The Rangers had a 3-0 lead Friday night when forward Dryden Hunt was charged with a double-minor high-sticking penalty late in the first period, but their trade delay acquisitions kept the units from shorthanded fresh and prevented any possible change in momentum. .
Head coach Gerard Gallant viewed the four-minute penalty kill as a turning point in the Rangers’ 5-1 win over the Penguins at the Garden. Pittsburgh managed just two shots on goal, while new Rangers forward Tyler Motte put one on Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry despite being down a player.
Rangers’ shorthandedness hadn’t been its usual source of energy in recent games, but it certainly was on Friday.
“That four-minute penalty kill was great,” Gallant said after the win, in which the Rangers knocked out three of the Penguins’ four power play. “We’ve added some depth to our squad and we’ve added a couple more penalty killers so the guys don’t get tired. It was huge for us, no doubt.
Andrew Copp, who was acquired from the Jets on Monday, led all Rangers forwards with 3:17 of shorthanded ice time. Motte, the Rangers’ other trade delay acquisition who should play a role in the penalty kill, recorded an energetic 1:55 on the PK.
The Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad attacking duo remained intact, while Copp lined up with Barclay Goodrow and Motte skated alongside Ryan Strome.
“Especially against a team like that, they’re probably frustrated with this start they’ve had,” Zibanejad said. “The last four minutes of that period, getting that kill and keeping the momentum going in the second was important for us.”
Kaapo Kakko missed his 24th straight game and Kevin Rooney was ruled out for his 11th in a row, but Gallant said the two were skating alone.
The return target is still early April for both forwards.
Alexis Lafrenière has returned to his natural position on the left wing in the third line alongside Filip Chytil and Goodrow after a 20-game streak with the top unit alongside Kreider and Zibanejad.
Frank Vatrano took Lafrenière’s place in the top unit, while Copp found himself on the right wing of Artemi Panarin and Strome. Motte, Jonny Brodzinski and Hunt formed the fourth row.
Defender Justin Braun was released for the first time since acquiring him on Monday from Rangers. He played against the Devils, but was eliminated healthy in favor of rookie Braden Schneider on Friday. Schneider was back on the third pair with Patrik Nemeth.
“The kid sat out the other night and the kids played great for us,” Gallant said of why he scratched Braun. “It was just about moving people around and we’ll see. We have 17 games left to find out what the best combinations will be. There can be movement and it’s not all bad play. He’s trying different options.
Ryan Reaves was also forfeited along with Libor Hajek, Julien Gauthier and Greg McKegg.
New York Post