Despite playing with an unusual lineup of 11 forwards and 7 defensemen, the New York Rangers began a four-game road trip on the right foot Sunday night, defeating the Winnipeg Jets by a final score of 4-1 north of the border. The Rangers improved to 36-15-5 on the season; their 77 points put them in a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the standings, but the Rangers currently have the edge for second place in the Metropolitan Division by virtue of one game in hand and three more regulation wins than the Penguins.
Chris Kreider continued his incredible season by scoring two more goals — one in the first period and one in the third — to give him 38 on the season. His 38 goals are tied with the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draistaitl for second in the NHL overall. Auston Matthews leads the league, but Kreider and Draisaitl are just one behind him.
Barclay Goodrow opened the scoring for the Rangers just 2:01 into the game after redirecting a centering feed from Jacob Trouba. Kreider’s league-leading 19th power-play goal doubled the Rangers’ lead late in the first period. Nikolaj Ehlers cut the deficit back to one with a power-play goal a little over halfway through the second period, but Kreider restored the Blueshirts’ two-goal lead 6:21 into the third period before Mika Zibanejad tipped in a Trouba point shot a few minutes later for the final tally of the game.
The final shot count of 46-22 in favor of the Jets is a bit misleading for how the game actually transpired. The Rangers’ biggest issue in the game was an inability to stay out of the penalty box; the Jets had six power plays, including five over the first two periods, where they were able to generate some shots and disrupt what had otherwise been a strong start for the Rangers.
Indeed, the Rangers’ expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at five-on-five (score-and-venue adjusted), per Natural Stat Trick, was 44.36 percent — certainly not a strong mark, but better than the overall shots-on-goal count would indicate. They had almost exactly half of the scoring chance share (49.99 percent) under the same conditions, and 47.68 percent of the high-danger chances. Their first period was excellent, with an xGF% of 72.87 percent, before they slowed down thanks to the aforementioned penalties, as well as playing with the lead for the rest of the night. Shesterkin, of course, was once again locked in from the start, finishing with a ho-hum 45 saves.
NYR: Barclay Goodrow (12) - Jacob Trouba (19) & Filip Chytil (8) - 2:01
The Rangers got on the board early and never looked back. As Goodrow carried the puck across the offensive blue line, Jonny Brodzinski was able to slow down just enough to stay onside. A broken-up pass then led to Trouba gathering the puck near the boards on the right side. He threw a pass in front, and Goodrow was able to get enough of it to deflect it past the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck.
NYR: Chris Kreider (37) (PP) - Artemiy Panarin (45) & Adam Fox (48) - 17:28
Towards the end of a penalty-filled first period, the Rangers converted on the power play, with (who else?) Kreider getting the goal from point-blank range. Artemiy Panarin tried for a royal-road pass that was blocked, but the puck slid right to Kreider, who reacted quickly to flip it into the net. The Rangers would take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission; the shots on goal were 16-9 in favor of Winnipeg.
WPG: Nikolaj Ehlers (14) (PP) - Andrew Copp (19) & Neal Pionk (23) - 13:34
After what had been a solid defensive period by the Rangers to that point, the Jets finally made them pay on the power play, with Ehlers recovering the puck after Kreider blocked his shot. Ehlers then skated into the right circle and beat a screened Shesterkin with a wrist shot to the low corner on the short side.
The 2-1 score would hold up for the rest of the period. The Jets again had the edge in shots on goal, 13-7.
NYR: Chris Kreider 2 (38) - Mika Zibanejad (36) & Alexis Lafrenière (5) - 6:21
In the final frame, the Rangers pulled away from the Jets, as Kreider pushed the lead back to two with a pretty goal on a partial breakaway. Kreider has used his size, strength, and net-front screening and deflection skills to score so many goals this season that it’s easy to forget about his world-class speed. He put that to excellent use when Zibanejad sent an indirect stretch pass off the boards, which caromed perfectly so Kreider could skate into it. Kreider went around Jets defenseman Nate Schmidt and sped away from him as he picked up the puck and then beat Hellebuyck with a pretty move to his backhand.
NYR: Jacob Trouba (9) - Artemiy Panarin (46) - 9:32
The Rangers struck again just over three minutes later. Panarin helped force a turnover deep in the Jets’ zone and then worked the puck back to Trouba at the right point. Trouba sent a hard slap shot that found its way through traffic and past Hellebuyck to put the Rangers up 4-1.
Trouba’s goal closed out the scoring. The Jets fired 17 shots on goal while the Rangers managed six; of course, they were playing with a multi-goal lead for most of the period.
With the final seconds ticking away and the Jets on a power play and having pulled Hellebuyck, Shesterkin got the puck and tried again for an empty-net goal as he did in Ottawa two weeks ago, but the shot was blocked around center ice. It appeared that time might have run out anyway. But we all know Shesterkin’s goal is coming.
The Rangers are back in action Tuesday night for the second game of this road trip. They’ll take on the struggling but dangerous Minnesota Wild at 8:00 PM EST.