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Rangers Vs. Capitals: Kid’s Night

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NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
  • For the second game of a back-to-back, on the road against the offensive powerhouse that is Washington, that’s a hell of a two-game sequence for the Rangers. To collect three of four points is impressive, and despite the overtime loss, that was as structured as the Rangers have looked under David Quinn all season. We knew things were going to get better as the team kept working together, but Wednesday night was a fantastic showing.
  • Quinn made a few roster shakeups from the win over Colorado, which I was a little surprised about. He inserted Neal Pionk (more on him in a bit, obviously) and put Pavel Buchnevich back on the left and on the fourth line (more on him in a bit, too). Quinn left Adam McQuaid in the press box again, in what appears to be the first signs of him realizing that both Marc Staal and McQuaid can’t keep the two kids out of the lineup every night. Fredrick Claesson — who is why Tony DeAngelo isn’t getting in right now — continues to play really good hockey. I’m not sure we’re going to see Quinn make the full-blown move to sit both Staal and McQuaid, but getting one on the bench is a win. Baby steps.
  • Onto Pionk, who had three assists (two on the power play). The first goal of the game came from a self-started rush where Pionk crashed the net, and Kreider and Mika Zibanejad finished the job. That goal doesn’t happen without Pionk finding the lane and driving it. The other two assists were from the tried and true “keep it simple stupid.” His shot for his second apple got deflected and found its way to Vesey for an easy finish. Kreider deflected his point shot (that was going five feet wide) for a goal. That’s not meant to be an insult to Pionk, it’s literally the name of the game. Get. Pucks. Onto. The. Net. Good things happen when you do that. Quinn is preaching it for a reason.
  • On the other side of the puck (and really at evens) Pionk continued to struggle. I think we are building a fair amount of evidence that Pionk might be best served as a one-way defenseman (akin to, dare I say, a DeAngeloish defenseman). We don’t have a big sample size, especially away from Staal, but in a game where Pionk was very noticeable in the offensive zone, he was still on the way wrong side of possession (38%), and expected goals (39%). This, again, is not an insult. Adam has a good point on it here:
  • This is the second game in a row where Chris Kreider might be one of the best forwards on the ice. No surprise, he’s been a big part of the Rangers’ success these past two games. He scored a goal on a brilliant deflection from Pionk’s shot, and had an assist. The Rangers need more of it.
  • Jimmy Vesey finally threw off the snake. Maybe. We’ve learned from Rick Nash those things have long fangs. He scored a goal (finally), and played an otherwise solid game. His possession numbers weren’t great, but compared to the rest of the team they were fine. Games like that are more of what you need from Vesey, and as I keep arguing, if he’s going to get these built-in spots in the lineup he needs to score. Which he did Wednesday.
  • I loved something our good friend Hockey Stat Miner talked about after the game with Henrik Lundqvist. You could call this the King’s first “struggle” game of the year, with him admitting he wasn’t prepared for Alex Ovechkin to take the shot for his first goal of the game, and his inability to control Matt Niskanen’s shot better in overtime. It still wasn’t panic-worthy, despite what you might see (or not) from the Facbook Heroes who huddle with the few like-minded folks they can find and yell LUNDSWISS. This from Mika really says it all:
  • Buchnevich got inserted back into the lineup, on the fourth line, and on his off wing despite a disastrous showing in that role against Edmonton. The results were ... bad again. Buchnevich was invisible most of the game, with a few flashes of chances and creation — specifically in the third when Quinn moved him up the lineup for offense. That said, the fourth line got shelled all night, and Buchnevich was the worst of the bunch. I thought some of that was him going for the hits rather than the puck, maybe to show that effort, but for a guy who was sat and told to shoot more and crash the net more there was none of that against Washington. I can forgive the lack of created offense, but he’s too talented to not be noticeable. Games like that happen, but they can’t happen more than once. It can’t become a trend.
  • Credit where it is due, Staal didn’t have a bad game against Colorado, and was one of the Rangers’ better defenders (if not the best) last night.
  • Filip Chytil was limited to less than 13 minutes, as Quinn continues to figure out how to make that situation work. He still had a positive impact on the game overall, and created more than got created against him. The coach only managed to find 14 minutes for Brett Howden; who played a strong game and had an assist. I’m not overly worried about that, there’s going to be games where Quinn is riding the hot hands, and Washington is damn good. Down the stretch he ran Kreider, Zibanejad, and Mats Zuccarello hard.
  • Vinni Lettieri might be on his last legs on this team. Not that he’s playing poorly, but he hasn’t made an impact in any game, and Matt Beleskey is going to be looking for a spot when he gets healthy. Right now, that spot more than likely belongs to him.