Disappointing 3-2 loss to Anaheim ends four-game road trip
The Rangers complete their four-game road trip with a disappointing 3-2 loss to the Ducks. New York dominated play, but John Gibson made 41 saves - several of them spectacular ones, including stoning Mike Zibnekad and Chris Kreider in front of the net - and benefited from the Blueshirts hitting six posts. On the flip side, Jaroslav Halak allowed a pair of goals that should have been stopped, especially the shot by Dimitri Kulikov, and remains winless on the season. The Rangers come home to face the Oilers on Saturday and Devils on Monday.
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A few thoughts:
1) Halak - another subpar performance. Signed to hopefully be a solid backup to Igor Shesterkin and one used to playing the second goalie role, Halak sits with zero wins, a 3.20 goals-against average and .881 save percentage. Signed a one-year, $1.55 million contract with the Rangers in July, Halak has a no-movement clause, meaning that he would have to acquiesce to a trade or potential demotion to the AHL. Calling up Louis Domingue, who has a .909 save percentage at Hartford, would eat into the cap savings and room just created by the Ryan Reaves deal.
Halak had little chance on the first goal, which arose due to Zibanejad losing contact with Mason Mctavish down low, allowing McTavish room to grab the rebound and score. Kulikov's goal was just brutal and deflating, a shot that had to be stopped. Anaheim's third goal, scored by Troy Terry, was a beautiful shot, wide side, top-shelf and aided by a slight K'Andre Miller screen, but Halak was off on his angle and had no chance to make the save. The difference between an elite goalie and average one is that the elite ones like Igor make the key save when needed. That is what is killing Halak and the Rangers in those games as he is failing and fails to make those saves.
As Arthur Staple noted, the schedule does allow for coach Gerard Gallant and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire to roll with Shesterkin. New York has two back-to-backs in the next 15 games until the Christmas break. That "lighter" load would allow the Blueshirts to use Halak infrequently, though the goal is to keep Igor fresh for the late-season post-season run and playoffs, meaning that Halak will need to be used judiciously.
2) Artemi Panarin - another game with zero production. If New York is to go anywhere, the Breadman will need to start delivering because right now his offerings are flat, The lack of production is one thing, the lack of jump in his game is another and way more concerning.
The chemistry between him and Vincent Trocheck remains a major work-in-progress. But even if that is the case, it does not fully excuse the issue he has had recently. Zero goals in 11 games for Panarin, one shy of his longest drought in the league. If there is a positive, he took 13 shots the last two games and notched career assist #400 last night. His game, though, is far from the normal standard we have come to expect and see from Panarin, even including last year's playoff struggles.
With the loss, I would expect a slight lineup tweak Saturday. Vitali Kravtsov needs to be re-inserted in the lineup to see if he is a viable top-six or -nine member. Maybe playing Kravtsov on that line will help panarin's creative juices and revitalize his game. If Kravtsov sits again, that will tell us all we need to know on how Gallant and the org views the Russian winger, necessitating the addition of a top-six winger at or before the trade deadline.
3) Kakko - which may be Finnish for snakebit and unable to score consistently, was stoned on a breakaway by Gibson. We have to hope that eventually, Kakko finds his scoring touch, since despite the myriad of high-danger chances - 13 to date including late night - he has four goals in 21 games.
At some point, you also do have to wonder if he is Julien Gautheir part 2. He has the skill and ability to get in prime scoring positions but just can't finish. I don't think we are at that point - yet - and at $2.1 mil this year and next, for the chances he creates and upside, he is far from overpaid.
Staple noted that while The Kid Line had a good night in L.A., they were kind of a dud in Anaheim. If Gallant is inclined to break them up it might work to give Kakko another go with Zibanejad and Kreider and put Jimmy Vesey with Chytil and Alexis Lafrenière. Plus, as I noted above, I would go with Panarin-Trocheck-Kravtsov as the second line.
The fourth line has been Sammy Blais-Ryan Carpenter-Julien Gauthier. That trio has been solid enough with Carpenter playing better, possibly due to consistent usage. Blais though has been somewhat average as he is still working his way back from his torn ACL. If Kravtsov dresses, Gallant likely moves Barclay Goodrow to this unit, leaving the question of who sits. Originally, I had proposed, but as Staple noted, and what does make some sense, Blais could be the odd-man out, at least for Saturday.