Rangers Recall: Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad lead team to top of the standings
The New York Rangers came out of the Thanksgiving holiday and stuffed both the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins nets with goals. After a pair of afternoon victories on Friday and Saturday, the Blueshirts are tied with the Bruins in points (31), but sit atop the entire National Hockey League with an .816 points percentage.
Spearheading these victories were two of the Rangers longest tenured players and also unquestionably its closest friends, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. New York scored a total of 10 goals (3 vs Phi and 7 vs Bos) over the course of these contests with the dynamic duo registering half of the tallies.
Let’s breakdown the key takeaways from the Rangers last two games.
Rangers Recall: Sitting atop the NHL Standings
Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad
Everyone was well aware of the struggles Mika Zibanejad had coming into these two matinee matches at even strength. The 30 year-old center had just 2 goals not on special teams through 17 games and matched that total against the Flyers on Friday alone. He also only had 2 assists with the sides at equal and added 2 more with a helper against the Pittsburgh Penguins just before Thanksgiving and another against the Bruins yesterday. Over the course of the last three Rangers games, all wins, Mika now has 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) at even strength.
“All the wins that we’ve had make the personal struggle of scoring a lot easier to handle,” Zibanejad said in Philly. “As long as we win, I don’t really care.”
Meanwhile, after a stretch of scoring only one goal in five games, Kreider has exploded for 4 in his last three contests and also had a goal disallowed due to an offside challenge. On Saturday against the Bruins, the longest tenured Blueshirts registered 2 goals, 1 on the power play and another shorthanded, along with an assist to pace his team.
“I mean, the way he can skate and handle the puck,” Mika said of his longtime linemate. “He’s shown that throughout his career. We’ve gotten a few games where we started to find something, so hopefully we can build on this.”
On the season, the 32 year-old winger has 13 goals and 20 points in 19 games. He’s on a current pace to score 56 goals, which would surpass his personal mark of 52 notched during the 2021-22 campaign.
That being said, with the way the line of Artemi Panarin (29 pts), Vincent Trocheck (16 pts), and Alexis Lafreniere (12 pts) are going, if Kreider and Zibanejad heat up, it could be lights out for the Metro Division. The Rangers are 8 points ahead of the second-place Flyers with two games in hand.
Igor Shesterkin getting on track
The Rangers top goalie played his first game 16 days after getting injured on November 2 in a win against the Carolina Hurricanes. Shesterkin showed some rust versus the New Jersey Devils allowing 2 soft goals in a 5-3 victory, stopping 30 of 33 shots. However, the team and Shesterkin unraveled in the third period against the Dallas Stars during a 6-3 loss last week.
On Friday, any concerns were laid to rest with a sharp performance by the 27 year-old former Vezina Trophy winner. In the Rangers 3-1 win over the Flyers, Shesterkin faced a season-high 37 shots and stopped all but one. He also helped the PK shut down 6 Philly power plays.
“We tried to interrupt what they were doing with their setup,” coach Peter Laviolette remarked. “And when things needed taking care of when plays came to the net, Igor was really on point.”
New York’s fourth-line of Barclay Goodrow, Jimmy Vesey, and Tyler Pitlick played a huge role in topping the Bruins at the Garden on Saturday. The line combined for 2 goals and 2 assists playing against Boston’s top line featuring David Pastrnak.
“Lavi told us before the game that we would go up against their top line a lot,” Vesey said after potting a goal and an assist. “We were up for the challenge.”
Goodrow added an assist and Pitlick notched his first goal as a Ranger in the contest. Additionally, the regular center for that line, Nick Bonino, also tallied his first with the club. Which makes for an interesting lineup decision once Filip Chytil, who resumed skating, eventually returns.
My best guess is that Pitlick will likely be the player that gets scratched. Regardless, it must be comforting for Laviolette to know that he has such a quality 13th forward to rely on in case another injury occurs.