The Rangers extended their win streak to four, but it's hard to feel good about the win. New York didn't play particularly well, and up 3-1 with 6:30 minutes remaining, the Blueshirts allowed the Blackhawks to score twice to tie the game due to some poor defense. Mika Zibanejad's overtime game-winner sent the road team home happy. New York plays Monday at home against Calgary, who come in having also won four in a row.
A few thoughts:
1) Igor Shesterkin - after going up a goal just 2:39 into the game, Shesterkin was putting together a solid effort. While he is not solely to blame for the two goals Chicago scored in the third, Sheterkin was unable to stop either shot. He ends the game with a win and 28 saves on 31 shots, but the ffort and numbers are not where Igor wanted at the end of the game.
The Blackhawks' first goal, scored by Alex Vlasic, came thanks to an Erik Gustafsson screen where Igor never saw the puck. Their second, by Nick Foligno, came at the expense of Gustafsson again, as he failed to tie up Foligno in front. Chicago tied the game on a Jason Dickinson deflection on a 6-on-5 where K'Andre Miller also failed to put a body or stick on the man in front. All three goals were aided by poor defense, though that doesn't fully absolve Shesterkin.
Coming into the game, the big question was if Jonathan Quick would be rewarded for his fine play and make his fourth straight start. Coach Peter Laviolette decided to stick with his original plan and go with Shesterkin. Coming out of the win, not much was answered. My guess is that Laviolette goes with Igor on Monday and Quick on Wednesday, saving Igor for the Isles in the Stadium Series game.
2) Third line - that trio was one of the two duos that remained intact for the game.Will Cuylle, Jonny Brodzinski and Kaapo Kakko were solid in the win. Brodzinski continued his recent scoring pace, notching his third in four games. I am still a believer that the Rangers need a upgrade offensively, be it first or third line, but the longer that trio remains together and effective, the more likely they stick together. That leads me to the below.
3) Top-six - the effort was lacking, the production was, at least to a certain extent. Alexis Lafreniere opened the scoring on a nice offensive zone passing lay while Zibanejad ended the scoring. In between, Laviolette mixed up the lines to try and get production. Vince Mercogliano summarized the changes nicely. But the main takeaway is that the changes had little impact.
He began to juggle lines in the second period, briefly trying to spark Zibanejad by moving him in between Panarin and Lafrenière, then placing Vincent Trocheck with Kreider and Blake Wheeler. That didn't last very long, though, with Kreider eventually joining Zibanejad and Panarin while Lafrenière took a few shifts with Trocheck and Wheeler.
The coach must not have been thrilled with any of those combinations, either, because by the end of the game, it was back to the usual Kreider-Zibanejad-Wheeler and Panarin-Trocheck-Lafrenière alignments.
We could see Kakko back on the top line. Brennan Othmann has been playing right wing at Hartford, could he get another look before too long? A trade is the likely solution, but nothing looks to be imminent. In the meanwhile, Blake Wheeler isn't providing much, Mika has been non-existent at even-strength, as has only scored five 5v5 goals, with 19 games passing since his last on Dec. 23, and the offense has grown stagnant.
4) Powerless power play - the once formidable power play has fallen on hard times. The Rangers went 0-for-3 on Friday and are now 4-for-their-last-34 (11.8%) dating back to Jan. 13. They haven't scored any PP goals in six straight games, going 0-for-14 in that span. Whether it's the lack of puck or player movement or teams having adjusted to team's set up and pattern, a change is needed and quickly.
5) Defense:- Gustafsson was not good last night. A change and uplift there may be needed, though I doubt Gus gets benched for Zac Jones or Connor Mackey, even though that move would be deserved. The positive gains made the last few games somewhat dissipated against Chicago, especially down the stretch.
6) The Rangers made a trio of moves Saturday night. Adam Edstrom, out since December 27, returned to action Saturday for Hartford. Matt Rempe has been solid this season for the Wolf Pack. Jake Leschyshyn was sent down, so that explains one move but why call up both players?
The fourth line was on for both of the two goals against in the third. This could be a move just to provide a little kick in the rear to the team as a wake up. It's possible someone is dealing with an illness or injury and questionable Monday. Maybe Artemi Panarin's wife delivered or is about to go into labor, prompting the call up. In addition, maybe Lavy will sit Blake Wheeler, Tyler Pitlick or Barclay Goodrow, all somewhat unlikely but possible, creating a new look fourth line.
UPDATE: Adam Edstrom and Matt Rempe have been recalled from Hartford and Jake Leschyshyn has been assigned to Hartford.