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CK20 w/ natural hatty, Zib benched but focus/concern rightfully on Igor

March 5, 2021, 1:52 AM ET [749 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Rangers were rolling with a near-perfect night before the injury ninja struck again. Down 1-0, Captain (my term, not actual) Chris Kreider led the way with a natural hat trick, helping pave the way for six straight goals. Alexis Lafreniere added a goal and an assist to extend his point-streak to four while Pavel Buchnevich also added a marker. On the flip side, Mika Zibanejad was bench for 10:46 of the second period due to his poor play, before he was utilized relatively normally the rest of the game. But all the focus, rightfully so, is the apparent right-leg injury suffered by Igor Shesterkin while trying to make a save with 5:52 remaining in the third period. All we know as of now is that it's a lower-body injury.

First, the good news portion of our program. Kreider single-handedly turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead. The three markers gave CK20 nine goals in the last six games and to a team-high 13 for the season. No surprise that the hot streak has coincided with the Blueshirts notching wins to even their record at 9-9-3. Give some credit to Ryan Strome, centering Kreider with Artemi Panarin sidelined, and as Vince Mercogliano pointed out, that dup was joined by Filip Chytil during Thursday's win.

Wearing the A, no one has been harder on himself on Kreider. I remarked earlier in the year that I was tired of the same criticism rhetoric in post-game press conferences, I wanted to see action and change. Well guess what, Kreider has answered the bell, turning his words - the need to defend better and play a north-south game - into actions and leading the team. To me, he is the true captain. He doesn't always produce, but he is willing to face the media and answer all the questions. Plus, he leads on- and off-the-ice, seen in his remarks about Mika after the win.

Where are all the Laf critics? The same with all the Quinn haters? Amazing what happens when a little patience is shown. In addition, Laf's effort - and some absences - earned him a spot on the top line with Zib and Buch. Lo and behold, that trio is rolling, led by Laf and Buch, who is on fire once again. The talent is there, the effort was as well. It's a learning process and growth is not always linear. Ebbs and flows will occur, even if he remains hot, so don't jump ship if he struggles a bit. But Laf is showing why he was the top pick, seen by the snipe for the tally:

Now for the flip side. Zib riding the pine. Why was Zib benched, see Quinn's comments:

"I just didn’t love his game," Quinn said. "I didn’t love what we were seeing. I didn’t love a lot about our first period, but obviously, he’s had a tough start to the season. I just thought maybe him sitting in for a while was going to kind of give him a little jolt and give our team a little bit of a jolt."

"To me, I think he’s letting the stats and all the pressure slow him down a little bit," Quinn said. "I think it’s getting to him. This is a guy that’s been a fearless player. He’s been a courageous player, and he still is a guy that gets in the battle. But something is just missing. We've certainly continued to try to let him play through it. He certainly earned that opportunity, but right now we've got to continue to play the guys that are playing well."

Zib played 3:59 in the first period and was stapled to the bench to start the second, in which he played just 3:08. After rejoining the lineup, Zibanejad assisted on Lafrenière's goal at the end of the game, but has only two goals through 21 games. As Mercogliano added, he appeared a step slow and indecisive at times while playing a season-low 13:04 against New Jersey (7-10-2). Maybe he is overthinking or maybe it's covid after-effects or maybe it's a combination of the two and other factors. Whatever it is, it is showing no signs of abating.

We now have to see how Zib responds. He certainly was better in the third. Causation or correlation. Zib is a proud athlete, like all professional. He has to know he has been lousy and searching to find his game. Kreider had his back, his teammates, I am sure did the same. For his own psyche and good of the team, if Zib can find even part of what he had last year, the sky could be limit.

But if you want to see how a captain reacts, Kreider's comments are certainly strong evidence. He has Zib's back and defends him. Quinn's benching sent a message to Zib and the team, maybe resulting in the turnaround. Kredier's remarks coalesces a locker room and team.

"I think Mika has been playing really well," he said. "I mean, the guy scored 40 in how many games last year? It’s no secret. He gets isolated and he's opening up a ton of space for those guys. He's working his butt off, doing an unbelievable job on the penalty kill and helping us win hockey games. So, no offense to you guys, but I'm sick of hearing that narrative. I think he's been doing a terrific job. That whole line has and they're working really hard and they're starting to develop a little bit of chemistry."

Now for possibly the really, really bad news. Shesterkin, so good in the first while the Rangers barely treaded water, appeared to pull or tore something in his right leg, perhaps a hamstring or groin or hip labrum. It's also possible the injury was to his knee or the adductor, but that is uncertain. Shesterkin was unable to put any weight on his leg, needing help to get off the ice. The injury occurred about a minute after Michael McLeod collided with Igor in the crease, which may have been the trigger event, creating a mild injury that came to fore in a really bad way later. Alexandar Georgiev relieved Igor and would be in line to start the majority of the games while Shesh is out, including Saturday against the Devils, backed up by Kevin Kinkaid.

More will be known later today. Rangers' fans are crossing their fingers and toes, hoping for good news. But also refreshing and looking at their twitter feed with their fingers covering their eyes knowing that Shesh could be out a long while. If that is the case, Georgiev has shown that he can carry the water for a short period of time, but it's a pretty significant decline in talent between the pipes for New York. Why getting the walking wounded back will be critical as the offense, ho-hum so far, will need to carry the team.

If looking for additional silver linings, Kaapo Kakko practiced with the team Thursday. He is still going through COVID protocols, but getting close to returning, possibly Saturday. Artemi Panarin is skating, but your guess is a s good as mine when he will be back.  Jacob Trouba, out since February 16 with a broken thumb and expected to miss 4-6 weeks, could play this weekend, or very likely on one of the remaining five games of the Rangers' road trip.

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