth season in the league, having debuted in 2017-18. Chytil is going to get paid if he keeps up this level of play and production (as he should) as a true second center (again, if this is who he truly is). You would like to think the Rangers will be able to find a way to keep him, but unfortunately, the money owed to Trocheck is likely the money needed for Chytil.
After the Chytil goal, Rick Tocchet’s face had an expression equivalent of someone who gave up a nice TV gig to join a disaster. Eight minutes and 31 seconds into the game, and the game was essentially over. Or rather it should have been.
3. In typical Rangers fashion, they didn’t score the next goal, which would have made the remainder of the game a formality. With two minutes and 24 seconds left in the first, Conor Garland scored after the Rangers let Quinn Hughes weave his way around the top of the offensive zone without any pressure. Of course the Canucks were able to get on the board against the Rangers’ fourth line and third defensive pair.
“We were playing real good hockey and then all of a sudden we change our game a little bit and started turning pucks over in the neutral zone and going cross-ice and stuff like that,” Gerard Gallant said. “You get up and think it’s going to be easy and then all of a sudden it’s a hockey game.”
I’m sure Vitali Kravtsov and Julien Gauthier held back a good laugh upstairs, watching the site of Will Cuylle, Sammy Blais and Jake Leschyshyn contributing nothing positive in yet another game. It’s beyond frustrating that Kravtsov and Gauthier, two players who could potentially be difference makers, continue to not play, so that Gallant can get his traditional fourth line, even if that fourth line provides no offensive value and is a defensive liability.
4. In the opening minutes of the second, the Canucks drove the play, and it felt like yet another game in which the Rangers would blow a two-goal lead after growing comfortable with their early success. Thankfully, Alexis Lafreniere changed that at 6:23 in the second when he was able to finish off a Jacob Trouba shot by pushing the puck through the last inches of the crease and into the net. For Lafreniere, it was his second goal in as many games after this overtime winner on Monday, and for the Kid Line, it was their second goal of the game with all three members of it getting on the scoresheet.
5. “They were good again, scored a couple of big goals, tonight, obviously,” Gallant said after the game about the Kid Line. “I don’t think anybody was great defensively tonight, but the Kid Line created chances for us, for sure.”
A nice little backhanded compliment from the coach on the line he never seems to want to compliment from a group of players he never wants to praise. Luckily for him, the two goals they provided were the difference between the Rangers winning by a goal or losing by one, mostly thanks to his personally-constructed fourth line.
6. The Canucks didn’t go away, cutting the lead to a goal again after J.T. Miller found Vasily Podkolzin for his first goal of the year. It’s been five years since the Rangers traded Miller to the Lightning. As a Ranger, Miller produced 0.50 points per game in his age 19 through 24 seasons. With the Lightning, Miller had 0.69 points per game in his age 24 and 25 seasons. As a Canuck, Miller has averaged 1.04 points per game in 253 games over his age 26 through 29 seasons.
7. As a former first-round pick (15th overall in 2011), Miller is as good of cautionary tale as any that being a highly-touted prospect doesn’t translate to success in the NHL right away. Or it’s a cautionary tale that the Rangers have no idea how to develop their own potential high-end talent. The Rangers could use Miller. Every team could use a player of his caliber. Instead, they added him as a sweetener in the Ryan McDonagh package to the Lightning.
8. The same can be said for Pavel Buchnevich, who scored a career-high 30 goals With the Blues last season (in only 73 games) after being traded by the Rangers. Buchnevich has scored 15 goals in 38 games this season, totaling 45 goals in 111 games as a Blue (a 33-goal pace over 82 games). Buchnevich, like Miller, has become a more-than-a-point-per-game player since leaving the Rangers.
On a night in which the Rangers’ Kid Line (consisting of players that are 21 and 23 years old) scored two of the team’s four goals, Miller provided a reminder of what’s possible with patience with first-round talent, especially first- and second-overall first-round talent.
9. With just under four minutes left in the game, and the Rangers clinging to their 3-2 lead, Mika Zibajenad scored his 25th of the season to give the Rangers a two-goal for the third time. (Jacob Trouba picked up his second primary assist of the game on Zibanejad’s goal. A much-needed start to the “second half” for the captain.) But just like the previous two times in the game the Rangers held a two-goal lead, they let the lead get back to just one goal, and this time it only took 11 seconds for the Canucks to get it back. Elias Pettersson scored with 3:44 left in the game, and a game in which the Canucks were nearly 3-to-1 underdogs would be another hold-on-for-dear-life ending for the Rangers in the final minutes.
10. The Rangers did hold on for their third straight win, and are now six points ahead of Washington (with two games in hand) to stay out of a wild-card berth. I would prefer they got a wild-card berth if it meant playing the Hurricanes in the first round over the Devils, but obviously not if it means playing the Bruins. It’s safer to just stay in the Metropolitan bracket and facing the seem-to-be-superior Devils to avoid the chance of playing the Bruins.
The next 10 days will go a long way in helping determine where the Rangers end up in the postseason bracket. After Friday’s home game against the Kraken, the Rangers go on the road to play the Hurricanes, Canucks, Oilers and Flames before returning to the Garden to host the Jets. Beginning Friday, the Rangers will play six games in 11 days and their remaining 31 games in 63 days, nearly a Rangers game every other night.