In this Rangers rebuild, youth apparently, must be served.
With call-ups Filip Chytil and Ryan Lindgren playing Tuesday in the 10th game of the season and the final game of the five-game homestand, the Rangers dressed seven players aged 21 years old or younger, and the young Blueshirts played with energy, smarts and hustle and ultimately dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the NHL’s elite teams, beating them, 4-1.
The Rangers got huge goals from Chytil, 18-year-old Kaapo Kakko, and Jericho’s Adam Fox, who recorded his first NHL goal to provide some insurance in the closing minutes.
“One of the things we loved tonight is how some of the guys responded from having off nights two nights ago [in a 7-4 loss to the Boston Bruins], and obviously, you bring up two guys like Chytil and Lindgren, and they step in and do a really good job,’’ coach David Quinn said.
The Rangers were playing without their first-line center and leading scorer Mika Zibanejad, who left the game Sunday after the first period with an upper-body injury. Quinn also chose to sit veteran defenseman Marc Staal — an alternate captain and the second senior Ranger behind goaltender Henrik Lundqvist — in favor of Lindgren.
“We bring up Lindgren, and there’s a lot of things that go into these decisions, and it’s just something that I felt was needed and is the best thing for a team right now,’’ Quinn said when asked to explain his decision to bench Staal. “Listen, we want to run a meritocracy here, and guys that play will continue to play. So, you know, I’ve got a lot of faith [Staal’s] going to play to his capabilities and be in the lineup consistently.’’
Quinn said that the addition of Chytil and Lindgren may have injected some energy to the lineup, but he thought the really big thing was that the Rangers were “truly embarrassed’’ by their effort against the Bruins.
“I think guys looked in the mirror and realized what they were going to have to do if we were going to have a chance,’’ he said. “And obviously, we’re down our Number 1 center, which is never easy. And I thought our guys did a helluva job rallying around each other and playing the way we needed to play in order to get two points.’’
The Rangers, for the first time this season, outshot their opponent, putting 42 shots against Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, while allowing just 30 on their own goalie, Alexandar Georgiev. And they took only two minor penalties, killing them both, and converted on one of four power plays.
Tampa Bay (5-4-2) scored first, with Nikita Kucherov capitalizing on a bad line change to net his fourth goal at 15:44 of the first period. But Kakko, the No. 2 pick in this summer’s draft, pinballed a shot on a power play at 9:37 of the second period for his second goal of the season. Chytil extended his stick on a drive to the net to get a tip-in of Pavel Buchnevich’s pass and score the eventual game-winning goal with 7:14 left in the third.
Fox made it 3-1 with his goal at 17:24, when he joined the rush and banged in the rebound of a shot by Chris Kreider to give the Rangers some breathing room.
“You know, you’re not really, I guess, thinking,’’ Fox said when asked to describe his emotions upon scoring. “Everything’s just pure excitement. I was pretty tired getting up there, but I saw a chance to add to an odd-man rush, and ‘Kreids’ threw a nice [rebound] off the pad and I was just trying to get it on net.’’
Ryan Strome added an empty-net goal in the final minute.