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Rangers rally to defeat Leafs, face Hurricanes with first place on line

January 20, 2022, 11:42 PM ET [503 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Rangers passed their first major test Wednesday, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to score the last five goals. The fourth line, especially Ryan Reaves, who scored twice, keyed the comeback with Adam Fox notching a pair of tallies as well. Chris Kreider added his 25th of the season while Igor Shesterkin stopped 35 shots. New York faces Carolina on the road Friday and takes on the Kings, Wild and Panthers as part of the lead up to what was to be the Olympics break.

Game recap:

A few thoughts:
1) Fourth line - Reaves' two goals were his first two of the season and his first two-goal game since April 25, 2013, when he was a member of the Blues. The energy Reaves brings nightly has been an area of discussion throughout the season, but that doesn't tell his full impact. A larger impact may be his off-the-ice leadersheip, even without the A on his jersey.

But it wasn't just Reaves last night. Kevin Rooney was his usual solid self, both on the PK and at even strength, continuing to prove what a solid signing he was. Just as impressive was Greg McKegg, who I have to admit I was recommending be replaced by Morgan Barron. McKegg put egg on all of our faces with his play.

Ryan Strome recognized just how good and important the play of the fourth line was in keying the win:  
"Even without the goals, I think the whole game they were the only line that was able to get in there and forecheck and create turnovers and have sustained zone time," Strome said. "We fed off that. They provided energy the whole night."

2) Lines: Filip Chytil opened the game on the second line, but all signs point to him not facing Carolina in a similar spot. In practice today, Dryden Hunt, who just returned to action Wednesday, skated on that line. It's not set in stone this will be the case, but the shift is a fairly good indication this will happen, which is mildly surprising coming off a win as coach Gerard Gallant does not normally make many changes post-victories. But the second line has been bleeding shots lately, so a swap maybe should not be all that surprising.

"On Hunt: He’s an aggressive guy, skates, works hard, competes hard. I like what he’s done there for the most part and if he plays there tomorrow night we want some jump from him again.”

Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, Barclay Goodrow and Julien Gauthier are all skating together and Greg McKegg, Kevin Rooney, Reaves and Morgan Barron are skating together. While Gautheir was okay against Toronto, you would have to figure he will be the odd-man out, unless Chytil is scratched. While Barron was skating on the fourth line, barring something unforeseen, look for him to be in the press box.

3) Defense: Fox and Ryan Lindgren were once again solid. Jacob Trouba was hitting everything in sight. Braden Schneider has shown he belongs, evidenced by his high panic threshold and patience in his own zone. Schneider's and Nemeth's game scores were not ideal, but that did not seem to represent a full representation of how they played. To me, the worst blueliner last night was K'Andre Miller.

Miller is still struggling in his own zone, failing to be as physical or defend as appropriately when needed. No change looks to be imminent, though you wonder what would happen if he and Lindgren changed spots. Could Fox still succeed with Miller? Would Lindgren and Trouba be a true shutdown pair with Trouba able to use more of his offensive skill with Lindgren as support? If New York does pursue a LD d-man, loo for that player to line up opposite either Fox or Trouba with Miller paid with Schneider.

4) Igor: running out of superlatives. Down 3-1, he shut the door, stopping 27 straight shots. His goals-saved above average is ridiculous, showing just how valuable he has been and how large a reason his play has been on New York sitting in first place in the division. I would expect him between the pipes against the 'Canes, which is a major step up in talent, as seen by the below quote from Gallant.

“My coaching style is we want to be an aggressive team, we are a highly skilled team, a talented team, I don’t think we are the type of team that Carolina is, they are very fast, quick, play a more aggressive style throughout their lineup, we got some of that on our team, but I can’t say we play like Carolina because we don’t. I think they are one of the top teams in the league, they play a fast game, heavy game, but in saying that they give up some scoring chances to. They are one of the better teams, but they give up a lot, they really pressure you in the offensive zone, forecheck as hard as any team I saw and create lots of scoring chances, but they give up scoring chances as well.”

5) Rangers south: Friday will be the first time New York sees Anthony DeAngelo after suspending last season and his signing with Carolina. In addition the familiar faces of Jesper Fast, Derek Stepan and Brady Skjei all will be in the lineup Friday while Antti Raanta will likely back up Frederik Andersen. If counting, that's four of the 18 skaters and one of the two goalies dressing, or 20% of the roster are former Rangers. That doesn't include Brendan Smith, likely to serve as the extra blueliner in the press box.

Carolina has won five of its last seven games, including the most recent 7-1 pounding of the Bruins on Tuesday. Tied with the Rangers in wins (26), the Hurricanes enter Friday’s contest just two points shy of the top seed in the Metro. New York has 56 points with 40 games played and sits first in the Metro while Carolina has 54 points with four games in hand in second place.

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