LAS VEGAS — The changes Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant made in the top six were necessary for so many reasons, but the players who have been granted the opportunity are proving they are deserving of it.
All three of the Rangers’ goals at five-on-five in their 5-1 win over the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena came from the club’s newest members of the top two lines. Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere all chipped in to help propel the Rangers to what should be a confidence-boosting win over the third-best team in the NHL, while looking like rejuvenated players who are more than capable of living up to their high draft status.
There’s no question the three youngsters have been invigorated by their promotion to playing alongside the team’s elite talent in Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, who are both staples on the first two lines. Their time has come — and it’s been long overdue.
“They played great,” said Mika Zibanejad, whose two power play goals in the third period bookended Chytil’s and Lafreniere’s tallies. “Worked hard, did little things. [Kakko and Lafreniere] got rewarded. It was nice see.”
The Golden Knights may have been without Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo, but the Rangers played like a team and certainly can hang their hat on this win. Especially considering they nearly ruined a half a game worth of strong play in the span of six seconds in the second period, when the Rangers took two penalties as Vegas started tilting the ice in their favor.
Vincent Trocheck was called for tripping and Ryan Lindgren cross-checked Mark Stone shortly after to leave the Rangers at a five-on-three disadvantage. Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault made the Rangers pay for it with a one-timer from the bottom of the left circle that tied the game at one-all.
Aside from capitalizing on two power-play opportunities in the third, the Rangers were aggressive on the forecheck and the top two lines continued to out-chance their opponents. Off a stellar feed from Goodrow, Chytil buried the puck on the rush. Alexis Lafreniere then scored his second goal in as many games, posting up at the far post and lifting the puck in for the 4-1 lead.
“We come to a building that’s loud and to a team that’s really good, we got 1-1 going into the third on the road,” Zibanejad said. “We just regroup, see this as a good opportunity to get two points and play our game and that’s what we did.”
Since they traded their enforcer, Ryan Reaves, to Minnesota at the end of last month, the Rangers have been fighting more than ever. It’s seemingly been a team-sparking tactic, but also a result of letting their frustrations boil over at times. Either way, the Black-and-Blueshirts have been playing harder.
Goodrow has been right behind captain Jacob Trouba when it’s come to dropping the gloves lately. After shoving a Vegas player into their goal, it clunked Thompson over the head and the rest of the home team took exception to it. Goodrow was swarmed before taking a seat in the box for interference, but Vegas winger Keegan Kolesar was hit with a roughing penalty, as well. Both players went at it as soon as they exited the box.
If there was such a thing as a sign from the hockey gods that the Rangers’ kids are ready for more responsibility, Gallant should look no further than what he saw on the ice Wednesday night.
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