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Gerard Gallant says Rangers' penalty kill wasn't as bad as it looked in opener

Gerard Gallant says Rangers' penalty kill wasn't as bad
as it looked in opener 1

One game into the season, the Rangers were second to last in goals allowed and at the bottom of the league standings in penalty-killing, having allowed three power-play goals in six times shorthanded in Wednesday night’s season opening 5-1 loss in Washington to the Capitals.

But as his team prepared to get back on the ice and take on the Dallas Stars Thursday in their home opener at Madison Square Garden, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant insisted that, as far as the penalty kill goes, anyway, things weren’t nearly as bad as they looked.

“When you watch it back (on video), Washington scores tic-tac-toe goals a lot, and there was none of those last night,’’ Gallant said before the game Thursday.

Gallant then proceeded to detail how the Capitals’ extra-man goals all involved some kind of bad luck on the Rangers’ part. Jacob Trouba actually intercepted Alex Ovechkin’s diagonal pass to the back post, but he wasn’t able to control the puck, and it slithered behind goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, and T.J. Oshie got there first to tap it in for the first goal. The second goal, by Justin Schultz, deflected off Mika Zibanejad’s stick and changed trajectories, going from low to high and over Georgiev’s blocker.

“No chance for the goalie on that one,’’ Gallant said.

The third power-play goal, by Ovechkin, came when John Carlson’s shot hit Caps forward Anthony Mantha in the chest and dropped to the ice in front of Ovechkin, who buried it before Georgiev could even figure out where the puck was.

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“It wasn’t the typical goals that the Washington usually scores,’’ Gallant said. “So I thought the penalty kill did a decent job overall. It’s hard to say that… but you look at the goals back, and you say, it wasn’t any of their set plays, and there wasn’t any really big mistakes by our guys. It was just unfortunate situations.’’

Zibanejad, who on Wednesday was used in the second forward pairing (with Kaapo Kakko), as opposed to the first pairing, as he has for the past several years, said that while the Caps have a fearsome power play, there were some things the Rangers could have done differently. And while he also allowed for the bad breaks, three power-play goals allowed in a single game is too many.

“You don’t want to let in three power-play goals,’’ Zibanejad said. “That’s obviously not good enough.’’

But Adam Fox, part of the first defense pair on the penalty kill, wasn’t overly concerned about the results in the first game of the season. As he recalled, the penalty kill started slowly last season, as well, and bounced back with long stretches of effectiveness, before finishing 10th overall in the 31-team league, with a kill rate of 82.3 percent.

“Last year the same thing happened, our first game we let up a few goals (two in eight times shorthanded in a 4-0 loss to the Islanders) and, you know, we ended up with a pretty good PK that year,’’ he said. “It’s just a few bounces off the stick; off the guy’s chest, and, you know those things happen. But they’ve got a good power play, so I think we’ll just learn from it.’’

They needed to learn fast. Dallas, the Stanley Cup runnerup in 2020, also had a good power play in 2021. The Stars were fifth overall in efficiency, with a success rate of 23.6 percent (Washington in 2021 was third, at 24.8 percent).

What would help the penalty kill, obviously, would be fewer times shorthanded. The Rangers took nine minor penalties in all Wednesday.

“Definitely,’’ Gallant said. “That’s the key.’’

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