The line of Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko had so much trouble generating an attack that head coach Gerard Gallant flipped Kakko with Ryan Reaves for a handful of shifts, from midway in the second period through early in the third, before reverting back to the original alignment.
“I just wanted to get a big body up there,” the coach said. “It was nothing Kakko did. I wouldn’t pick on one player tonight. There were a lot of them.”
Or, alternately, not enough of them. Artemi Panarin seemed off. Ryan Strome was ineffective. The third line was insufficient, though Barclay Goodrow’s booming second-period open-ice check of Teuvo Teravainen ignited his mates for at least a short surge. Alexis Lafreniere took an unaccountably bad penalty late in the third after the Blueshirts had climbed to within 5-3, thus allowing Tony DeAngelo to apply the dagger with a power-play goal. The Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox pair was not close to its best. Neither was Jacob Trouba.
And neither was Alexandar Georgiev, who got the surprise start in this first of a back-to-back set that concludes Saturday with a match at the Garden against the Coyotes. Gallant did not divulge his reasons for bypassing No. 1 Igor Shesterkin, who did have a strenuous workload against Toronto on Wednesday.
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The scoring chances through the first period, in which the ’Canes grabbed a 2-0 lead on a power-play goal from Vincent Trocheck at 13:13 and a five-on-five score from Wes Jarvis off a two-on-one, were 15-0, as measured by NaturalStatTrick. The high-danger chances through the opening 20 minutes were recorded as 10-0. By the end of the second period, scoring chances were 34-7 and the high-danger chances recorded at 21-3.
The final tally: 42-16 Carolina in scoring chances, 23-8 of the high-danger variety. That represents the most high-danger chances yielded this season and the second-most scoring chances against.
Numbers don’t necessarily tell the story every night, but they sure did on this one. What they tell you is that even though Georgiev never truly made the big save and was unable to quite get a handle on loose pucks around the goalmouth, the burden was too great for any netminder. He received little support.
“It’s a five-man effort [defending],” said Kreider, who moved within one of Alex Ovechkin’s NHL goal-scoring lead by netting his 26th in the third period while on the man-advantage. “Carolina commits to what they’re doing, they do it quickly, they’re predictable for one another so they’re going from high-to-low and they know they’re getting pucks to the net and they do that over and over.
“As wingers we have to do a better job getting out into lanes and not only blocking shots but discouraging them, especially when we know what’s coming.That’s going to make it easier on our D to break the puck out. Not getting hemmed in helps, too. That’s something we have to go back and look at but I think we all could have done a better job in our own zone.”
The Rangers did not give up. Really, they never do. They climbed to within 5-3 at 6:23 of the third on goals 1:14 apart by Kreider and Greg McKegg, prompting Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour to call a timeout, during which he was animated in delivering his message. But that did not erase what had come before. It did not erase the ugliness.
At the same time, these 60 minutes did not erase the Rangers’ first 40 games. The second half beckons.