It’s an unexpected line, especially with Martin St. Louis playing center instead of his usual right wing, but Thursday night’s game proved it to be an effective combination; this line was directly responsible for all three of the New York Rangers‘ (1-0-0) goals in their 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues (0-1-0) to kick off regular season play.
Rick Nash tallied two goals–including the game-winner–and assisted Kreider’s goal; Chris Kreider scored and assisted Nash’s first goal; Martin St. Louis registered assists on Kreider’s goal and Nash’s game-winner. Tonight, this line was unstoppable.
“[The Kreider-St.Louis-Nash line] spent some quality time in the other team’s end,” said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault after the game. “They made the other team pay when [the Blues] made some mistakes, and they helped us win this first game of the year.”
The first period was all New York. Everything seemed to go in the Rangers’ favor as they demonstrated their speed and determination from the get-go. Four minutes into the period, Kreider dove after a blocked shot along the right side of the boards and found Nash in front of the net for a wrist shot to put New York up 1-0. The Rangers continued peppering Blues G Brian Elliott with shots and ended the first period having outshot St. Louis 16-8. They also kept up strong defensive pressure, blocking 7 shots in the opening period alone, and forced the Blues to make several turnovers. This strong and aggressive play made all the difference, and the Rangers went into the locker room with a firm hold on the game’s momentum and their one-goal lead.
In the second period, the physical element of this aggressive play escalated. Though nine different players were sent to the penalty box, each of the subsequent power plays came up empty for both teams, and the Rangers kept their 1-0 lead going into the third. But the momentum began to shift as the Blues found their game and began fighting back. The physical play carried over into the final period, and the Blues tied the game up 1-1 when LW Jaden Schwartz found the back of the net at 18:28.
The momentum shift stayed with St. Louis until Rangers LW Mats Zuccarello and Blues RW T.J. Oshie exchanged words, punches, and five-minute major fighting penalties a few minutes later–Zuccarello’s first.
“I was shocked, but it was impressive for [Zuccarello] to stand up like that,” said G Henrik Lundqvist, who registered his first career win against the Blues and has now tallied a W against every team other than the Rangers. “He’s a strong player, and I like the way he plays.”
This fight sparked something within the Rangers; shortly afterward, Kreider used his explosive speed to score on a breakaway down the middle of the ice to make the score 2-1 in favor of New York. But the Blues found a way to tie the score at two goals apiece midway through the period with a goal by C Paul Stastny. With each goal, the game’s intensity heightened as both teams battled to gain the lead and control the game. After several minutes of physical, evenly-matched hockey, the Kreider-St. Louis-Nash line struck again: St. Louis found Nash in front of the net with a backhand, no-look pass with 1:50 remaining, and the Rangers held onto a 3-2 lead as the clock wound down.
All in all, not a bad start to the season.
“I like the fact that we battled,” said D Ryan McDonagh, who was named the 27th captain in Rangers history on Tuesday. “We grinded one out. That’s got to be a staple of this team: to play well defensively and battle every night. It got ugly at times, but we stayed with it, stayed positive, and found a way.”
“When the schedule came out, I couldn’t think of a tougher place for us to start than in St. Louis,” added Nash. “We had this one circled for a long time, and we knew it would be a true test coming out of the gates.”
It may have only been Game 1, but this early test demonstrated that this Rangers team is ready to fight.
Unfortunately, this win came with a cost. Rangers D Dan Boyle suffered a broken hand late in the game and is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks. With Boyle as well as top centerman Derek Stepan both out with injuries for the time being, the Rangers will have to continue experimenting with lines and combinations.