Let’s put aside the last 13 minutes or so of Tuesday’s win over the Detroit Red Wings. Score effects played a part, a Detroit team that’s been good so far this season and failed to show up in the first 40 minutes played a part and the natural letdown that comes with a 5-0 lead after two periods played a part. You can be forgiven for having some flashbacks to Saturday in St. Paul, when the Rangers blew a 3-0 lead after one and lost in a shootout, but this was a very different game on Tuesday at the Garden.
The Rangers are 7-0-1 in their last eight, 1-0-1 without Adam Fox, Filip Chytil and Igor Shesterkin. If the next eight games without Fox — who knows how many of those the Rangers will play without Chytil, who hasn’t skated since suffering a concussion six days ago; Shesterkin might return as early as Thursday — look like these first two without him, there will be some hairy moments but the goal is to bank points by any means necessary.
How they did it on Tuesday was impressive. Peter Laviolette made a couple of forward-line tweaks that helped spur a strong start, special teams were superb yet again and the forecheck pounced on a couple of Wings lapses to blow this one out of reach.
Here’s a few takeaways:
Kaapo Kakko dropped down to a new third line with Will Cuylle (more on him in a bit) and Nick Bonino and that line was the only one according to Natural Stat Trick that was under 50 percent in shot share and expected goals Tuesday. Kakko didn’t have much of an impact there, though he didn’t seem to be adrift or anything like that. That line got plenty of ice time, with each forward getting at least 11:41 at even strength, second-most of the four lines. Even with the Wings’ comeback in the third, it was a night to spread out ice time for Laviolette.
That was true most of all for the Chris Kreider–Mika Zibanejad–Blake Wheeler line. With all the special teams time (mostly killing penalties), Kreider and Zibanejad were off their usual totals but still at 14:49 and 15:56. Wheeler, who took two offensive-zone penalties, played 9:53, less than every Ranger except Tyler Pitlick. The Rangers are giving Wheeler plenty of runway to pick up his game, especially with Chytil out, so we’ll see if Laviolette wants to stick with Wheeler on that top-six line.
The new fourth line of Jimmy Vesey, Barclay Goodrow and Pitlick had some good moments and looked a bit faster than in previous fourth-line versions this season. Goodrow had a lot of jump after missing Saturday due to the birth of his first child and that line had an effective fourth-line kind of night — a lot of play in the offensive zone, not a ton of danger but good, short shifts.
And then we get to the stars of the night at 5v5 — Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafrenière, who all contributed to this one. Trocheck got the ball rolling with a bad-angle goal early and Panarin scored in the second off some dogged work by Lafrenière, who has been transformed these first dozen games from where he was in training camp.
“He’s doing most of the forechecks for us,” Panarin said of Laf. “Nice to see — young guy working for the old guys.”
Panarin’s run of 20 points in the first 12 games is something to behold. He’s veering into Hart Trophy votes territory, especially if he can prop up the offense with Fox out.
Cuylle’s confidence and impact haven’t waned a bit to start this season and he capped off a noticeable night with a deflection goal that made it 5-0, his third on the year. You would never have believed, after the wave of youth that’s become part of the Rangers core the last 4-5 years, that they would have yet another impact rookie join the club, but Cuylle has found his niche as a high-motor, in-your-face player who has a deft touch around the net. He buried Shayne Gostisbehere with a big hit by the bench in the first and knocked over Moritz Seider, a big kid, in the second.
Cuylle’s deflection came off a Zac Jones shot and Jones, who struggled mightily in his first two appearances this season, looked a different player on Tuesday. Smart decisions with the puck, confident moves in the offensive zone and no mixups with partner Braden Schneider. “I thought that pair was excellent,” Laviolette said afterward. “I thought they had a major impact on the game.”
If your team’s combined percentages on the power play and penalty kill are over 100, you’re usually in good shape. Over 105 and you’re in great shape. The Rangers’ totals after Tuesday: a shade over 120 (34.2 percent PP, 86.1 percent PK). It’s early, but this team is humming on both special teams.
The power play demoralized the Wings on Tuesday, scoring 12 and 28 seconds into back-to-back advantages after Detroit couldn’t get anything going with three power plays in the first 22 minutes of the game. Erik Gustafsson made a very Fox-like play with a wrist shot to find Chris Kreider’s deflection in front, just the way you’d want Gustafsson to fill Fox’s skates on PP1.
The PK stars were Jacob Trouba, who logged 7:08 on a kill that went 6-for-6, and Ryan Lindgren, who had 6:48. Those two have become the go-to top PK defense pair early on.
His first win as a Ranger at the Garden in his first start, three wins in his first four starts, a .935 save percentage — it’s all coming up Quickie for the old guy in net. In training camp, the thought of Shesterkin having so much as a bad head cold during the season was horrible to think about; now the Rangers can afford to give Shesterkin as much time as he needs to get back from his “minor soreness” designation.
OK, maybe not as much time as he needs, but a week off without the team missing out that much is huge.
Another brief mention of a guy who may end up being the best signing Chris Drury made during his over-30 shopping spree on July 1: Gustafsson now has eight points in 12 games, among the top 25 scorers for defensemen this season, and his expected plus/minus for high- and mid-danger chances was a team-best plus-3.29 (courtesy Clear Sight Hockey) entering Tuesday’s game.
A huge, huge boost for a team that needs exactly what Gustafsson is bringing now with Fox out.
(Top photo: Jared Silber / NHLI via Getty Images)