The road has been good to the Rangers this season, and they are back at it, heading out on their second four-game trip of the season following Friday’s complete, 4-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden.
The trip will feature the Blueshirts’ first trip to Seattle to play the Kraken, whom the Rangers face Sunday night in Climate Pledge Arena. Then it's through Western Canada, with games in Vancouver Tuesday, Edmonton Friday and Calgary on Saturday. The Rangers swept all four games in their last trip, a spin through Montreal, Toronto, Nashville and Ottawa.
"It’s good for team bonding,’’ Rangers forward and alternate captain Chris Kreider said of the eight-day trip. "We spend a lot of time together, obviously, on the road, and I mean, it's a tough thing to do, to go on the road and win in the NHL.
"We've played a lot of games up to this point, so, I think it's the first, I guess, true NHL schedule for a lot of our young guys, who've had a bit of a strange experience with Covid, only playing in the division [last season]. So, it's a really good test and a really good learning experience for us.’’
They are starting the trip coming off their best game of the season in the win over Columbus. The Rangers were pleased with the energy they played with, and the style – the direct, north-south approach that saw them dump pucks in behind the Blue Jackets defense, the cycling in the offensive zone that allowed them to maintain possession and the rock solid, and often spectacular play of goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who made 31 saves in posting his first shutout of the season.
The Rangers start the trip with their power play seemingly starting to find itself, after struggling through the first seven games, with just three goals in 26 chances (11.5 percent). Against Columbus, the extra man unit connected twice in three tries, with Kreider getting both goals, on redirections of passes by Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox.
According to Kreider and coach Gerard Gallant, the only difference in the power play Friday was that the Rangers finally had some good luck, with pucks going in, instead of off the post, as they had so often in the first seven games.
"The puck went in,’’ Gallant said after the game. "Kreids is a big man in front of the net, and he had a couple of real good tips. They had, I think Mika [Zibanejad] had a couple of chances and on top, Foxy (Adam Fox) had a real good shot. But no, I didn't think I didn't see anything really different [Friday]. We didn't talk about anything different before the game, or at our last practice. It's pretty much the same setup. but they went in tonight.’’
Two other things happened Friday that helped the Rangers play their best game of the season. Right wing Kaapo Kakko returned from the injured list after missing four games, which meant the Rangers had their top six forwards all healthy and playing. And Gallant made a change in his lines, moving gritty winger Barclay Goodrow up to the first line with Zibanejad and Kreider, and dropping second-year winger Alexis Lafreniere to the third line, with Filip Chytil and Sammy Blais.
Lafreniere scored his third goal of the season and his second goal in three games playing with Chytil and Blais. And it is beginning to look as though the 20-year-old may have found some chemistry with his new linemates.
"I think so,’’ Gallant said. "I think he's comfortable playing with Fil and ‘Blazer,’ and I think he likes it. As long as he scores every night like he did tonight, he'll be happy.’’