Just a few days ago, the New York Rangers enjoyed a humble winning streak. The organization then learned their elite forward, Artemi Panarin, was the focus of “unfounded allegations” stemming from Russia. Following the statement posted Monday, the Russian forward stepped away without a definite timetable.
The revelation was an abrupt dose of reality for the team, coming off crucial wins against the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals but still missing a handful of regular players. The news also broke before an impending match with the Flyers a few days later. Panarin’s absence is obviously a massive loss for the Rangers, but one veteran stepped up against the Flyers — Chris Kreider.
Main Takewaways from Philadelphia
Lifelong Ranger Kreider recorded his third career hat trick in Philadelphia last night, but the team ultimately fell short, painstakingly, by one goal. The first of his three goals came in the first period to even up the game. Kreider, who scored an almost identical goal just a few days prior against the Capitals, single-handedly refused to let his teammate’s unavailability thwart the Rangers’ chances.
Before the two teams entered the second period, the Flyers were already able to regain the lead. They then added another goal to make it 3-1 before Kreider found the back of the net again on the power play. Yet former Ranger Kevin Hayes stepped in to make it a two-goal game by the end of the middle frame.
Kreider was the lone goal scorer in the last period, yet it was evident the Rangers were able to hang in with the Flyers, despite missing several key names in the lineup besides Panarin. The Rangers served eight penalties over the course of the game, which begged for trouble. It also exposed many of the organization’s lingering weaknesses.
“The effort was there no question. It ends up being a special teams battle. I like our process and our game lately five-on-five and that’s a team who’s very good on the power play,” Kreider reflected after the loss.
Beyond Kreider’s valiant effort, forwards Mika Zibanejad (two), Ryan Strome, and Colin Blackwell were credited with assists. Young defensemen Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren also were credited with helpers from last night’s match, proving the kids are still stepping up to contribute. The whole team’s contribution becomes more important and will need to maintain the increased production during Panarin’s hiatus.
The Rangers should feel relieved they exited the game relatively unscathed as the Flyers only capitalized twice on their power play opportunities. Moving forward, the Blueshirts simply cannot hand that many chances, including overlapping penalties.
The Rangers’ penalty kill is one of the best units in the league, but the club needs to increase their power play production. Though two of Kreider’s goals were on the power play last night, the Blueshirts will need to make regular use of their opportunities – this one goal differential proves the importance of that.
Despite the loss, the Rangers repeatedly show they can test these solid teams, even as they are missing players from the lineup. Eventually, they could be a pain to play against for their divisional foes, and in a division as perennially hard as the one the Rangers are in, that is the identity to aim for.
While their days of competing for the Stanley Cup are still ahead of them, they are finding ways to hang tough — it will just need to be more of an evenly spread team effort offensively. Somehow, the makeshift defensive pairs were able to keep the offensive Flyers in somewhat control. Interestingly, the Flyers only gave up one hat trick during the entirety of last season.
Additional Updates in New York
Veteran Zibanejad, who is finding his footing again after his bout of the COVID-19 virus prior to the season start, looked more like his former condition against the Flyers. He was fiercely opportunistic on a breakaway chance but stopped by Philadelphia’s netminder, Brian Elliott.
Filip Chytil, who was injured at the beginning of the season, which halted his hot streak, skated with the rest of the team this afternoon. His bad timing, long-term injury might be in the rearview now as he appears to be working slowly into his spot. Chytil could be a big piece of the Rangers one day, and his performance the rest of this season is highly anticipated.
Forward Kaapo Kakko remains on the COVID-19 Protocol list, who was just heating up himself as well. The young Finnish skater had a huge role in the win against the Flyers before he found himself following protocol away from the team. There is not a current update with Kakko’s status at this time.
Young and dangerously talented defenseman K’Andre Miller is also currently on the list. To add to their defensive woes, veteran Jacob Trouba is out with a broken thumb sustained earlier this month. It is clear the Rangers are running thin on the blue line but exemplified their ability to stay afloat.
Goaltender Igor Shesterkin played well on the road as he was certainly tested by the orange and black. Inconsistently protected by his defense, he faced 39 total shots but recorded a career-high 35 stops. The Rangers face another tough tilt against the Boston Bruins tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts will once again be tested but should at least ease them into the challenge March’s schedule brings.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.