WINNIPEG, Manitoba — If the Rangers decide they have to trade Chris Kreider, that may turn out to be the toughest decision general manager Jeff Gorton and team president John Davidson will have to make during the rebuilding period.
Kreider, the No. 1 name among players likely to be traded by the Feb. 24 deadline, showed why they might want to figure out some way they can afford to keep the soon-to-be free agent after he scored two stunning goals to help power the Rangers to a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game trip. The trip continues Thursday in Minnesota and ends Friday in Columbus.
Igor Shesterkin was excellent again, making 42 saves as he continues to solidify his hold on the No. 1 goaltender’s job. The 24-year-old Russian, in his seventh NHL game, raised his record to 6-1, playing in his first road game.
“It doesn’t matter what league he’s in; it doesn’t matter what building he’s in; it doesn’t matter about anything,’’ coach David Quinn said. “All he knows is there’s a net behind him, and he’s going to keep the puck out of it, which is a very simple approach, and it works.’’
Shesterkin had an unusual hurdle to clear on his way to the win. He had made 11 saves in the first 13:56 of the first period before he was removed after a television timeout to undergo concussion testing. He had been bowled over by Winnipeg forward Andrew Copp, who’d been pushed into him (kind of) by Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo. Shesterkin went down hard on his back, writhed for a few seconds, then rolled over and lay on his stomach, motionless. After a visit from trainer Jim Ramsay, Shesterkin stayed in the game, and he and the Rangers (28-23-4) had to kill a penalty, as DeAngelo was sent off for interfering with Copp.
Just more than minutes after the Rangers killed the penalty, the NHL concussion spotter called down and Shesterkin was taken out. Henrik Lundqvist entered and Quinn was not happy, because he said Shesterkin’s issue when he went down had been an ankle problem, not a head problem.
“I think we need to take a look at that procedure,’’ Quinn said. “I mean, if they radio down to them and they asked what was the problem, and it’s a head issue, then I understand taking him off for precautionary reasons. But if the trainer tells you it’s an ankle issue, I don’t understand why you have to go through concussion protocol.’’
Lundqvist had to make a sharp left pad save seconds after entering to preserve the lead. The Rangers got through the rest of the period and Shesterkin was back to start the second period.
The Rangers had a 1-0 lead at that point, thanks to Kreider, who scored his first goal with 34.1 seconds left in the period. Pavel Buchnevich started the play, taking a hit from Dmitry Kulikov at center ice in order to chip the puck ahead for the speedy Kreider, who picked it up, cut in on his forehand against goalie Connor Hellebuyck, then went backhand and tucked the puck just inside the post for his 21st goal.
“It was a great play by ‘Booch,’ ’’ Kreider said. “He makes an unbelievable play on the wall there, battles and then gets in behind the ‘D.’ When we’re doing that consistently, our line’s going to generate offense.’’
Kreider’s second goal, on a power play at 7:30 of the second period, made it 2-0, and Ryan Strome made it 3-0 at 53 seconds into the third. Mika Zibanejad scored 35 seconds later to make it 4-0.
Winnipeg got on the board on a goal at 4:35 from Nikolaj Ehlers, who scored just as a penalty to Kaapo Kakko expired.