Rangers Recall: Defense first helps end 4-game skid
The New York Rangers finally stopped the bleeding with a solid defensive effort and some clutch saves from Igor Shesterkin on Sunday.
After beating the Washington Capitals 2-1 at Madison Square Garden, they ended a four-game slide (0-3-1) and opened a three-point lead on the Carolina Hurricanes, who are charging up the Metro standings.
“It was gutsy in the end, even if we couldn’t get that third or fourth goal,” coach Peter Laviolette explained. “I thought we defended hard and walked away with a win.”
Let’s take a look back at some key takeaways from the Rangers second win of 2024.
Rangers Recall: Defense First
Defense does the job
While it was great to see Shesterkin make several key saves in clutch moments, the Blueshirts only allowed 24 for the game and just seven in the final frame. What was even better, was a return to shot-blocking and not committing egregious turnovers.
“I think it was important for Igor to give us a good game and he did,” Laviolette noted. “I also thought we did a better job in front of him, unlike his prior game, where we could’ve tightened things up.”
The Rangers did play it closer to the vest, especially in the neutral zone. In previous games, they would continually try stretch or cross-ice passes that were intercepted, and leading to numerous odd-man rushes against.
That was something we preached before the game,” defenseman Ryan Lindgren noted. “We need five guys helping out. There’s obviously some chances they are going to get, but Shesty was there tonight. You could tell before the game, we were dialed in and excited to get two points.”
Although the Rangers have struggled, one silver-lining lately has been the play of 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere.
The Rangers second-line right wing has made the transition to the left side nicely by fitting in with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck well. One key observation to point out is Lafreniere’s generating chances by driving to the net.
The 22 year-old scored the game-winning goal by taking the puck to the blue paint and sticking with it until he beat a prone Charlie Lindgren. Thus far, Alexis has 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points in 42 games. Over the last 13 games, he’s potted 10 points (three goals, seven assists).
“When you get a chance to shoot, shoot it,” Lafreniere talked about his game. “Keep it simple and play hard.”
Probably another key to the Rangers win was the return of Kaapo Kakko from LTIR after missing 21 games with a lower-body injury. On Sunday, he did not register a point, but registered two shots on goal in 16:04 of ice time.
“I felt good,” Kakko said. “It’s been a long time. Working out and watching the games. It’s never easy (to be hurt), I want to play.”
A lot of what Kakko does won’t show up on the scoresheet, but he give Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider a reliable winger yesterday. For a team that was suffering from turnovers, Kakko was a settling presence and even generated some chances that the Caps goalie was able to come up big on.
Furthermore, Kakko also stabilizes the lines, and sends Blake Wheeler to the bottom-six where he’s a better fit.