Chris Kreider

Getty Images

Panarin, Lundqvist help Rangers take down Capitals

If the Rangers are going to contend for a postseason position, their top players have to perform.

On Wednesday Night Hockey, Artemi Panarin and Henrik Lundqvist led the Rangers to a surprising 4-1 victory against the NHL-leading Washington Capitals.

Panarin extended his individual point streak to 12 games and is living up to the high-priced contract he signed this past summer. The Russian winger has 11 goals and 14 assists through 19 games in his first season on Broadway.

Lundqvist picked up his first win since a vintage performance against the Carolina Hurricanes in early November when he made 47 saves.

Rangers power play has the right ingredients

Any time you add a deadly scorer via free agency, your power play unit should improve. The Rangers have multiple weapons and a player to fill each critical role. For years they were missing a puck-moving defenseman, a net front presence and a big shot from the outside, but Jeff Gorton and his staff have assembled a roster that should excel when skating up a man.

Panarin notched two power-play goals on Wednesday from the left circle but is not the only threat when the Rangers are on the man-advantage. Chris Kreider is a quick power forward that can create havoc in front of the goaltender and Adam Fox has been able to quarterback the play from the point. Mika Zibanejad has been sidelined a few weeks with an upper-body injury, but also boasts a big right-handed shot when in the lineup.

Offseason changes looming in Washington?

The Capitals have been one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference for quite some time, but this might be their final hoorah with the band together.

Forward Nicklas Backstrom — who missed his first game of the season with an upper-body injury – and goaltender Braden Holtby are unrestricted free agents this upcoming summer and have been key pieces in recent years.

Backstrom has long been Alex Ovechkin’s underappreciated sidekick and Holtby is constantly having to prove himself with Ilya Samsonov waiting for his chance to become a starting goalie.

Washington is off to a tremendous start and a November slip up against the Rangers is not going to damage their postseason plans. But, this could be the final season the Capitals get another crack at the Stanley Cup with their core from the past decade intact.

Climbing up the record books

Lundqvist earned his 454th NHL victory and tied Curtis Joseph for 5th place on the NHL all-time wins list. He also surpassed Grant Fuhr to take sole possession of 10th place on the NHL’s all-time appearance list.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers’ Kakko showing his potential, swagger

Imagine being told at age 18 that you have landed the job of your dreams.

The only caveats: it would be more than 4,000 miles from your hometown and the cultural and language differences are substantial.

For Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko, this was the reality he faced after the New York Rangers selected him second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft.

With three goals and a shootout tally over the past two games, Kakko is starting to acclimate to his new surroundings.

“There is just a whole new level of swagger to him that I hadn’t seen since he got here,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “Not only on the ice, but off the ice. There is a comfort level that he is attaining, and you could see it in his face. There is a lot more smiling and a lot more swagger.”

Kakko never doubted his hockey ability but needed time to familiarize himself with a new lifestyle in a new city before his on-ice skills could match the lofty expectations that came with his premium draft position.

The challenges facing young professional athletes from overseas are often overlooked, yet quite extensive when put in perspective.

“He works so hard, it’s not easy coming over here as an 18-year-old and not speaking the language,” Chris Kreider, a former Rangers’ first-round pick, said of Kakko. “When I was 18, I was struggling to play college hockey. I was a little homesick and I was 45 minutes away from home.”

Teammate Brendan Lemieux spent two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets before being traded to the Rangers and saw firsthand how Patrik Laine also made the transition from being a teenager in Finland to playing in the NHL. Laine, 21, also had heavy expectations from the start after being selected second overall in 2016..

“He’s (Kakko) smarter than 99 percent of young, skilled hockey players that I have ever played it with,” Lemieux said. “He has figured out already, which takes a lot of guys five or six years, that simplicity can lead to offense. It’s pretty incredible to see and he is fun to play with.”

New York’s top line center Mika Zibanejad has been dealing with a neck injury but should return to action in the coming weeks, which will alter the makeup of the Rangers’ forward combinations. Kakko has excelled on the Rangers’ third line in recent games, but is he ready for a more prominent role?

“He’s not going to be intimidated from any other challenge that is presented to him,” Quinn said. “I’m not worried about moving him up [the lineup].”

Whether he moves up in the depth chart now or continues to work his way up throughout the season, Kakko is quickly becoming one of New York’s most dynamic players.

“I think he’s continuing to build on his confidence level,” Quinn said. “He has certainly proven that he can have success this year in the National Hockey League, that’s for sure.”

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers roll past stumbling Red Wings: 3 takeaways

Getty Images
1 Comment

The New York Rangers recorded two power-play goals and one shorthanded tally in a 5-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday Night Hockey.

Tony DeAngelo, Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome each scored in a three-goal second period as the Rangers picked up their fourth win in the previous six outings. Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves, including 16 in the final frame in his first start since October 27.

Valtteri Filppula scored Detroit’s lone goal, and Jimmy Howard stopped 26 shots but the Red Wings fell to 1-11-1 in their last 13 games after suffering a fourth consecutive loss.

Rangers spread the wealth

The Rangers benefited from a complete team effort against the Red Wings as five different skaters found the back of the net and 11 members of the Blueshirts recorded at least one point.

Three different goal-scorers lit the lamp in an explosive second period, before Greg McKegg and Artemi Panarin sealed the deal in the final frame.

The Rangers appear to be on the right track since an embarrassing loss against the Boston Bruins. The club has picked up impressive victories against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators before a slip up against the Ottawa Senators earlier this week.

Howard falters against the Rangers

Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has performed at his best against the Rangers throughout his career. He entered the game with a 10-3-3 record against New York coupled with a 1.77 GAA and 0.948 save percentage. Prior to the matchup on Wednesday, the two teams have played one-goal games in 14 of the previous 15 matchups

But on Wednesday, Howard allowed five goals on 31 shots, as the Red Wings’ four-game winning streak at Madison Square Garden was snapped.

The 35-year-old goaltender was born in Syracuse, NY, and grew up a Rangers fan.

Swedish influence lessened in Detroit

When the Red Wings took the ice Wednesday, it was odd to see only two Swedish-born players in the lineup, Christoffer Ehn and Patrik Nemeth. Whether it was Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall or others, Detroit always had a strong Swedish influence during an incredible streak of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs 25 straight seasons.

Earlier this week, the final Swedish connection to the 2008 Stanley Cup champion team, Jonathan Ericsson, cleared waivers and will remain within the organization. Darren Helm is the only player on the active roster that was a part of the organization when they hoisted the cup that season.

As Steve Yzerman attempts to help the Red Wings become an elite organization once again, he would be wise to follow the blueprint that was successful the previous few decades.

Note: Following the game on Wednesday, Detroit shipped Jacob De La Rose to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Robby Fabbri.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Five players that could be on the move

We don’t typically see a lot of trade activity early on in the regular season, but with parity at an all-time high across the NHL teams may be tempted to make a splash earlier than normal. The St. Louis Blues, for example, have already done so by acquiring Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes. So, who’s the next one to be moved?

Nobody’s completely out of the playoff race yet, but some general managers have to know that there’s a good chance they won’t be playing meaningful hockey in April. At the same time, there are some good teams that are outside the playoff picture right now, so they may be looking to shake up their roster a little bit.

Let’s take a look at five players that can possibly be on the move in the next little while.

• Jesse Puljujarvi – RW – Edmonton Oilers:

Puljujarvi isn’t playing for the Oilers right now because he wasn’t in love with the contract offer they made him this summer. The 21-year-old had just four goals and nine points in 45 games, but he has a nice combination of size and skill that most teams would kill to have at their disposal. The former fourth overall pick in 2016 has opened the season with Karpat of the Finnish league where he has 11 goals and 18 points in 17 games. Sure, the Finnish League competition isn’t like the NHL, but that’s still an impressive start. The Oilers need some forward depth pretty badly, so they could be tempted to pull the trigger if another team is willing to give them that in return for Puljujarvi’s services.

• Julius Honka – D – Dallas Stars:

Alright, let’s get the Finnish hold outs out of the way. Like Puljujarvi, Honka didn’t sign with the Stars this summer. The 23-year-old is currently playing for Jyp HT Jyvaskyla in Finland. There, he’s accumulated a goal and three assists in six games. The former first-rounder hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet, but he has two goals and 13 points in 83 games across three seasons. Honka is still a bit of project, but he could be a useful asset for a team looking for a puck-mover.

Eric Staal – C – Minnesota Wild: 

This one might be out of left field, but the Wild are old and they aren’t very good. Staal is now 35 years old, he’s picked up a respectable nine points in 13 games and he has this year and next year remaining on his affordable contract that comes with a $3.25 million cap hit. Staal doesn’t have any trade protection, so there’s a chance he could be on the move. Finding a big center that can score roughly 50 points in a season isn’t easy no matter how old they are. If the Wild make him available, teams would come calling.

Chris Kreider – LW – New York Rangers: 

The Rangers’ rebuild is probably right where it should be right now, but will it continue to include a 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent? Probably not. Whenever Kreider plays at 75 games in a season, he scores 20-plus goals. He’s big and has pretty good wheels for a player of his size, so you know other teams will be interested in his services. What will it take to get him? That remains to be seen, but rather than losing him for nothing on July 1st, the Rangers might as well just get something for him. Kreider has two goals and four assists in 10 games this season.

Paul Byron – LW – Montreal Canadiens

Byron is off to a difficult start this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a useful player anymore. The speedy winger has scored 22, 20 and 15 (in just 56 games) goals over his last three years. When healthy, he’s an excellent penalty killer that’s capable of playing up and down in a good team’s lineup. The tricky part, is that he’s in year one of a four-year deal that will pay him $3.4 million per season. The 30-year-old has spent most of his time on the Canadiens’ bottom-two lines this year and he has just two assists in 13 games. Byron is an important leader on his team, which may mean that he doesn’t get moved at all, but the Habs are deep and need to get bigger.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL injury roundup: Landeskog out indefinitely; Zibanejad out for Rangers

Getty

The Colorado Avalanche’s forward depth is about to be put to the test.

Already playing without Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche announced on Tuesday that another key part of their feared top-line is going to be sidelined indefinitely. Gabriel Landeskog will not play in Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers and will be out “indefinitely” according to the team as he recovers from an undisclosed lower-body injury. 

He played 20 minutes in the Avalanche’s 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, recording four shots on goal and finishing as a minus-2.

For the past two years the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog has been one of the most dominant lines in the league and has at times single-handedly carried the Avalanche. Since the start of the 2017-18 season they have played more than 1,600 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together as a trio, outscoring teams by a 97-61 margin during those minutes and completely dictating the pace of the game.

In recent years being without two of them would have probably been enough to sink the Avalanche’s chances due to their lack of depth, but thanks to the offseason additions of Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky they actually have some solid secondary scoring options and are not quite as dependent on their big three.

They also still have MacKinnon — their best player — and he should still be able to make an impact, even without his two regular wingers.

The Avalanche entered the season as one of the top favorites in the Western Conference and have been one of the league’s best teams.

Landeskog’s injury is not the only significant one around the NHL on Tuesday.

Mika Zibanejad will not play for Rangers on Tuesday

Offense has been a struggle for the New York Rangers so far this season and this is not going to help things.

They are expected to be without No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He played just six minutes against the Boston Bruins in the Rangers’ most recent game and is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

He is the Rangers’ top point-producer this season with 11 points in nine games, though he has cooled off considerably after a fast start in the team’s first two games.

The team has recalled Filip Chytil from the American Hockey League and he is expected to play alongside Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich.

On the other side of that game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said forwards Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli are both game-time decisions but that he does not expect either issue to be long-term (via Lightning analyst Caley Chelios).

Sidney Crosby will play for Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a little bit of a scare on Saturday night when captain Sidney Crosby was hit in the side of the face by a slap shot, briefly leaving the game before returning.

Crosby is expected to play for the Penguins on Tuesday night against the Flyers but may wear a protective shield over his jaw. He skated with it in practice but is unsure if he wants to wear it during the game due to limited vision. The Penguins are finally starting to get healthy and could get defenseman Brian Dumoulin and winger Alex Galchenyuk back in the lineup for Tuesday against the Flyers.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.