It's a new Rangers season, and their play now matters more than it did previously.

Talk about a mood booster of a game. The Rangers did virtually everything right and came away with a big two points against arguably the deepest team in the entire Eastern Conference. Right off the opening face-off and a Mika Zibanejad goal 35 seconds into the game, it was clear this was going to be a game of the season for the Rangers. Now obviously this game didn’t come with its faults, and we will get to them, but it’s clear this team has the ability to be lethal when their top six is moving like it did tonight.

Chris Kreider led the way tonight with 2 goals and an assist on a beautiful goal by Lafrenière that squeaked by Spencer Knight. Rangers Twitter likes to joke about the six alternate captains, but is there a better leader for this team this season than Chris Kreider. Not only is he producing at a level many thought his potential was going to be 13 years ago, but it’s obvious he acts like a team dad with so many of the younger players. You can tell that both Kreider and Zibanejad are so happy for Lafrenière as he has looked super comfortable on the top line with them. Gerard, don’t you dare take this kid off the line when Kakko comes back!

The win would not have also been possible by the play of Igor Shesterkin, but that’s almost a given at this point, with 34 saves on 36 shots, I will say it until I am blue in the face that he is the only candidate for the Vezina that makes sense. Other than Lundqvist, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a goaltender who just willed his team to victory night in and night out. The general managers look at the wrong stats when evaluating the goaltenders for the Vezina, but I think it’s clear Shesterkin has the accolades for it as soon as this year. Broken record, but we really went from Lundqvist right into Shesterkin. Goalie factory.

Now, my one and only complaint of the night: Libor bleeping Hajek. Take what was said above about Shesterkin above and do the exact opposite when describing Hajek. I have never seen a defenseman who looked more out of place, lacked any semblance of confidence, and get out of position so easily.

Hajek was on the ice for every single goal against and rightfully got all but benched in the third. There’s a lot to be said about the Rangers third pair this season as the front office tries to build a contending team, but that is a position that is in desperate need of an upgrade and fast. You are not going to win many hockey games easily if one defenseman is this bad regularly. How this guy hasn’t gone on waivers yet is honestly beyond me.

Rangers 1, Panthers 0

The Rangers actually stood up at the blue line, forcing the turnover and creating their own luck. Mika Zibanejad’s pass to Ryan Reaves went off Gustav Forsling’s stick.

Panthers 1, Rangers 1

I have no idea what Libor Hajek is doing here. He is actively pumping his legs to the puck carrier, who is already covered, mind you, leaving Anthony Duclair wide open with miles of space to walk in and shoot. It’s like he saw what Damon Severson did the other night and said Hold My Beer.

Panthers 2, Rangers 1

Yet again, Hajek stepped into the puck carrier (Barkov) despite him being covered. This left Sam Reinhart free to get in behind him and bury the rebound off the post.

Rangers 2, Panthers 2

Alexis Lafreniere and Chris Kreider forced the Panthers into a turnover with their forecheck, and then Laf’s shot just barely got through Knight. Sometimes you create your own luck, and this was the second time this game the Rangers did just that.

Rangers 3, Panthers 2

Igor Shesterkin didn’t get an assist on this, but he should have. He recognized the change, blockered the puck up the ice, and sprung Panarin and Strome to start the rush, with Strome making one of the best sauces I’ve seen, and Kreider finishing. Unreal.

Rangers 4, Panthers 2

Just appreciate the Zibanejad pass, and the dumbfounded look by Kreider that he was able to get that pass through.

Rangers 5, Panthers 2

Artemiy Panarin empty netter.

Game Flow

The Rangers didn’t really have a good first period, but had fantastic second and third periods. This is probably better than the other games where it was reversed and the Rangers blew a bunch of leads. All in all, the Rangers skated with the current best team in the NHL. That’s a big win and a statement from the Rangers that they can, in fact, skate with these teams. Now they need to do it more often.

Shot Heatmap

What a difference playing the Panthers makes, apparently. The Rangers played their best game of the season, easily.

The Rangers, as we head into the All Star break, are 30-13-4. They have flipped the script this season on the narrative that they couldn’t win the one goal games, as they are 14-3-4 in those contests this season. They were 5-9-6 under David Quinn in 2021. Better systems, growth in the play of Shesterkin, and having a reigning Norris trophy winner will help with that.

You also could not ask for better power play personnel; how many years has the Rangers power play been just potential and ultimately abysmal? Not the case at all this year. The same goes for the penalty kill and the additions made over the offseason in Goodrow and making Zibanejad/Kreider a tandem on the PK was really genius. This team is fun and will continue to be fun. Enjoy the two weeks off people!

Charts from NaturalStatTrick and Hockeyviz.


Mentioned in this article:

More About: