Hartnett: Win Over Sharks Provides Rangers With Roadmap To Future Success

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By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

While most New Yorkers were asleep, David Quinn’s Rangers put in one of their best performances of the season in San Jose. The Blueshirts held the Sharks to a total of 18 shots – limiting the hosts to two shots in the third period on the way to a 6-3 win.

Artemi Panarin exploded for a hat trick and Mika Zibanejad chipped in two goals as the Rangers rebounded following Tuesday’s listless 3-1 defeat to the Los Angeles Kings.

On Thursday, the Rangers found the pushback that was needed to overcome San Jose leads in the first and third periods. That spirit was clear when Zibanejad scored the tying goal at 8:49 of the third period. The Rangers finished the contest with four unanswered goals, including Panarin’s empty netter.

For a team that’s been as inconsistent as the Rangers, Thursday’s win provided a roadmap to success. If a team goes hard to the opposition net, tests the opposing netminder with a high volume of shots and plays smart in their own end, that kind of effort usually results in a win.

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates with teammates Chris Kreider (20), Brady Skjei (76) and Filip Chytil (72) after scoring his team's fifth goal against the Sharks on Dec. 12, 2019, at SAP Center in San Jose. Cody Glenn/USA TODAY Images

The Rangers defended the Sharks’ attacks with cohesion and sound positioning. Aside from a ghastly Jacob Trouba turnover that led to Logan Couture’s second-period goal and a moment in the third period when the Blueshirts ceded far too much time and space to Brenden Dillon, it was a very solid defensive showing.

Across four minutes of penalty kill time, the Rangers only allowed a single shot on goal and shut down each of San Jose’s two power plays. If you’re looking for positive trends, the Blueshirts are now 13-for-13 on the penalty kill.

Offensively, the Rangers lit up SAP Center with fireworks. Filip Chytil weaved through traffic and produced Jesper Fast’s goalscoring effort with a sublime feed to tie the game at 1-1 in the second period. Minutes later, Panarin scored through the narrowest of openings after receiving a Ryan Strome dish.

Panarin was undoubtedly the star of the night with his four-point performance. The 28-year-old wing weaved in and out of Sharks to bring his point total to 41 through 31 games. At this rate, the highly skilled Russian is on pace to finish his first season in New York with 48 goals, 61 assists and 109 points. Only Jaromir Jagr (123 points in the 2005-06 season) and Jean Ratelle (109 points in the 1971-72 season) have scored more points for the Rangers in a single season.

The $11.6 million annual salary the Rangers invested in Panarin is paying off handsomely in terms of his all-around contributions. Panarin is truly an elite three-zone forward, an exceptional possession driver who has the offensive tools that can turn a game in an instant.

According to Hockey Reference, Panarin’s 15.7 goals created rank eighth in the NHL. His 53 total goals on-ice for are tied for 10th best in the league. And his 4.2 offensive point shares are good for eighth overall.

The Rangers need to turn their up-and-down, one-game-good/one-game-bad nature into something resembling consistency. There needs to be a continuation of recently stout defensive efforts and more peppering of enemy netminders with barrages of shots to go along with the ingredients of stellar goaltending and the two-headed monster of Panarin and Zibanejad that’s been carrying this team all season long.

Next up on the Rangers’ West Coast swing is a Saturday meeting with the 13-15-4 Anaheim Ducks. This will be a prime opportunity for the Blueshirts to summon the game-to-game consistency that’s often been lacking.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.