VANCOUVER — As Mika Zibanejad noted: “There was no rhythm” to Saturday night’s game with the Vancouver Canucks. Zibanejad played more on the power play and short-handed (11:51) than he did at even strength (11:25), a sure sign that this wacky one had to be decided in a more unconventional way than the previous seven New York Rangers games.
But it went their way with two five-on-three goals, one power-play goal that got Zibanejad off the zero column under his goal total and, finally, a K’Andre Miller overtime winner after Vancouver dominated three-on-three for the full 3:48 prior.
Not a lot to take away from this one other than two points in the Rangers’ fourth straight win on this western swing that ends in Winnipeg on Monday. Zibanejad got his first goal, plus a pretty nasty gash on his left cheek courtesy of former Rangers teammate Phil DiGiuseppe’s errant stick. Igor Shesterkin gave up three, including two in the third after the Rangers had allowed just one third-period goal in their first seven games, but he made two five-star saves on Andrei Kuzmenko in OT to give the Rangers a chance to win it.
The Canucks surely left this one angry, given the pair of two-man advantages the Rangers got plus a no-call on Chris Kreider in overtime after he and Elias Pettersson clipped skates, allowing the Rangers a three-on-one rush that ended the game. The too-many-men call that gave the Rangers the five-on-three with 8:09 left in the third and the Canucks up by one was a very fine-line type call too. The Rangers left this one a bit perplexed, but there does always seem to be at least one odd night when you’re this far from home.
“It’s been kind of a crazy trip, jumping time zones,” Barclay Goodrow said. “We started out west (in Seattle), went back a zone (to Calgary and Edmonton) and now we’re back west again. Just have to find a way to get two points and we did.”
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) October 29, 2023
Zibanejad’s search for his first goal of the season hasn’t really involved much soul-searching, given the abundance of chances he’s had and the team’s success so far this season. But after ripping one off the post for a second straight game earlier Saturday, he might have been wondering when that first one would come. He’s no stranger to streaky play — he’s had longer goal droughts in each of his prior seven Rangers seasons than the seven-game one he snapped Saturday — but perhaps none with this level of scoring chances that went by the boards.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s frustrating from the chances that have been there and how close it’s been, but it’s a lot easier to deal with when the team is winning,” he said. “I want to be able to contribute and help, but as long as we win it doesn’t hurt as much.”
Peter Laviolette hasn’t made any changes to the top power-play unit, which is also his primary two-man advantage unit. Saturday showed why. Artemi Panarin snapped one through a Kreider screen in the first period just seconds after Zibanejad ripped one off the post. In the third period Adam Fox shuttled down from his usual point spot to the right of the net and redirected a Panarin diagonal pass under the crossbar to tie the score and also tie Fox with Kreider for the team lead at three power-play goals.
“Those guys have been together for a little bit now and there’s some familiarity with that,” Laviolette said.
You saw that familiarity on Zibanejad’s go-ahead goal 1:03 after Fox tied it. A scramble in tight to the Canucks net brought the Rangers PPers in tighter, and Fox, instead of trying to force one through a crowd, sent a no-look pass across to Zibanejad for a quick strike. It’s a pass Zibanejad has gotten from Fox countless times.
There were some gaps in the Rangers’ special teams. Vancouver scored one on the power play on a J.T. Miller deflection late in the second, and Carson Soucy’s tying goal with 4:18 to go in the third came 10 seconds after a Rangers penalty expired — and with some tired penalty killers on the ice. And Tyler Myers’ short-handed goal that gave the Canucks a brief lead in the third was just a whiff by Zibanejad in the neutral zone and a poor read by Shesterkin, who was playing pass with Fox covering the passing lane as Myers drove the net two-on-one.
As controlled as the Rangers’ previous five wins have been, with only one of them tied or within a goal in the third period, this was the opposite. And it’s not the worst thing to see where the team is at in a different environment, much as the Rangers would prefer to be coasting through the final period up two or three goals.
“To see the power-play guys stick with it after giving up a shorty was good, to see the resilience we had into overtime was good,” Goodrow said. “It’s maybe not our best game but it’s a good sign to be able to handle all those things.”
(Photo of Vincent Trocheck celebrating Mika Zibanejad’s third-period goal: Derek Cain/ Getty Images)