NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pavel … who?
Oh, that’s right, Pavel Buchnevich, sent away to the Blues in exchange for alleged plugger Sammy Blais.
Well, on this night, as the Rangers extended their winning streak to three games with a 3-1 empty-net abetted victory over the Predators, it was Blais who made the artful play with a nifty backhand feed in front. That set up Alexis Lafreniere for a tap-in from the left porch for the 2-1 go-ahead goal at 10:53 of the third period.
It was the second assist of the night for Blais, who emerged no worse for the wear after taking a second period elbow in the face.
The Rangers, now 3-1-1 with one more game remaining on this four-game trip, in Ottawa on Saturday afternoon, put it away with a dogged defensive performance the rest of the way until Barclay Goodrow salted it with an empty-netter at 19:54.
While Igor Shesterkin, who has allowed three goals through this three-game streak, was excellent, the Rangers allowed just three shots over the final 7:30 of the contest.
The Blueshirts spent too much time in their own end of the ice and were unable to establish a possession, down-low game through the first 20 minutes, but nevertheless emerged with a 1-0 lead.
Filip Chytil notched his first goal of the year — and the Rangers’ fifth five-on-five goal in their fifth game. He beat Juuse Saros with a wicked backhand from the right circle, after sweeping through the neutral zone off a nifty feed from Blais and going wide at 2:12.
The Rangers did cobble together a few scoring chances the rest of the period, but the Shesterkin road show continued. The goaltender made several sparkling stops, while the Predators attacked both off the rush and off zone time.
Shesterkin, who had stopped 71 of the 73 shots he faced in victories in Montreal and Toronto, made the best one of his 12 first-period saves about seven minutes in while the Predators were on the power play.
The goaltender, who came across from left to right to blocker away Mikael Granlund’s wrister from the left side on that sequence, yielded few rebounds and thus was able to blunt Nashville’s momentum on a number of shifts. He was in perfect position to deny Roman Josi from the slot after the defenseman eluded Morgan Barron and put one through a screen unwittingly provided by Nils Lundqvist.
The Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider unit had a couple of active shifts, with the Russian Rockette snapping one from the high slot 4:10 into the match.
While the Rangers did not create much momentum, they did display a pack mentality, all four teammates on the ice immediately coming to the aid of Kevin Rooney when he was shoved aside by Colton Sissons after setting a screen 5:20 into the match. The Blueshirts also descended en masse when Patrik Nemeth was pushed into Shesterkin later in the period.
The Rangers entered the game 2-for-16 on the power play, but both head coach Gerard Gallant and net-front presence Kreider suggested the numbers were not necessarily representative of the unit’s play.
Kreider said that the unit’s problems, especially in getting through the neutral zone and setting up Monday night in Toronto, were a result of personnel changes and lack of practice reps with the first unit. The fact though, is that there was only one change on the first power-play unit, with Lafreniere replacing Ryan Strome, who remains on the COVID-19 protocol list.
Regardless, it is doubtful that either Gallant or Kreider — or anyone, for that matter — would be so sanguine following this one.
That’s because the Blueshirts were on the man-advantage for the opening 3:52 of the second period, which included 1:22 of five-on-three time, and were not only unable to extend their lead, but also gave the puck away at an alarming rate while unable to generate any sustained pressure or shots from the top.
Panarin had one pass picked off, so did Zibanejad. Panarin missed the net twice, Zibanejad missed once before being stopped on a one-timer. Lafreniere had perhaps the best opportunity from the right circle, but was denied as the power play was coming to an end.
The Predators fed off the momentum generated by their successful penalty killing to tie the score 1-1 at 7:01, when Philip Tomasino retrieved his own miss behind the net and banked it in off Shesterkin from below the goal line for his first NHL goal.
The Blueshirts went on their fourth power play (sigh) at 13:53, and generated perhaps one legit chance, with Zibanejad clanking one off the outside of the post from the left flat. The setup is not ideal when Panarin does not get a chance to set up for one-timers in the left circle. But that’s Zibanejad’s spot for now.
If the power play was rancid, the penalty-kill unit was effective, snuffing both Nashville advantages through the second period.