Jacob Trouba

Panarin helps Rangers end skid; Sabres suffer rare loss

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The Sabres (soaring high) and Rangers (stumbling and bumbling) were heading in very different directions heading into Thursday’s game, so maybe a special moment like Artemi Panarin‘s opening goal was necessary.

While Rasmus Dahlin is wet-behind-the-ears as a 19-year-old NHL sophomore, it still felt like a rare moment to see Panarin snag a puck from him and score an absolute beauty, with Carter Hutton‘s pokecheck attempt being rendered feeble. (You can watch that sweet play in the video above this post’s headline.)

When you consider the final score being 6-2 in the Rangers’ favor, you’d think that Panarin carried over that fabulous individual effort into a dominant night. He certainly was useful, finishing Thursday with a +4 rating, but the Rangers won thanks to a group effort.

Ryan Strome scored two goals, Brett Howden netted a goal and an assist, and Tony DeAngelo managed a goal and an assist of his own. Between DeAngelo and Adam Fox, the Rangers seem to have potential options on the right side beyond big-money addition Jacob Trouba:

Here are a few other observations from that game:

  • Again, this was big for the Rangers, and maybe a learning opportunity for the surging Sabres. New York won for the first time since beginning the season with two victories, ending a five-game losing streak to end the night with a 3-4-1 record. The Sabres suffered just their third loss (and only their second in regulation), putting a three-game winning streak to an end, and slipping to 8-2-1 in 2019-20.
  • One of the only bummers for the Rangers was that Kaapo Kakko didn’t have the greatest night in his look on the first line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. That line didn’t have promising possession numbers via Natural Stat Trick’s linemate summaries, and that checks out in simpler terms with Kakko ending Thursday with a -2 rating.
  • That said, the Rangers could be pretty dangerous if Zibanejad and Panarin can both carry their own dangerous lines, particularly if Strome and other depth guys can pitch in often enough.
  • This marked Kakko’s eighth game. Should the Rangers at least consider not burning a year off of his entry-level contract? There are greater sins than not yet being ready for Broadway production at 18, particularly when you remember that Kakko is likely still adjusting to North American ice and the culture shock of going from Finland to New York City.
  • The Sabres had the edge in puck possession and shots on goal (33-24), but the Rangers managed an 8-5 edge in high-danger chances at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick. You can see the concentration of goals in the hard-to-reach places in front of Buffalo’s net in this Heat Map:

The Rangers face a serious challenge in living up to a splashy season of offseason moves. It remains to be seen if they can pull that off, but chances are, they will be very entertaining on a lot of nights. For the Sabres, it’s crucial to shake this one off.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers point to power play struggles after loss to Devils

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The Rangers were ecstatic to get back on the ice after a four-day hiatus from game action, but the result was not what they had in mind.

Jack Hughes recorded his first point, P.K. Subban netted his first goal for the Devils and New Jersey snapped several droughts in its 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Thursday.

Tony DeAngelo and Jesper Fast both scored while Alexandar Georgiev made 33 saves in the Rangers’ second consecutive loss.

Rangers power play woes

The Rangers will need their power play to fire on all cylinders if they expect to contend for a playoff spot this season.

Over the past two games, the Rangers have failed on 10 consecutive man-advantage opportunities, including six missed chances against the Devils.

“That’s probably as sluggish as we looked on the power play all year,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “You can’t alter your approach when you don’t score a goal. You can build momentum off a good power play if you don’t score. I just thought we started getting away from the things we have been doing during the exhibition season and the three games we played.”

Seemingly, the momentum can swing the other way, too. The Rangers’ power play failures began to pile up through the course of 60 minutes.

“As the game goes on, the more chances there are, the more the opponent knows what you are trying to do,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said after playing over seven minutes on the PP. It almost gets a little tougher as the game goes on and you have that many power plays.”

Four games and a handful of opportunities provide a small sample size in terms of power play production. But, without consistent offensive production on special teams, the Rangers are going to struggle to win games.

DeAngelo aims to carve out role

DeAngelo notched his first goal of the season to open the scoring at 6:02 of the first period. The offensive-minded defenseman sensed a scoring opportunity and cashed in on the rebound.

This past summer, DeAngelo was forced to sign a one-year contract due to lack of leverage during negotiations. The 23-year-old began the season knowing he would have to prove himself on a daily basis.

A right-handed defenseman with the ability to move the puck and potential to run a power play is a sought-after commodity in the NHL. Teams are often scrambling to fill that need or rearranging other pieces throughout their lineup to cover up an obvious hole.

However, DeAngelo is on a team that has multiple options at the position due to a busy summer. The Rangers acquired Jacob Trouba and added another offensive-minded defenseman in Adam Fox, essentially filling the role DeAngelo was supposed to play.

But the Rangers are doing their part to give DeAngelo an opportunity to dress consistently. In order to make it work, Brendan Smith has been playing as a fourth line forward to give the backend an extra penalty killer.

For DeAngelo, a goal is a step in the right direction, but he will need to continue to demonstrate to David Quinn and the coaching staff that he is worthy of a spot in the Rangers everyday lineup.

Strange schedule

In a game built off rhythm and tendencies, the Rangers have had to overcome a few strange schedule quirks to open up the 2019-20 NHL season.

The Blueshirts have only played in four games over the past 16 days and have had trouble fine-tuning the specific nuances of the sport.

“We have to understand situational hockey. The good news is we get to play more hockey and understand it better, Quinn said. “It’s tough to emulate it in practice. We are going to be able to draw from what happened today and be better for it tomorrow.”

It is not often a team looks forward to a back-to-back, but the Rangers are eager to play with more regularity. On Friday, they play against the Washington Capitals before beginning a five-game homestand.

“We want to play hockey games, it’s the only way you can really get better in this league,” Quinn said.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

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.

Jets shut down Penguins despite makeshift defense

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PITTSBURGH — Thanks to trades, free agency departures, an injury, and some recent personal matters, the Winnipeg Jets’ defense has been completely decimated over the past six months, leaving them with a makeshift unit for their game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night against the Penguins.

None of their top-eight defenders in ice-time from a year ago were available on Tuesday, and the unit as a whole had just 350 total games of NHL experience. You would be forgiven if you did not give them much of a chance to win with that lineup, especially after giving up a goal to Sidney Crosby just 32 seconds into the first period.

They not only won, they completely shut down the Penguins and received three goals from their makeshift blue line on their way to an impressive 4-1 win to wrap up their season-opening four-game road trip.

“Those guys have worked really hard back there, they are learning every shift,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “I think the forwards did a nice job too, and what our forwards do well is cause enough concern deep in the offensive zone that they draw people off our back end, and that’s what happened on a number of those goals.”

The defense started making an impact just five minutes after Crosby’s goal when 18-year-old rookie Ville Heinola blasted a slap shot between Matt Murray‘s arm and body that trickled into the back of the net for his first NHL goal. Maurice was asked if a first career goal from a young player can help lift a bench send some positive energy around the lineup.

“It depends if they like the kid or not,” he said. “And they really like this guy. He has a big smile on his face, he works really hard, and the players always respect talent. He does so many good little things that the guys on the ice appreciate.”

Heinola played 17:24 in the win, finishing as a plus-three along with the goal. With Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot gone and Dustin Byfuglien‘s future unsettled, the Jets are going to have to lean on young defenders like Heinola and Neal Pionk to take on significant roles right from the start.

Pionk also scored a goal in the win, already his second with the team after coming over from the New York Rangers in the Trouba trade.

“It feels good,” said Pionk. “We have a younger D corps, but they are all here for a reason. We are all here for a reason. We have proved it at other levels. If play our system we are going to be alright.”

Given all of the issues and questions the Jets have had on their blue line, they still managed to wrap up their four-game road trip to open the season with two wins, and that is just fine with Maurice.

“I’m happy with it, missing the guys we have. Then they feel good, like the defense have done something to make that happen. They have played a big part in that. You play .500 on the road and win your home games you are a good team.”

The Jets open their home schedule on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Jets’ defense takes yet another blow ahead of game vs. Penguins

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When the Winnipeg Jets had their 2018-19 season end this past April, their defense was made up of the following players: Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and Dmitry Kulikov. Not a great group by any means, but a formidable one that was good enough to help make the Jets a playoff team.

How many of those players will be in the lineup for them on Tuesday night when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Zero.

None of them.

Due to a series of roster moves and unfortunate circumstances the entire defense the team used a year ago is not available as the team prepares to open its current four-game road trip.

Trouba, Myers, and Chiarot all left the team over the summer (Trouba was traded to the Rangers; Myers and Chiarot departed in free agency), while Byfuglien stepped away just before the start of training camp to reportedly consider his future in the NHL.

All of that alone was enough to decimate their blue line.

The departures continued on Tuesday when the Jets announced that Kulikov has been given a personal leave from the team.

Morrissey, meanwhile, suffered an injury during warmups before the team’s most recent game against the New York Islanders and was held out of Sunday’s game. After practicing on Monday, coach Paul Maurice announced on Tuesday that the team is going to hold Morrissey out for at least another game (Tuesday in Pittsburgh) as a precaution.

This all means the Jets’ defense on Tuesday is going to include Sami Niku, Carl Dahlstrom, Neal Pionk, Ville Heinola, Anthony Bitetto and Tucker Poolman.

Combined NHL games for those six players: 350.

Heinola, 18, was the team’s first-round draft pick this past season and has played just three games so far, while Dahlstrom was claimed on waivers a week ago from the Chicago Blackhawks. Pionk is the “experienced” member of that group and was acquired over the summer from the Rangers in the Trouba trade. Calling that group a “makeshift defense” would be a monumental understatement.

Even though they are facing a Penguins team that is without two of its top three centers (Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad) it is still a dangerous team offensively with the Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel occupying the top line.

The Jets’ defense was always going to be a massive question mark this season, and it just seems to keep finding ways to get even more shorthanded. Starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck is going to need to play the best hockey of his career to keep this thing together.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Kakko’s debut a big — and rare — night for Rangers

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It is the start of a new era for the New York Rangers on Thursday night as they unveil their new roster that was strengthened over the summer with the additions of veterans Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, as well as the drafting of Kaapo Kakko.

Those additions have rapidly accelerated the team’s rebuild and definitely increased the excitement around the team. It might be dangerous for expectations to get too high right away, because even with the improvements it is still a very flawed roster with its share of weaknesses. But the entertainment level is going to skyrocket and there is at least a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Out of all of the new additions, Kakko’s debut should be the most anticipated in New York because this is the type of player Rangers fans haven’t really had the opportunity to experience in a long time.

If ever.

For as exciting as the Panarin signing may have been, that sort of thing is nothing new for Rangers fans. Big free agent signings and big name acquisitions are what this team does and has always done for decades. It is their brand. Big names, big money, bright lights. If there is a big-name player available on the open market or for trade, it is a good bet the Rangers are going to at least have a seat at the table when it comes to trying to acquire them.

That strategy has not always worked, but it is what they do.

Kakko, though, is a very different type of player.

If this rebuild is going to work, he is going to have to be one of the biggest players at the center of it. A young, mega-talented player with superstar potential that was drafted by the team. This is the type of player — if all goes according to plan — championship teams need. And it is the type of player that does not come through Madison Square Garden very often.

Think about it: Who was the last big-time prospect to make their debut for the Rangers with this much fanfare and this sort of potential?

They have had a lot good young players come through their system over the years with varying degrees of success. Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh all come to mind. They were all, in their own way, excellent players that had a lot of success in New York. But none of them brought the type of potential and excitement that a player like Kakko does.

They had some highly touted prospects that ended up being, for lack of a better word, flops (Michael Del Zotto, Pavel Brendl, Jamie Lundmark, Dan Blackburn, etc.) but not even they carried those kinds of expectations.

They didn’t have superstar, franchise-shifting potential.

First, the Rangers are almost never in a position to get such a player in the draft. Those players typically go within the first couple of picks and the Rangers have, historically, never really been in that spot.

When they selected Kakko No. 2 overall this year it marked just the third time in franchise history they used a top-two pick in draft, and the first time since 1966 when they selected defender Brad Park.

It was the first time they picked in the top-five since 1999 when they selected Brendl with the fourth overall pick, and it was only their sixth top-five pick ever.

The Rangers also haven’t really introduced a lot of young players to their lineup over the years and expected them to play major roles. Since the start of the 1990 season they have only had 11 different players make their NHL debut between the ages of 18 and 20 and go on to play a full season with the team.

You probably have to go back to Alexei Kovalev’s debut during the 1992-93 season to find a rookie debut that came with this much excitement in New York, with maybe an argument to be made for Henrik Lundqvist in 2005-06, but even that comes with the benefit of extreme hindsight and knowing what type of player Lundqvist turned into. Remember, when he made his debut he was already 23 years old and opened his rookie season as the backup to veteran Kevin Weekes.

Given their lack of depth down the middle and on defense, as well as the age of Lundqvist and the uncertainty behind him at the position, this is probably going to be another tough year for the Rangers. But it is still going to be a team worth watching every night and one that has a chance to build something special beyond this season.

The presence of Kakko in the organization is a big reason why all of that excitement now exists.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.