Well, you can’t win them all. Despite the score being 4-1, this was yet another encouraging game for the Rangers as they continue to build as a team who’s reputation is possession, domination, and volume. Connor Hellebuyck goalie’d them. There’s no other way to describe what occurred last night. After a mediocre first period, the Rangers came out flying in the second, peppering Hellebuyck with 21 shots on 28 attempts. He stopped all of them. Even in defeat, if that’s how the Rangers are going to be playing this year with the way the team is constructed, then we are in for an incredible run as we progress into this season.
Libor Hajek got the nod on the 3rd pair. Gerard Gallant was quoted by Sam and Joe on the broadcast as saying, “He doesn’t want to sit him (Hajek) as often as he did last season”. Not going to lie– and yes, Colorado won a cup icing Jack Johnson on their third pair–but that concerns me that we have this large sample of suboptimal play since the David Quinn era, and this organization keeps trying to make Hajek happen. So far, it’s missed opportunity to really get a better optionat 7D when teams were trying to stash guys on waivers.
Kyle Connor had a play against Hajek in particular where he might as well have been going one-on-one with a traffic cone. He blew right past Hajek at the blue line and had a grade-A chance on Jaro Halak. Trust the process?
Speaking of Halak, the saves he was making on the Jets would have been goals last year, sans the one or two times Alex Georgiev balled out on the ice. Halak understands what it means to be a backup with the mentality and preparation that he’s probably only going to play 25-30 games. That was just not a strength whatsoever with Georgiev when he was here.
The Lone Ranger goal scorer tonight? None other than Dryden Hunt from a real sharp angle. Figures with all of the talent on the roster and guys shooting on Hellebuyck all night, that the bottom six player on a shift with Artemiy Panarin and Vincent Trocheck would find the back of the net. There were numerous chances for instance from Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko, Mika Zibanejad, and Panarin.
One final thought on the play early on from both Kakko and Lafrenière. Both, from an eye test perspective, are showing why they were top picks in this league. Kaapo had a particular play where he looked like Rick Nash breaking into the blue line, catching the puck from a cross ice pass, and dangling around a defender. The confidence is making him look more and more like the Kakko we thought we were getting from the very beginning from the World Championships.
The same can be said for Lafrenière. You saw a multitude of highlights from his time in Rimouski where he was just going 1 v 5 on teams and schooling every player. He had a shift last night where he did that. They didn’t results in goals, but that confidence need not be overlooked whatsoever. In order for this team to be champions, they will need major contribution from the two of them.
The Rangers lost, but this is a “good loss.” It was the third game in four nights, with the travel from Minnesota to Winnipeg, and a second half of a back-to-back. Put that all together, and you have a scheduled loss ladies and gentlemen.