Rangers vs Lightning: Special Teams Help Insulate Blueshirts in 3-1 Victory

Opening night has finally arrived, and the New York Rangers turn their eyes toward a familiar foe, the Tampa Bay Lightning. This was the first 2022-23 regular-season NHL game played in North America, and right before the initial puck drop, there was a little rehearsed statement delivered by the Ref where he gave his well wishes for the upcoming season.

After the game started it took a few minutes, but the Rangers were able to find their legs and quickly dominated play and possession throughout most of this game despite being down a forward. Kravtsov was boarded by Hedman early in the first period and was shaken up and ended up never returning from the locker room. The team reported an upper-body injury, but many of us are anxiously awaiting further news on how serious it could be.

The flow of the game was a bit odd with the referees sitting on their whistles for most of the first period, but then calling an excessive amount of penalties in the second and third. Perhaps excessive isn’t the correct term here, but it’s difficult to understand the decision-making process of allowing certain plays and then calling others. There are a lot of folks out there who believe the Refs have it out for the Rangers, but I don’t believe this to be the case, in reality, I believe it to be poor officiating across the board and tonight was an example of that once again.

Perhaps the best surprise from tonight’s game was the Rangers’ dominant performance at the faceoff dot. I couldn’t tell you from memory how long it’s been since the Rangers were a GOOD faceoff team. All of New York’s centers had excellent faceoff percentages tonight, it was incredibly refreshing. The signing of Trocheck and Carpenter in the offseason improved a glaring weakness this team had (aside from Zibanejad).

2nd Period

Mika Zibanejad (1) -Jacob Trouba (1) & K’Andre Miller (1) SHG

With the Lightning on the Power Play,  the Rangers deployed an aggressive penalty kill. They forced a turnover and controlled the puck back into their zone. Miller slid the puck over to Trouba who sent a long saucer pass to Zibanejad as he crossed the center line. Zibanejad and Lafrenière came in on a 2 on 1, having just had a prime opportunity where he passed the puck, Zibanejad carried this one in closer towards the net. He cut towards the center and Vasilevskiy bit and went for the poke check, Zibanejad anticipating this deked right around the goalie’s stick and roofed the first goal of the Rangers’ season in the top corner.

Steven Stamkos (1) - Nikita Kucherov (1) & Brayden Point (1) - 9:09 PPG

The referees called two minor penalties on the Rangers in the same play sequence, Miller for tripping and Goodrow for elbowing, both against Brandon Hagel. As is expected during a 5-on-3, Tampa Bay controlled the puck and cycled around the Rangers’ zone. They had some great opportunities, one, especially from Kucherov who Shesterkin was able to glove down. However directly after Tampa Bay won the faceoff and Kucherov fed Stamkos the perfect pass for a one-timer who sent an absolute rocket over Igor’s glove into the back of the net.

3rd Period

Mika Zibanejad (2) - Artemiy Panarin (1) & Chris Kreider (1) - 5:11 PPG

With their first power play in the third period, the Rangers wasted no time at all. They pressured the Lightning after the faceoff and retrieved the puck. Kreider quickly moved it to Panarin at the top of the right circle who saw Zibanejad floating wide open at the top of the left circle. In the chaos after the faceoff, Alex Killorn broke his stick, and at this moment found himself to be the only Lightning player between Panarin and Zibanejad. Panarin placed a perfect and easy pass to Mika who blasted the puck past Vasilevskiy’s short side to take the lead once again.

Barclay Goodrow (1) - Ryan Lindgren (1) & Ryan Carpenter (1) - 11:00

Goodrow made an excellent play along the boards and caused the Lightning to turn over the puck. Reaves intercepted the attempted pass and gave it to Lindgren who sent it back down to Carpenter behind the goal line. Carpenter won a puck battle and was able to sling the puck back up the boards to Lindgren Lindgren who wasted no time at all throwing the puck at the net while Goodrow sneakily crept into the shooting lane. Goodrow got his stick on the puck and redirected the puck into the other side of the net past a helpless Vasilevskiy.

A lot of us were a bit worried watching this team during preseason, but let this serve as a reminder that the preseason games mean so very little. The team looked great tonight, outshooting and playing last year’s Eastern Conference champion. The Rangers will fly out to Minnesota to face off against the Wild in their next game on Thursday 10/13.