Maybe this was the moment everyone will point to when analyzing when it turned around for Alexis Lafreniere.
Because while Filip Chytil has been a skyrocket in the night and Kaapo Kakko has been a significant offensive-zone force over these past number of weeks, Lafreniere seemed to be the Kid who was still lagging behind.
Until overtime at the Garden on Monday against the Flames when No. 13 whipped one home off a blocked shot at 1:37 of extra play to lift the Rangers to a 5-4 victory in a wildly entertaining match featuring physicality, fights, numerous stark blunders and dizzying momentum swings with both teams coming off extended bye week and All-Star layoffs.
Three kids … each with a capital K, no less, on a night when Chytil scored two more to escalate his spree to nine goals in the last dozen games.
What happens if Chytil, Kakko and Lafreniere should all arrive at about the same time? Well, it is going to cost the front office some serious coin, that’s for sure. But it is also going to set up the Rangers for both the short term and the long term.
No matter how much hockey has changed over the decades, one rule applies. That is for players with the puck to keep their heads up. That rule again was enforced by Jacob Trouba, who laid a couple of hellacious open-ice shoulder-to-shoulder blows
The blows were hard enough that Andreas Athanasiou felt them halfway across the continent. They were so hard that the entire contingent of Pittsburgh media asked Sidney Crosby what he thought of the checks and whether the Rangers captain should be suspended for life.
Both blows were textbook. Both times, Trouba was forced to drop the gloves when assaulted in the check’s aftermath. First, it was Chris Tanev, who got an extra two for roughing but escaped an instigator penalty. Second, it was Dube, who was pummeled for his trouble before being tagged with the instigator and accompanying 10-minute misconduct.
Trouba set the tone. The Blueshirts ran with it.
This was the Rangers’ first game in 10 days and Calgary’s first in nine. It looked like it. Each team committed more than its fair share of bloopers. Ben Harpur, for instance, gave the puck away twice in his own end within about five seconds and was charged with one on the official sheet.
This recalled a game in Newark a number of seasons back when Nick Holden coughed it up about five times on his first shift and was not credited with a single giveaway for the period. But by all means, use giveaways and/or takeaways to build a statistical model to devise a “game score,” for each player and expect it to be taken seriously. It is quite the joke.
The Rangers actually bulked up for this one, dressing both Will Cuylle and Sammy Blais on the fourth line. Blais, back from his conditioning assignment in Hartford through which he scored four goals in five games, made an impact by throwing a couple of big hits. He was involved.
Indeed, it was his high hit — shoulder-to-shoulder, also — that sparked a melee late in the first period. Referee Kelly Sutherland originally had signaled a delayed penalty on Blais. When play stopped at 16:16 of the first, Calgary defenseman Nikita Zadorov charged at No. 91. Cuylle become embroiled in a fight with MacKenzie Weegar.
When the blows stopped, Sutherland reviewed his call on Blais, indicating that the referee originally had called for a major penalty. But after the review, Blais was exonerated. There was no penalty on him, only on Weegar and Cuylle for fighting and Lucic for roughing. Zadorov escaped scot-free.
It was Cuylle’s second fight in his first three NHL games, the first on Friday against Vegas’ Keenan Kolesar. He is the first Ranger since Dylan McIlrath to achieve that feat. He is likely to become just as popular as The Undertaker, who got short shrift from head coach Alain Vigneault in 2015-16.
Blais was an energetic force in 8:47 and Cuylle played his role in 7:46 of ice, but it is difficult to envision both remaining on the club unless the Rangers are, A) going to carry a 23-man max roster for longer than anticipated; or, B) going to expose Julien Gauthier to waivers; or, C) have a deal coming up sooner than later that would send Vitali Kravtsov out of town.
The Rangers have been searching for a formidable fourth line for years. If Blais and Cuylle can make it work and the hierarchy can make the cap work around that, then adding fourth-unit muscle no longer would be GM Chris Drury’s priority leading into the March 3 trade deadline.
This, of course, was one game. Everyone will need to see more of this before decisions are crafted. It was, similarly, one game for Lafreniere.
Everyone who has been waiting on him for three years will need to see more of this, too. Maybe they shouldn’t bet against it.