Rangers Thoughts: Did Alexis Lafrenière Save Rangers’ Season?

The No. 1 overall pick scored his first NHL goal to end the Rangers' losing streak

The Rangers ended their four-game losing streak, the best prospect in the franchise’s history finally scored a goal and David Quinn began to undo some of his idiotic lineup decisions. It was a great night for the Rangers in Buffalo on Thursday to end their four-game road trip.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers.

1. Alexis Lafrenière went pointless in the first six games of his career. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick had opportunities to score his first NHL goal, but couldn’t catch a break. He couldn’t even luck his way onto the scoresheet through a secondary assist. The only time Lafrenière’s name had been written on the scoresheet was in the season opener when he served a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Not exactly the way the most highly-touted first pick since Connor McDavid had likely envisioned his professional career starting.

Maybe it was having not played in an actual game in nearly a year, but six games is most likely the longest Lafrenière has ever gone in any level without a point in his life.

2. On Thursday, in the seventh game of his carer, it looked like that streak would reach seven. Lafrenière was held scoreless in regulation and was coming to the end of a very long overtime shift. With just over two minutes left in overtime, it wasn’t certain he would get another one. But then Colin Blackwell forced a turnover from Jack Eichel in the neutral zone, picked up the puck and skated in 2-on-1 with Lafrenière. Blackwell gave him a perfect pass that Linas Ullmark was unable to slide across in time to defend and Lafrenière put it in the back of the net. Goal No. 1 with a great call from Sam Rosen.

“He scores! His first NHL goal! Alexis Lafrenière wins it in overtime! What a goal! What a moment for the No. 1 Rangers draft pick!”

3. That goal might have saved the Rangers’ season. If the Rangers were to lose again, they would be 1-4-2 and looking at two games in the next four days against the Penguins. The season was already spiraling in the wrong direction after four straight losses and it could have spiraled out of control with a bad weekend against the Penguins who are coming off back-to-back losses to the Bruins.

4. I expect Lafrenière to now go off, the way I thought he would go off right from the start of the season. Now that he no longer has a goose egg and no longer has the pressure of being a pointless No. 1 pick, I think he will go off. Especially if he’s playing with either Artemi Panarin or Mika Zibanejad. Maybe he will finally get a chance on PP1. After Panarin and Zibanejad, he belongs on the unit more than anyone on the team.

5. The Rangers don’t have a problem getting a lead in a game, but they have a huge problem when it comes to holding leads. Here are the leads the Rangers have blown this season.

Game 4: 3-1
Game 5: 1-0
Game 5: 2-1
Game 6: 1-0
Game 6: 2-1
Game 7: 1-0
Game 7: 2-1

6. Aside from the second game of the season in which the Rangers took a 1-0 lead over the Islanders and went on to win 5-0, they have blown every lead this season. It’s astonishing. It wouldn’t be a problem if the Rangers were good at erasing deficits and forcing other teams to blow leads, but they have been unable to do that. They couldn’t overcome trailing in the season opener. They couldn’t come all the way back against the Devils. Once they blew leads to the Penguins and Sabres, they went on to lose.

7. Zibanejad is going to start scoring soon, right? The league’s best goal scorer after the New Year last season has one goal (and only one assist) this season. He has less points than Filip Chytil, who has missed two games, Colin Blackwell, who has only played in three games, and Phil Di Giuseppe, who plays a fraction of the time Zibanejad plays. It’s pretty remarkable the Rangers have won in expected goals in the majority of their games given the lack of production from their top two lines. Only Panarin (3-5-8) and Pavel Buchnevich (2-4-6) have numbers representative of Top 6 forwards this season. Zibanejad (1-1-2), Chris Kreider (2-0-2) and Ryan Strome (2-0-2) have all underachieved.

8. David Quinn finally started to take advantage of easy wins and the Rangers won a game. It’s not that they necessarily won on Thursday because of the his moves, but they won, which is more than you can say for the last four games and five of the first six games this season. The decision to remove Strome from PP1 was overdue. Pushing Kreider to the third line was as well. Now it’s time to give Lafrenière PP1 time rather than Tony DeAngelo and not shuffle the lines multiple times per period per game. Quinn is getting closer to making logical lineup and personnel choices, he’s just not all the way there yet.

9. It might be “early” to worry about the lack of offense from those players, except it’s really not in a 56-game season. The Rangers play four games in the next eight days (Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Washington, New Jersey) and at the end of play next Saturday, the season will be 20 percent over. One-fifth of the season will have been played at the end of next week. That seems crazy, but it’s true.

10. The Rangers had to win on Thursday in Buffalo. They had to. They couldn’t fall to 1-5-1 or 1-4-2 with 12.5 percent of the season having been played. They had to salvage the last game of their four-game road trip. They had to end their four-game losing streak, and they did just that. Now they need a winning streak. They need to do what to the Penguins in New York what the Penguins did to them in Pittsburgh last weekend. They need to start stacking wins the same way they just stacked losses. Winning cures everything and for now, Thursday’s win is the cure until the puck drops on Saturday night.

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