Head coach Gerard Gallant had urged the Rangers to tighten up defensively, but defense was inadvertently the primary focus Monday night against the Panthers.
It had to be, considering how Florida had them on their heels in every period, but the Blueshirts still managed to come away with a 6-2 win despite being outplayed most of the night and ultimately outshot, 35 – 26. There was nothing pretty about it, except for the end result.
The line changes made in the name of sparking the offense may not have had the desired effect, although they did bring a few fat goals that Rangers have mostly failed to produce this season. They wreaked havoc in front of the net, crashed the dirty areas of the ice and found ways to put the puck away when the beautiful opportunities weren’t there.
It’s been missing from the Rangers’ game lately and for much of the season, but it was the only way they were going to send the Panthers back to Florida with their tails between their legs. Igor Shesterkin’s 33-save performance — just missing his own empty net — certainly helped, too.
“I think every team talks about (scoring greasy goals),” said Jimmy Vesey, who made it a 3-1 game late in the second period by hitting the net and jamming the puck home. “But until you get a few, you probably don’t have them. We’re going to score a lot of goals in the hustle and at five-on-five with our ability, but we got two goals from the blue paint tonight and a power play -play goals and I think it just makes us that much more dangerous as a team if we score in every situation.”
The Panthers, who lost Sam Bennett late in the second period when his skate tangled with Filip Chytil and he fell awkwardly into the boards, pulled goaltender Alex Lyons with over nine minutes left in regulation to try to spark a rally. Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov took advantage of the six-on-five edge and flipped the puck over Shesterkin to cut the home team’s lead to three goals, but the Rangers scored three goals to Florida’s one in the final frame to close out the game.
The turnovers in the neutral zone and the odd man rushes given up made it difficult for Gallant to be satisfied with this win. He couldn’t help but laugh at how he was still considering his line combinations after a four-goal win. The Rangers are still giving up too much and the offense won’t always be there to save them.
“I’d like to say yes (I’m happy with the line changes), but honestly I wasn’t very happy most of the night,” Gallant said. “You win 6-2 and you question your lines again. We’ll see what happens tomorrow and go to work, but we can be better than that. It wasn’t a great game.”
This win may not have been without problems, but there were positives to take away. Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin led the Rangers with three points apiece, while the top power play unit scored its first goal since Jan. 3 after Zibanejad ripped a one-timer from his sweet spot in the left faceoff circle in the opening frame .
Alexis Lafreniere also scored his first goal in 17 games on one of those work-for-it sequences to make it a 4-1 game in the third.
“I’m just trying to get to the net,” Lafreniere said. “I think we had a pretty good shift. It was good, just saw the puck at the goal line and pushed it in. Hopefully that gets me going a little bit.”