Rangers Recall: All’s well that ends well in Chicago

NHL: New York Rangers at Chicago Blackhawks
Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers were not up to par against a Chicago Blackhawks team that sits dead last in the NHL.

On Friday, the Blueshirts were often outworked and caught far too many times trying to make fancy plays almost costing them the game. After blowing a 3-1 lead in the third period, Mika Zibanejad salvaged the night with an OT winner.

Head coach Peter Laviolette was pleased with the win, but wasn’t happy with the way his charges played.

“We’re in the business of winning, so we’ll take the points and go home,” coach Laviolette said. “It’s not where we needed to be. I imagine nobody was really happy with the way we played the game. I’m pretty honest, if I think we played alright and lost, I’ll let you know that.”

Let’s dive into the good and bad of the Rangers fourth straight win.

Related: Rangers Trade Board

Rangers Recall: Surviving Chicago

NHL: New York Rangers at Chicago Blackhawks
Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The Bad: Power Play, and Erik Gustafsson

Overall, it wasn’t the Rangers best performance, but it’s always better to win even if you played poorly. Throughout a long season, contenders have to deal with the ‘trap game’, an obvious two points against an inferior opponent and that’s exactly what the Hawks represented.

While the Rangers eventually proved victorious, winning their fourth straight game for the first time since November, they left a lot to be desired. It starts with their power play, that hasn’t scored in six games. This 0-14 stretch drops the Blueshirts from first in the NHL to fifth (26.1%).

“It’s a lot of overthinking,” Zibanejad lamented. “We’re overcompensating right now. We have to simplify. That’s what we keep harping on.”

As for what will fix the power play, the easy answer is to get shots on goal with traffic. The Rangers far too often are overpassing looking for Mika to blast a one-timer from the circle, and teams are defending against it.

Aside from promoting Alexis Lafreniere to the first power play unit, there’s really not much personnel wise they can do. But who do you take off? Vincent Trocheck is the name that most commonly comes up, but I would suggest removing Zibanejad. It would be a bold move to give the Rangers units a more balanced and different look.

Defensively, the Rangers weren’t awful in Chicago. However, when it came to clearing the crease, they did a poor job. Erik Gustafsson was on ice for the first two goals the Hawks scored, and failed to deal with his man in front.

The fact that Gustafsson can move the puck and provide offense as a third-pairing defender is nice to have. That being said, when the playoffs start, the Rangers would be better served by a defenseman that can give Igor Shesterkin clear sight. Is that something they can trade for? If not, Connor Mackey, who was solid in his debut against the Senators before the break, may be the answer to their problem.

The Good: Alexis Lafreniere, Adam Fox, and Igor Shesterkin

A win is a win.

It’s great that the Rangers can analyze where they can improve while securing two critical points in the standings. New York can do that on Saturday morning thanks to these three players.

Alexis Lafreniere, who continues to get high-danger scoring chances every game, finally was able to convert. In the first period, he tied the game with a pretty one-timer for his 14th goal on the year. This season, the 22-year-old has 31 points in 52 games and is well on his way to surpassing last year’s career-high of 39 points.

On the backend, Adam Fox is starting to look more and more like his old self. He took advantage of a Blackhawks’ player skate blade falling off by moving to the net, faking the lone defender out of the play, and passed it to Kreider at the doorstep for the easiest goal of his career.

It was a milestone helper, as he became just the second defenseman in Rangers’ history to record 30 assists in their five seasons with the team. Fox now has 11 points in his last 10 games (1 goal, 10 assists). For the season, he’s notched 39 points in 42 matches.

Meanwhile, Igor Shesterkin looked solid after a three-game hiatus. His last start game on Jan. 26th, a 5-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. By stopping 28 of 31 Blackhawks shots, he registered his 20th win of the season, which ranks 6th among all NHL goalies.

Overall, Shesterkin didn’t need to be spectacular, but it was good to see his battle-level turned up to 11. Throughout the game, the Hawks kept crashing the crease, and Shesterkin was having none of it. He often found himself pushing players away and was even called roughing for throwing punches at Nick Foligno.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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