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Rangers Vs. Jets: Top Guns

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Winnipeg Jets v New York Rangers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images
  • May as well get it out of the way at the jump: That’s about what you should expect from the Rangers this year. Enough firepower to hang with anyone and keep the team in almost every game, while also having a defense that’s going to be giving up just as much on the other end of the ice and keeping them in danger of losing of almost every game.
  • The good news is a lot of the problems you saw on display last night was the result of kids going through growing pains. The Adam Fox Libor — Hajek pairing was on display last night as something that has the potential to be really special, while also providing a shift-by-shift reminder that these are children who need to be nurtured. In the first period specifically both Fox and Hajek kept playing hot potato with the puck to the detriment of their goaltender. They’ll figure those breakout lanes out soon enough, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
  • Kaapo Kakko — God I wish we could have gotten a goal out of him — had to do a lot of his own creation ... well ... on his own. More on this when I get to the second line as a whole, but Kakko didn’t look out of place, and he contributed in a lot of different areas. He’s wasted on a second power play until where he is the only forward who should be out there, but that’s another problem for another day. Quinn mentioned that he knows Kakko is a pro because he won’t have a “bad” night, and I agree with that sentiment. He — like all Rangers — had a bad night at the possession office, but man did he do a few special things.
  • The better news? The big, shiny new toys were the Rangers’ top performers. Jacob Trouba had a goal and two assists, including a brilliantly simple — but something the team has really been missing — pass from the neutral zone to Mika Zibanejad in stride to spring the should-have-been-captain for a breakaway on the game-tying goal. Trouba was a monster all night — he had a flew flubs early, it should be said — and his willingness to just rocket shots from the point results in some chances and a glorious bar-down goal in the third.
  • The other new toy, Artemiy Panarin, was as dynamic as you would expect. I don’t think I realized how good the man is with his stick. Seriously, he’s a magician. He made so may little, simple plays that kept the puck on his stick and created chances that my head started spinning. The Rangers haven’t had an offensive talent like his since Jaromir Jagr.
  • That top line looked really good, and they had to be. Zibanejad had a goal and three assists, Panarin had a goal and an assist, Buchnevich had ... a beautiful chance to take the lead late in the second blocked. The three can sure move the puck from zone to zone, and when they get into the zone they can manage pretty much everything. It’s no surprise that the top line is the one doing most of the heavy lifting, but even with Winnipeg focusing on them they created space for themselves.
  • The problem the Rangers are going to run into was on full display last night — until I mentioned it on Twitter and the team threw it back into my face. The Rangers’ bottom six, specifically when they made the decision to go with the “top six or bust” for Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, have no real offensive builds no matter how they shake things up. Brett Howden finished a dirty goal in front of the net off a Jesper Fast shot, but otherwise that line was very defensively oriented. Same goes for the Lias Andersson line which created even less. That’s not exactly a bad thing, so long as the top boys are rolling, but it puts a lot of pressure on those three and the power play when your second line isn’t doing much.
  • Speaking of, the second line was invisible unless one of the following two things happened: 1) Chris Kreider happened to break through Winnipeg playing the boards and got into the zone with his speed or, 2) Kakko did it himself and lugged the puck into the zone. Kreider doesn’t carry the puck into the zone unless he’s hit in stride or using his speed from his own zone. Kakko can do lugging — he actually excels at it — but he needs other lanes to open up when he’s actually carrying the puck. Both Kakko and Kreider need someone to get them the puck, either in stride for Kreider or with space for Kakko. Ryan Strome did none of that, and the entire second line struggled for it. Quinn clearly thinks the world of Strome — using him as a double-shifted forward on defense late in the third, and giving him more minutes than any forward not named Panarin or Zibanejad. Strome did look really good for the 30 seconds at the end of the second when he was with Buchnevich and Panarin — he made the glorious backwards pass to Buchnevich that got blocked. This is something to watch, as much as there are those who are out there who think this is beating a dead horse. Strome is not a second line center, and he’s not going to do anything for Kakko or Kreider. The hope is they might be able to carry him, but I’m not sure that’s going to be possible.
  • Marc Staal scored the opening goal but was otherwise completely outmatched by the Jets and their offense. He was burned bad on the second goal, routinely clowned in the corners, and got a slew of PK time. I know there aren’t a ton of defensive options for Quinn out there — especially when he’s sheltering Fox and Hajek — but Trouba can’t keep leading the team in 5v5, PP, and PK minutes. If it’s going to be that bad every night maybe Smith should be in the every night lineup and Staal should be in the press box.
  • Brady Skjei had a wonderful preseason, and a pretty terrible first game at The Garden. The Rangers can handle Staal being bad because they have to. They can handle the growing pains with Hajek and Fox because, again, they have to and there’s upside there. They cannot handle Skjei also being on the bad list. Aside from Trouba and Tony DeAngelo, the Rangers defense was a mixed bag of “OK,” “what the hell was that?” “oh boy” and finally “oh God why!”
  • I know the haters will focus on the third goal by Henrik Lundqvist — that was admittedly awful and a dagger considering the Rangers once again gave back a lead seconds after getting it — but he was a monster all night. After that third goal he shut the door, and the Rangers needed him to bail them out constantly. Especially on the penalty kill where the team predictably struggled.
  • All things consisted, it was a fine first game for the Rangers. They showed a lot of resolve to come back and win a game where they blew two leads in, like, zero seconds and had to come back to win. The Jets aren’t a bad team, either. Also, Neal Pionk didn’t score a goal so that’s a big win.