Rangers Recall: Kreider goes off, and Wheeler injured

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers didn’t look like they were interested in extending their winning streak on Thursday night at the Garden against the Montreal Canadiens.

For most of the first two periods, they were dragging their skates and letting an inferior team dictate the play. Then a frustrated Chris Kreider, who had already been stopped on a breakaway earlier, angrily snapped home his first of three on the night.

That lit a fire under the Blueshirts and sent them off to the races, eventually winning 7-4.

Related: Blake Wheeler suffers gruesome injury

Rangers Recall: Chris Kreider goes off

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive explosion led by Kreider

The Rangers turned it all around with four goals in 4:10 of the second period beginning with Kreider’s tally. Youngster, Will Cuylle followed that up with a power move to the net to take the lead on a tip just over a minute afterwards. Mika Zibanejad on a delayed penalty blasted a shorthanded goal 2:16 later. Kreider would bookend the outburst on the power play, ending a long drought for the Blueshirts just 36 seconds after his good friend’s score.

“He’s in the right place at the right time,” Zibanejad said of Kreider. “He’s a goal-scorer, that’s what he does.”

For Kreider, it was the sixth hat trick of his career, upping his season goal total to 27.

Let’s talk about that third-line

It was great to see Cuylle bury the 10th goal of his rookie season, but that line centered by Jonny Brodzinski and right wing Kaapo Kakko were cooking all night. They generated the only semblance of life as the Rangers were sleepwalking in the first period.

Having Cuylle score and register an assist was great, but to see Kakko also get on the scoresheet is a huge plus. Midway through the final frame, Kakko picked up the puck from the boards, went to the net, and made a great deke to quell any idea of a Habs comeback.

For the 23-year-old Kakko, that was his sixth goal of the season, and he now has a point in three straight (1 goal, 2 assists). New York will need him to step up with Blake Wheeler down.

Blake Wheeler injured

While it was nice to see the Rangers extend their current winning streak to six games, tying a season-high set in early November, Wheeler’s injury dampened the festivities.

With nine minutes remaining in the opening period, Wheeler was trying to play the puck along the boards when he was hit by Montreal defenseman Jayden Struble. The force of the contact drove him back with his right ankle bending awkwardly underneath his own weight.

“It was tough for Blake,” a very somber Peter Laviolette said. “We’ll evaluate it and address it tomorrow. He’s a veteran player that came here for a reason. You see something like that and it’s tough.”

The veteran was in agony on the ice and needed several players to help him get off. Simply based on what everyone saw transpire, it appears he’s likely to miss significant time. An update on his injury is expected today.

Last night, Jimmy Vesey was elevated to the first line with Zibanejad and Kreider. However, if Wheeler is out longterm, it will only increase the urgency for general manager Chris Drury to acquire a top-six right wing by the Mar. 8 trade deadline.

As they work out a potential deal, prospect Brennan Othmann could get another call up from the Hartford Wolf Pack. The 21-year-old prospect has 13 goals and 20 assists for 33 points in 40 games in the American Hockey League. In recent weeks, he’s been moved to the right wing. He was scoreless in three games for the Rangers earlier in the season.

Wheeler, 37, has registered nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in 53 games.

“You never want to see a teammate and a friend go down like that,” Zibanejad said. “It’s not just the impact he has on the ice, but off the ice as well. You never want to see that happen.”

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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