The Rangers have won four straight, are 10-3-3 and ended the night with the fifth-best points percentage (.719) in the NHL after defeating the Canadiens 3-2 at the Garden on Tuesday. Not only that, the Blueshirts are even looking pretty good while doing it. Last week’s three days of remedial work surely helped.
”We’ve definitely played a lot better hockey,” head coach Gerard Gallant said after the victory in which his team pumped 34 shots on net after generating consecutive 41-shot nights. “Better D-zone, better offensive, the stuff we talked about when we were winning but playing bad, we’ve improved a lot of that.
“So I think the team is getting together, knowing each other pretty well now and it’s just clicking. I thought we played a real good game tonight.”
The Blueshirts jumped all over a suffering and patchwork Montreal group that entered the contest 4-11-2 and had young Cayden Primeau in nets for the seventh start of his NHL career. Yet it was Primeau, from Voorhees Township, N.J., who almost singularly kept the Habs from being overwhelmed on the scoreboard.
The absence of Sammy Blais, gone for the year with a torn ACL that will require surgery, did not deter the Blueshirts from the appointed rounds. They attacked, firing 17 shots on Primeau in the first period while establishing superiority over an opponent that hung in and never quit. The Rangers, though, never relented themselves.
“In our building we came out and got a lot of scoring chances,” said Gallant. “We’ve talked about getting pucks to the net for a while and we started doing it the last three games and we’re getting good results from it.
“So the guys are believing in it, we’re getting pucks to the net and people to the net and we’re scoring some big goals.”
Kaapo Kakko had another impressive game, notching a goal in his second consecutive game by converting an Artemi Panarin feed for a 1-0 lead at 15:46 of the first period. This marked the second time in the Finn’s career that he has scored in consecutive contests, and the first time since Nov. 10-12, 2019, in what were the winger’s 15th and 16th NHL games.
“I’m not just talking about the last couple of games but I think the whole team is playing great right now,” Kakko said. “We’re winning games and the whole team is looking better. We got a lot of chances. We’re playing [well] in the O-zone.”
The Rangers played well, but could never break the game open. Indeed, Montreal tied the score 2:17 into the second when Christian Dvorak scored from the right porch while the Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox pair was on for the Rangers.
Not to sound any alarm bells or anything like that, but the Blueshirts’ matchup pair has been on for eight goals scored and eight against through 17 games after having been on for 33 for and 17 against all of last season. The matchup assignments might be something to keep an eye on, with Jacob Trouba emerging as a consistent and stout force on the blue line.
“Honestly, I think Trouba has been outstanding since the first game of the season,” said the coach. “He’s adding a little more offense the last two or three games for sure, but I really like his game. He competes, he battles and he’s a warrior for us.”
Just 1:05 after the Habs tied it, young Michael Pezzetta challenged Ryan Reaves to a fight and paid for his sins, punched down to the ice. Twenty-eight seconds after that, Chris Kreider recorded goal No. 12 by driving to the net and redirecting home Mika Zibanejad’s no-look cross-ice feed.
At 1:56 of the third, Julien Gauthier — who has an opportunity to earn a regular assignment in Blais’ absence — got his first of the season by scoring on a backhand after stripping Nick Suzuki in the slot for a 3-1 lead.
“You talk about somebody leaving your lineup because of injury and a guy steps in and plays really well, and that’s what we need from our group,” the coach said. “You talk about an organization, you need more than 20 players and Goat stepped up and played a great game tonight.”
The Canadiens narrowed the margin to 3-2 at 2:18 of the third but the Rangers never panicked and never buckled. Igor Shesterkin did have to make a dandy save on Josh Anderson with 1:45 to play, but for the most part the Blueshirts protected their lead with the confidence of a team with the fifth-best points percentage in the NHL.
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