NASHVILLE — Playing their second game straight without No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad, the young Rangers put together another strong performance against one of the NHL’s elite, jumping out to an early two-goal lead and then holding off the Nashville Predators to complete a 2-1 victory in a Saturday matinee at Bridgestone Arena.
“It’s just an effort — and maybe effort’s not the right word — but a way you have to play,’’ said defenseman Jacob Trouba, who had a team-leading 22:41 ice time. “You have to bring it every time. And if you lose, you lose, but you have to have that effort, and the consistency of what we’re doing. I think that’s something you learn. That’s something I have learned over time, and we do have a lot of young guys who need to learn what they have to bring every day. I think we’ve seen that the last couple days.’’
One of the youngest guys, 20-year-old Filip Chytil, who was called up from AHL Hartford on Monday, scored his second goal in as many games, giving the Rangers (5-5-1) a 1-0 lead late in the first period. He beat Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros with a wristshot on a two-on-one rush at 16:05 of the period.
Red-hot Ryan Strome, filling in as the No. 1 center in Zibanejad’s absence, made it 2-0 with his fourth goal of the season at 4:16 of the second. The goal — a backdoor tap-in of a diagonal feed from Artemi Panarin — extended Strome’s point-scoring streak to six games, a career high. He has four goals and five assists in the streak.
“Strome’s had a good year,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said. “Not just, you know, since Mika’s been out… He’s done a lot of good things. He’s killed penalties, done a good job on the power play, and I like a lot about his game right now.’’
Viktor Arvidsson’s power-play goal at 14:34 of the second period got the Predators (8-4-2) in the game, but the Rangers were able to clamp down the rest of the way, managing the puck and when they surrendered possession, keeping shots to the outside against goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (32 saves).
“You’re not playing to protect the lead per se, we still had a lot of offensive chances,’’ Trouba said. “I mean. You’re obviously not feeding their transition or their offense, and you kind of take the offense that they give you because they have to take the risk.’’
Quinn has rarely ever seemed this satisfied with his team’s performance, and he called the game “a continuation of what we did against Tampa (a 4-1 win in their last game, Tuesday).’’
“I thought our pace was good, we had gaps all over the ice. We had some great scoring chances today to make it 3 to 1,’’ he said. “Just a gutsy effort.’’
That included killing three penalties in the third period to hold on for the second straight win. Strome was called for cross-checking Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm after a scrum at the end of the second period (“I wanted to strangle him after that penalty,’’ Quinn said); Brendan Smith was called for holding with 5:17 to play, and Libor Hajek was sent off for tripping with 2:21 to play.
But the Rangers calmly killed all three penalties, even with the fact that Strome, Smith and Hajek are all important penalty killers for the team. Impressively, despite the penalties, the Rangers managed to outshoot Nashville 15-11 in the third period.
Trouba, though, didn’t want to get carried away with feeling too good about the victory. It was a satisfying performance, but it’s just two wins in a row, he cautioned.
“It’s two games, so I wouldn’t say it’s a full turnaround yet,’’ he said.