It looks like the message after the disappointing loss to Montreal Canadiens got through to the NY Rangers, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 last night and dominating most of the game play. Sometimes the response is more important and the Rangers took care of their business with timely goals from Mika Zibanejad, Barclay Goodrow, and Vitali Kravtsov. Another unsung hero in this game was Jaro Halak, who wasn’t super busy–saving 24 of 25 shots–but when Columbus had a small push in the third, he was up to the task.
While many focus on the negatives, specifically Alexis Lafreniere’s struggles in a prominent role, the focus should be on Kaapo Kakko. The counting stats might not be there yet, but his impact playing on top line is incredible. His is winning puck battles, using his body to shield the puck and cause turnovers, a delightful addition to his game. He showed this ability in spurts in years prior, but he has become confident in his game this season.
His multi-assist night propelled the Rangers last night, starting with his primary assist on the opening goal by Zibanejad. He showed poise and patience later as he set up K’Andre Miller’s shot that got tipped in by Goodrow in front. Side note: This was Goodrow’s first powerplay goal of his career. Another whipping boy, Goodrow is quietly on pace for 40 points this season. I’m no Goodrow apologist, but that’s some pretty good value at $3.6 million if you are just talking raw counting stats.
Unfortunately, digital ink does need to be spent on the aforementioned Lafrenière and perhaps the worst contract year season as one could have. Despite his elevated role, Lafreniere just seems lost. His confidence has never been lower, and as the games start to pile up with little to no impact, you dread the “B” word in every way possible if you are a Rangers fan, or even a Rangers executive. There is time, as he’s just 21 years old and development isn’t linear (see: Kakko, Kaapo). The question is, how long can the Rangers remain patient with a first overall pick who has no confidence, and at times looks like he’s checked out of the game with his effort?
As this season progresses, it’s going to get really interesting around the trade deadline. But for now, up next, the Boston Bruins will be gracing the Ranger faithful with their presence on Thursday. To date, probably the biggest game of the year?