The Florida Panthers averaged five goals per game during the entire month of January. Combine that with Adam Fox (reigning Norris Trophy winner) sitting out his third straight game due to an upper-body injury, and the deck was stacked against the Rangers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The first period at MSG began on a similar note. The Rangers scored early and then gave all the momentum to a Panthers team that has been feasting on NHL defenses all season. A few lucky bounces for the Rangers, a literal puck bouncing into the net, and an offside challenge that resulted in a no-goal kept the game tied at one heading into the first intermission. Don’t let the tie game fool you, the Panthers dominated that first period. Anthony Duclair scored against his former team, a reoccurring theme for ex-Rangers this year, as the ice was slanted towards Igor as he faced 15 shots. In comparison, his counterpart on the other side of the ice, Spencer Knight, faced 7. Aside from the deflected puck from his own defenseman, none of the opportunities resembled the high-scoring chances Igor was facing on the other side.
Then came the second period, and the Rangers clawed themselves back into the game as they have done so many times this season. The Panthers got a power-play goal on a Sam Reinhart tip in early in the second to make it 2-1, but it was really Aleksander Barkov who fooled Igor with a quick release off the post after a swift zone entry. A little over a minute later, Alexis Lafreniere got his 10th of the season after a dump and chase by Chris Kreider forced a turnover. That gives the twenty-year-old goals in back-to-back games heading into the two-week break.
Kreider would score his NHL-leading 32nd goal after an absolutely beautiful pass from Ryan Strome. He would cash in again on an even more impressive pass from Mika Zibanejad early in the third period to extend his lead in the scoring race. It was such a good pass that Kreider barely had to touch the puck to redirect it across the goal line. Panarin ended the contest with an empty-net goal to push the final score to 5-2. As he was skating up ice with Kreider towards the empty net, Kreider tailed off and let Panarin get his team-leading 52nd point. Breadman seemed upset that Kreider didn’t want to get the hat trick.
The Rangers have now given the Eastern Conference-leading Florida Panthers two of their ten regulation losses. Not bad for a team that can only beat the weaker teams.
Due to the Rangers being lucky with their lack of games canceled due to COVID, their next game is February 15th against the Bruins. The next 14 days give everyone, including the players that aren’t designated as injured, time to rest and heal whatever battle wounds their bodies have accumulated during the previous four months. Fox, Kakko, and Chytil should be back after the break.
Something to keep an eye out for during the pause. I wouldn’t be surprised if Drury makes a move during this brief hiatus. Now would be an opportune time to bring in a new piece or two. They would have an unprecedented amount of time to get acclimated to their new surroundings. Not to mention that the team would benefit from having whoever these mystery player(s) are for a full 35 games stretch as opposed to 19 if they wait till the March 21st deadline.