Gerard Gallant’s retooled Rangers line smothers Capitals

Only way Rangers pull trigger on Jack Eichel trade talks


Gerard Gallant reached into his bag of tricks and, lo and behold, the head coach of the Rangers pulled out a checking line that he had created for this occasion and sicced the unit on the Capitals’ top line, which featured Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. 

Lining up against Ovechkin was Ryan Reaves, accompanied by Kevin Rooney in the middle and Barclay Goodrow on the left. And on one shift after another, the Rangers’ support guys took the measure of Washington’s gunners. 

The fancy numbers do not tell the story. It does not matter that the Rooney line’s expected goals for percentage was 27.03. It does not matter that the line had a 33 percent shot share. In this case, analytics did not matter at all. 

What mattered wasn’t even the goal that Goodrow scored off a two-on-one feed from Rooney midway through the third period on a play that originated with a defensive-zone draw against a loaded-up unit with Kuznetsov, Ovechkin and for that shift, Tom Wilson. 

What mattered was the tenacious mindset the unit carried onto the ice. What mattered was the steadfast approach the Rangers brought to the Garden on Thursday night, as they created offense off staunch work in the defensive zone in a 4-1 victory that was every bit as decisive as the score. 

Kevin Rooney (left) and Barclay Goodrow (right)
Kevin Rooney (left) and Barclay Goodrow (right)
NHLI via Getty Images

This was the 200×85, 60-foot performance the Rangers have been waiting for. This was as impressive as it has been for the Rangers (33-15-5), from the imposing performance of the top unit, led by Mika Zibanejad, straight through Igor Shesterkin’s sparkling performance in net. 

“It’s a really tough opponent we’re playing against, they can score goals and we just want to make sure we keep working on our defense,” said Zibanejad, who got the 1-0 goal at 12:57 of the first period off a neat drop pass from the improving Alexis Lafreniere to complete a rush from the other end of the ice. “When you break those pucks up especially against an offensive team like this, when you do well in your own zone, you’re going to be able to create chances.