Because 48 hours after being manhandled in embarrassing fashion by the powerful Bruins, a changing of the guard took place at the Garden right in front of everyone’s eyes in the Rangers’ 4-1 victory over the potent Lightning.
Look! There is 20-year-old Filip Chytil, just recalled Monday from the AHL Wolf Pack, driving the middle to the net and deflecting home Pavel Buchnevich’s lovely feed from the right side for the 2-1 goal at 12:46 of the third period.
Look! There’s 21-year-old Ryan Lindgren, also promoted from Hartford on Monday, on the ice with that one-goal lead with 3:30 to go and springing Chris Kreider up the right side to ignite the play on which the defenseman’s 21-year-old partner Adam Fox slammed home a rebound for his first NHL score and a 3-1 lead with 2:36 remaining in the match.
Look! There’s 18-year-old Kaapo Kakko on the puck and creating more time and space for himself than he had in any of his previous nine NHL games, notching his second goal on a right wing power-play drive to tie the score 1-1 at 9:37 of the second period.
Look! There’s 23-year-old Alex Georgiev, who has outplayed Henrik Lundqvist through the opening weeks, outstanding yet again in stopping 29 of the 30 shots he faced, yielding only a two-on-one score that was the result of the worst five-man line change in NHL regular-season history.
And look!!! There is 32-year-old Marc Staal in street clothes, a healthy scratch for the first time in his 13-year NHL and Rangers career that encompasses 849 regular-season games. There is Staal watching the same way that the retired Dan Girardi was watching the match after dropping the ceremonial first puck following a pregame tribute to No. 5. You could almost anticipate No. 18 in the same position as his old — er, former — partner a couple of years from now.
“We bring up Lindgren and there are a lot of things that go into these decisions, but it was just something I felt that was needed and the best thing for our team right now,” said David Quinn, who has accepted the responsibility to engineer the transition from past to future without entirely skipping over the present. “We want to run a meritocracy here and guys that play well will continue to play.
“But I have a lot of faith he is going to play up to his capabilities and be in the lineup consistently.”
Staal, second in team seniority to Lundqvist, played a pair of encouraging games to open the season. But the trajectory has pointed downward since, with the left defenseman burned often by speed and unable to win one-on-ones. Corsi may not be dispositive, and all is relative given team strength, but Staal’s attempt-share percentage of 34.15 is the worst in the league among the 365 players with at least 125:00 of five-on-five. It is impossible to frame that as insignificant.
“It was obviously not an easy one,” the coach said of his conversation with his alternate captain. “I can sit here and tell you how much I respect the hell out of him, how much I like the guy, and it’s all legit and true, but it doesn’t make anybody feel any better.”
We all recognize the Bluebloods who came through here and formed the bedrock of the post-lockout era in which the Rangers qualified for the tournament 11 times in 12 years while winning 11 playoff rounds. Staal, ascendant until suffering that concussion on that hit from his brother, Eric, in Carolina on Feb. 22, 2011, is among them.
It’s fascinating. Staal missed only two games his first 3 ¹/₂ years in the league, both because of the flu. But after that concussion, which cost him the first 36 games of 2011-12, there came the gruesome eye injury on March 5, 2013, when he was struck by a puck that kept him out for the final 27 matches of that year and all but one playoff game, another concussion in 2013-14, another concussion in 2016-17 and a cervical strain in 2017-18.
Here is a hockey warrior who refused to be carried off on his shield. And there he was in street clothes on Tuesday, watching while healthy for the first time in his NHL life. So there was that tinge of melancholy.
But time marches on, the Rangers are turning pages, the building was often electric, and the future — for better or worse — belongs to the precocious kids. Last Sunday seems like ancient history.
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