Hi everyone! I’m Russell and I’ll be covering the New York Rangers during the 2021 season for TXHT hockey. Expect recaps, analysis and highlights of the week as well as a look ahead to the following week. To kick off the 2021 NHL season, the Rangers played the Islanders twice, the Devils once and the Penguins twice.
January 14th, 2021: New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders @ Madison Square Garden
NYI 4, NYR 0
Starting Goalies: Semyon Varlamov – W, Igor Shesterkin – L
The Rangers fell behind early in this one and just never seemed to find their game. After an offseason filled with hype for the youngest team in the NHL, this season opener was a reminder that the Rangers are still very young and that the wins will not come easy. The Islanders would open the scoring at 2:33 of the first period when Brock Nelson snapped a shot past Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin for a power-play goal. The Islanders continued their impressive start by scoring against just a minute and 20 seconds later when Anders Lee scored his first goal of the season. The Rangers couldn’t seem to match the Islanders intensity and at 13:31 of the first period Mat Barzal, the Islanders young, skilled and smooth skating number one center, would turn Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo inside out en route to scoring a nice goal on Shesterkin. It was 3-0 Islanders at the culmination of the first period.
The last bit of scoring came once again from the Islanders as they would score their fourth goal of the contest at 14:54 of the second period. Anders Lee beat Shesterkin again to score a power-play goal and essentially put the game away. The Islanders would stymie the Rangers the rest of the way and Semyon Varlov picked up the shutout with 24 saves.
January 16th, 2021: New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders @ Madison Square Garden
Starting Goalies: Ilya Sorokin – L, Alexandar Georgiev – W
Semyon Varlamov was injured in warmups so Ilya Sorokin would get his first ever NHL start. In a total reversal of game one, the Rangers played one of their best of the last few seasons. The Rangers came out flying and at 2:12 of the first period, Mika Zibanejad would steal the puck from Noah Dobson and set up a streaking Pavel Buchnevich for the Rangers first of the season and Buchnevich’s first of the season. The Rangers onslaught continued at 13:46 of the first period when Brendan Smith would laser a pass to Artemi Panarin, who sped in on a quick breakaway and snapped the puck over the left pad of Sorokin. The Rangers would lead 2-0 after the first period. Georgiev was looking great in his first start of the season.
The second period was all Rangers once again as the team put up two more goals. At 5:57 of the second period, Buchnevich would pick up the puck after a mismanagement by the Islanders in the neutral zone and absolutely sniped the puck past Sorokin to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead. Buchnevich was on fire. At 15:24 of the second period, 2019 second overall puck Kaapo Kakko would score his first of the season off a beautiful tic-tac-toe player between himself, Filip Chytil and Phil Di Giuseppe. Kakko one-timed the puck past Sorokin and the Rangers led 4-0.
In the third period, the Rangers continued the pressure and forced Sorokin to make some tough saves but at 15:56, the Rangers would strike again. Buchnevich’s rebound would bounce right to Adam Fox who shoveled it over to Panarin. Panarin would snap the puck past Sorokin for the Rangers first power-play goal of the season and his second of the contest. The Rangers would go on to win 5-0 and Alexandar Georgiev would get a 23-save shutout in the victory.
NYR vs. NYI Analysis:
The Rangers played one of their worst games of the last five years then proceeded to play one of their best. It was an up and down start to this 56-game season for the Rangers who showed that they have the potential to score on even the best defensive clubs but showed they are still young and have a lot to learn. The 4-0 loss against the Islanders showed a lack of preparation and honestly, nerves from some of their young kids in the line up. The veteran Islanders took advantage of a team not quite ready for the season to kick off (a lack of a preseason will do that to you) but just two days later, the Rangers reminded everyone that their offense has all the potential in the world to be a juggernaut in the NHL. This week will most likely be a microcosm of the Rangers season: an up and down season where the Rangers are still figuring out how to get to themselves to that next level.
Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller made their NHL debuts this week and while both didn’t have an exceptional game on Thursday, they both seemed to come alive on Saturday. They both made great plays and it was clear their nerves had been shaken off. Lafreniere looked much more confident with the puck and showed that even when he isn’t contributing on the score sheet, he is still an extremely valuable player. The number one overall pick in the 2020 draft is finding his was in the NHL and when he gets going, it’ll just make the Rangers that much more deadly. Miller got turned around a few times on Thursday but on Saturday, he looked every bit like the player the Rangers thought they were getting at 22nd overall in 2018. He used his skating to get out of jams, he made some nice plays and he seemed to begin to figure out how he needs to play to succeed in the NHL. Miller is a big, tough, smooth skating defenseman and the Rangers blueline has gotten a nice injection of talent with his play on the back end. Artemi Panarin picked up right where he left off last season by scoring twice this week and Pavel Buchnevich began what many feel will be his breakout year by scoring twice as well.
January 19th, 2021: New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils @ Madison Square Garden
Starting Goalies: Alexandar Georgiev – L, Mackenzie Blackwood – W
The Rangers came out looking extremely flat in this game and the Devils jumped on them right out of the gate. Barely two minutes in, Travis Zajac would find a loose puck off a rebound and fire it past Georgiev for a 1-0 Devils lead. The Rangers were looking more like the opening night version of the team rather than the team that destroyed the Islanders in the second game of the year. The Rangers would finally show signs of life in the second period as Chris Kreider would score his first of the season on the power-play to tie the game at one goal a piece. Kreider is a notoriously streaky player so hopefully he can build on this goal in this young season. The Devils would not be denied though.
Jack Hughes, the number one pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, would score twice in the second period, including a gorgeous breakaway tally, to put the Devils up 3-1. Hughes has looked like an entirely different player this year than last and it’s clear he is up to speed in the NHL. Hughes had an up and down rookie year but it seems he is primed to lead the Devils in scoring as early as this season. The Rangers simply had no answer for Hughes as the game rolled. The Rangers would answers once again on the power-play as Mika Zibanejad lasered one of this patented slapshots past Blackwood to give the Rangers a chance and bring them within one goal. The second period scoring wouldn’t stop there as Miles Wood, the Devils speedy and pesky winger winger, would score on the power-play to give New Jersey a 4-2 lead.
Igor Shesterkin would replace Georgiev in the third period. The third period only featured one goal and that was from Rangers 2017 first rounder, Filip Chytil. Chytil would find the loose puck in front of the net after some great work from Pavel Buchnevich and Phil Di Giuseppe and roof it over Blackwood to bring the Rangers within one goal. After that, Blackwood would shut the door and recorded an astronomical 47 saves to seal a 4-3 win over the Rangers.
January 22nd, 2021: New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins @ PPG Paints Arena
Starting Goalies: Igor Shesterkin – L, Tristan Jarry – W
The Rangers first game on the road this season kicked off similarly to the game against the Devils: The Rangers would give up the first goal yet again. At 10:29 of the first period, Cody Ceci wired a shot on net that was expertly deflected by Bryan Rust to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. The Rangers would continue to have chances in the first period but Jarry stood tall and the Penguins would enter the locker room clinging to a 1-0 lead.
The second period was a different animal and was quite possibly one of the best periods the Rangers have played all season. The Rangers would score three straight times. The first of the three goals was one of the most gorgeous goals of this young season and might even be a goal of the year candidate. At 2:41 of the second, Filip Chytil wold receive a nice little pass from Phil Di Giuseppe and after a bunch of slick dekes, embarrassed Jarry to tie the game at one for the Rangers. Chytil is beginning to blossom for the Rangers. The second goal of the period came from the Rangers best defenseman, Adam Fox. On the power-play, Artemi Panarin and Fox would toss the puck back and forth along the blueline before Fox ripped a one-timer past Jarry at 5:18 of the second to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Just thirty seconds later, at 5:42 of the second period, 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko would join in on the fun and tap a one timer past Jarry for a 3-1 Rangers lead. The Rangers almost got out of the period without any mistakes but they would make one at 16:56 of the second when Jared McCann would score on the power-play to bring the Penguins within a goal. Well, I shouldn’t say McCann scored. Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren made an egregious error in judgement and instead of sliding the puck to his goaltender, his pushed it over the goal line. Just a huge gut punch after such a good period by New York.
The Rangers were not able to hold onto their lead and at 11:23 of the third period, Teddy Blueger would capitalize on a chance and tie the game at three for the Penguins. The Rangers had let their lead slip away. Overtime came and went and in the shootout the Penguins would outlast the Rangers with goals from Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang. The Rangers only goalscorer in the shootout was Artemi Panarin. Tony DeAngelo was the last shooter, a controversial decision by Coach David Quinn and his miss sealed the win for Pittsburgh. The Rangers had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
January 24th, 2021: New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins @ PPG Paints Arena
Starting Goalies: Igor Shesterkin – L, Tristan Jarry – W
The Rangers started this game with some jump and they would be rewarded with the game’s opening goal. At 16:36 of the first period, Colin Blackwell would score his first as a Blueshirt, expertly tipping Adam Fox’s shot past Tristan Jarry for a 1-0 lead. The Rangers would enter the locker room with a 1-0 lead. The second period was up and down with the two teams exchanging goals. At 11:24 of the second period, Bryan Rust would take advantage of a Brenden Smith turnover. After Smith turned over the puck at the Rangers blueline, Sidney Crosby wired a pass to a streaking Bryan Rust would snapped the puck past Shesterkin on a breakaway to tie the game at a goal a piece. At 17:17 of the second period, the Rangers would regain the lead after a scramble in front led to a goal from Ryan Strome. Strome has not been good this year and hopefully that goal will lead to more success for him. The Rangers would hold a 2-1 lead going into the third period.
The third period would not be kind to the Rangers. At 2:26 of the third period, Jared McCann would throw a shot on net from the boards that somehow eluded Shesterkin to tie the game at two goals a piece. This goal was one of those where it shouldn’t have gone in but the Penguins just seemed to get all the bounces this game and last. The Rangers and Penguins continued to battle at a stalemate for the rest of the period until a defensive lapse with about a minute and thirty seconds left sealed it for the Penguins. At 18:29, Jake Guentzel would fire home a shot from a Kris Letang pass to seal a 3-2 win for the Penguins. For the second game in a row, the Rangers would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Analysis of NJD and PIT games:
Are there any positives from three straight losses? Yes. The young kids on the Rangers have looked spectacular. Filip Chytil has been the Rangers best center all season and has formed some great chemistry with fellow youngster Kaapo Kakko. Those two are playing some of the best hockey they’ve ever played and the upward trajectory for their careers is sky high. Chytil was always a high risk pick but he’s starting to show why the risk was worth it. He has slick hands and greaton ice vision. Look for Chytil to be the number two center on the team before the end of the year. Kakko has looked ten times better than he did his rookie season. He’s quicker on pucks, he’s making better decisions with the puck and each game he is looking more and more like the kid the Rangers picked second overall in 2019.
As for the defense, K’Andre Miller is showing not only that he belongs, but that he is rady for a top four role already. He is strong, fast and super athletic. Miller has already shown greta body positioning, great usage of his stick and there were times during the two games in Pittsburgh where even Sidney Crosby was getting frustrated by him, The 22nd overall pick from the 2018 draft was another high risk high reward pick and he is already proving the Rangers were right to take a chance on him. He could be the second best defenseman on this team as early as this season. Adam Fox is another player who has completely hit a new gear. He had an amazing rookie season (eight goals and 42 points) and was actually better defensively than both Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar. This year, he runs the top power-play unit and is on the team’s number one pair with Ryan Lindgren. He is the Rangers true number one defenseman and hes just 22 years old. The defense of the Rangers has a bright future.
The Week Ahead:
Tuesday January 26th, 2021: New York Rangers vs. Buffalo Sabres @ KeyBank Center
Thursday January 28th, 2021: New York Rangers vs. Buffalo Sabres @ KeyBank Center
Saturday January 30th: New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins @ Madison Square Garden
You can follow Russell and his friends over at Skyscraper Sports on Twitter at @SkySportsNYPod.