On Thursday night, the New York Rangers beat the Dallas Stars at Madison Square Garden behind a dramatic comeback in the third period, which means they are now 5-1 in 2023. In this triumph, young defenseman K’Andre Miller showed why he is one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League (NHL) by tying the game on a determined shot from the point that beat strong Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger. The head coach of the New York Rangers, Gerard Gallant described his young defenseman’s game-tying goal from Thursday’s win over Dallas as he has “been good for us all year…he makes a great play…the goal was huge for him, huge for our team.”
Highlighting Miller is not a knock against how other Ranger players have been playing lately– it’s just time to recognize that Miller has been one of the Rangers’ best players over the last few weeks as well as over the course of the 2022-23 season. During the last five games, the 22-year-old from Minnesota has done more than play well defensively. He has contributed seven points, which includes three goals while the team has gone on to win four of those five games and keep themselves close behind the Carolina Hurricanes, who are currently the Metropolitan division leaders.
However, with celebrating recent victories comes bad news as well, and on Thursday against Dallas, the bad was Julien Gauthier suffering an “upper-body injury” after colliding with Sammy Blais. During the post-game press conference, Gallant said Gauthier would be “day-to-day” and so, the Rangers added him to an injury list that includes Chris Kreider, who has been out with an arm injury since Tuesday. Of course, now the Ranger forwards who have not produced much this season need to start producing. Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, you may be young but guess what? It’s your time to shine.
Which Ranger ‘Kids’ Need to Start Scoring?
The best newspaper headline from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs was about ‘the Rangers Kid Line.’ When the Ranger fans got tired of singing Igor Shesterkin‘s praises last season, a third line centered by Filip Chytil, with Kakko and Lafreniere on the wings, won them back over. They did this by putting four pucks past the ‘Canes in the Eastern Conference semi-finals before starting game one of the conference finals off strongly. It was the Ranger’s youngest players who jumpstarted their 6-2 romp in that game with Miller making a sweet assist on Chytil’s one-time slapper.
However, the present is not the time to gloat over last year, because the push for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs is getting started. The Blueshirts will need to keep winning without their leading goal-scorer, Chris Kreider, for at least a week or two. This will require Rangers, who have the ability to score, to replace Kreider’s goal-scoring output which is to the tune of 71 goals over the team’s previous 125 games (scoring in 56 percent of his games). It goes to show, that Coach Gallant did not hesitate to start the 22-year-old Kaapo Kakko as the first-line right wing and the 21-year-old, Lafreniere on the left during last night’s game against the Central division leaders.
As things stand, flashes of brilliance have emitted from the strides that Kakko and Lafreniere during the last three years, but they have never stayed around long enough for fans to appreciate their beauty. It’s time for these young Rangers to show that they have what it takes to be stars in the world’s best professional league and are not busts. Lafreniere almost deflected in a shot from Adam Fox against Dallas, and he needs to keep going in front of the net to start scoring. Kakko has been skating great but he can take more shots on goal and drives to the net, now that he is playing on a line with Mika Zibanejad.
If Kakko continues to set teammates up, by carrying the puck around the offensive zone until a lane opens up, so be it. But skating to the net, more directly and taking better shots, from better angles, might be how Kakko can pick up his scoring pace and help the Rangers stay in the hunt for the division title.
Then there is Filip Chytil, the quiet, ‘keep calm and carry on’ centerman, who could use more edge in his game. Fil has 22 points on the season, which equals the total that Hurricanes center Seth Jarvis has. Jarvis is 21 years old (three years younger than Chytil) and is playing on the Hurricane’s first line, which is centered by all-star, Sebastian Aho. However, Chytil recently showed hockey sense on the goal he scored against the Wild on Tuesday but needs to shoot the puck more like he did against Montreal, a week ago.
Who Will Rise Under Pressure?
The Metropolitan teams who look like they can win the division his season, the Devils, Canes and even the Washington Capitals, all score goals. However, the Rangers have scored 140 goals as a team and none of their players, Zibanejad and Kreider included have reached 20 goals yet, which shows great depth. Of course, part of that depth is the skill that the Rangers have on their blueline with Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller looking like the two best offensive defensemen they have.
The thing that all hockey broadcasters, who used to play in the NHL say as the season ends is, good teams have ‘four lines going.’ What this means is, the team has four lines of confident players who he can trust playing each of them equally in a playoff game. The Rangers have their inexperienced, wide-eyed players like Lafreniere, but they should not be so wide-eyed anymore. Remember that Lafreniere was playing throughout last year’s playoff run and never had to be benched. So were Kakko and Chytil, but now it’s time for them to show they can perform, night in and night out on this team’s second-half push.
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