Young Blueshirts Standing Out Despite Recent Results

By Matthew Blittner
Special Contributor to MSGNetworks.com

“Extra, Extra, read all about it!”

NHL teams hate back-to-back sets. And just like a doubleheader in baseball, they usually end in a split. However, that wasn’t the case this time around.

For the Rangers, their 3-1 loss Thursday night to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre served as a prelude to their 4-1 loss to the Wild at The Garden Friday night.

And while the scores are important, they took a backseat to several other stories.

First on the docket is the NHL debut of Russian goalie Alexandar Georgiev.

Georgiev started — taking the loss — against Montreal.

And then, the coaching staff showed tremendous faith in him by starting him against Minnesota.

In his NHL debut, Georgiev stopped 38 of the 40 shots sent his way; making several impressive saves along the way. And against the Wild, Georgiev stopped 33 of 37; meaning he has saved 71 of the 77 shots flung his way through his first two NHL games.

After Georgiev’s NHL debut, head coach Alain Vigneault stated, “Alex played a good game. He gave our team a chance to stay in the game during the first two periods.”

And Georgiev wasn’t the only player to make his Blueshirts’ debut.

Newly acquired defenseman Rob O’Gara suited up against the Canadiens; marking his first game in a Rangers sweater.

A breakdown on Montreal’s first goal notwithstanding, O’Gara played a solid game on the third-pairing. His size and athletic prowess allow him to play a more physical game, without sacrificing puck movement skills.

And after their loss to Montreal was complete, the Blueshirts learned Michael Grabner had been dealt to New Jersey — of all places — in exchange for a second-round pick and 20-year-old defense prospect, Yegor Rykov.

(The trade is the first one between these franchises since the Devils came to New Jersey in 1982.)

While it’s too early to determine which team got the better of the deal, it seems to be a win-win. New Jersey gets a speedy forward to slot into their top-six. Meanwhile, the Rangers get a coveted draft pick and a polished prospect.

[Fischler: Grabner, the Devils’ Playoff Insurance]

Now for the returns.

Playing for the first time since suffering a neck injury against Nashville, Marc Staal delivered his usually solid brand of defense.

And now for the Hercules-esque return.

Prior to Friday night’s game against the Wild, Vigneault announced Chris Kreider was returning to active duty.

“Chris has been anxious to play and help his teammates,” said Vigneault. “So he’s back in there tonight.”

Kreider’s return is quite the boost to the Rangers as he’d been out since Dec. 27 with a blood clot in his right arm — a condition that required surgery.

Normally, that type of injury — and subsequent surgery — knocks a player out for the rest of the regular season. But Kreider is no ordinary player.

As Vigneault said during his pregame press conference, “Chris is a wonderful physical specimen.”

Following his return against the Wild, Kreider said, “I felt like it was my first NHL game again.”

Kreider continued, “I was kind of nervous all day. It was definitely an emotional game for me. I was thinking about where I was six weeks ago and the position I was in. Just reflecting on all of the support that I had.”

With players returning and players leaving via trade, injury or demotion, it’s hard to keep track of who’s on the active roster at any given point. But that’s the wonderful part about this time of year.

[Watch Jean Ratelle Ceremony Prior to Rangers-Red Wings Sunday at 6 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]

WHAT WENT WRONG

DEFENSIVE MISCUES: The amount of odd man rushes given up by the Blueshirts’ skaters has made life very difficult on their goaltending. Couple that with several missed assignments and you have the recipe for a very painful heartburn. Luckily, the emergence of Georgiev — as a viable backup to Henrik Lundqvist — has given the Rangers the key ingredient to cure the heartburn; superior goaltending.

OFFENSE MIA: In six combined periods of play, the Rangers netted just two goals. And given the fact they’ve allowed three or more goals in six straight, it’s very important for the Blueshirts to find a way to increase their goal output. Hopefully, a healthy Kreider will be the spark plug the team has been missing.

POSITIVE TAKEAWAYS

“AND I’M PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN”: On Friday night, against Minnesota, the Rangers tied an interesting record. The Blueshirts dressed 10 American-born players in the same game; the most ever in franchise history. Which players contributed to this patriotic accomplishment? That would be Kreider, O’Gara, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Paul Carey, Neal Pionk, Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo and Vinni Lettieri.

YOUTHFUL FLAIR: The Blueshirts have an abundance of defensemen age-24 or younger. And if you combine their ice times from the games against Montreal and Minnesota, then the quartet of Skjei, DeAngelo, Pionk and Gilmour have all played over 38 minutes; with Skjei leading the way at over 46 combined minutes. Clearly, the Rangers’ coaching staff feels it can trust these young men with some very important minutes.

REINFORCEMENTS: On consecutive nights, the Blueshirts had a player return from an extended injury absence. Thursday night it was Staal and Friday night Chris Kreider. As the Rangers continue to get healthy, their needle will slowly trend upwards.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Following his team’s loss to Minnesota, Vigneault said the following:

“We’re in a result-oriented business and everybody here wants to win. We came out tonight and the guys were ready. We worked hard, but just weren’t able to make the plays we needed to get something out of that. The effort and preparation is there, we just have to stay with it.”

[Watch Jean Ratelle Ceremony Prior to Rangers-Red Wings Sunday at 6 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Download Free]