Hartnett: Rangers Come Away With Hard-Earned Point Against Defending Champs

Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov battles for the puck with Rangers center Mika Zibanejad on Oct. 17, 2018, at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.
Photo credit USA TODAY Images

The Rangers visited the nation’s capital Wednesday for a huge test against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For three periods, the Rangers played a sound structural game and matched Washington’s effort. Matt Niskanen eventually earned the Caps a 4-3 overtime win. The Rangers will head back to New York with a point gained in the standings -- but more importantly, this was the kind of performance that can spur on greater things.

Keep in mind, this was the second game of a back-to-back for the Blueshirts following Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Colorado Avalanche. The Capitals entered Wednesday’s contest well-rested after losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 in their own building Saturday.

So, this was a night when the Rangers had to dig deep to hang in there with the powerhouse Caps. Similar to previous meetings against top-tier opposition such as the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks, the Rangers played with high intensity and defensive discipline. Out of these three games, the Rangers only came away with maximum points against San Jose.

Head coach David Quinn came away impressed with his team’s effort level against the Caps.

“Tonight, I’m proud of the way we battled,” Quinn said. “We certainly competed, that’s for sure. I certainly like some of the things we’re showing over the last week.”

MORE: Hartnett: Rangers Playing With Right Attitude Under Quinn

How exactly do you cool off Alex Oveckhin? Washington’s captain has started the new campaign with six goals in six games. Ovechkin can simply score from anywhere on the ice and bury half chances. That was evident on his first of two power-play goals. On his first, Ovechkin scored a one-timer off a bouncing puck. Not many guys in the league can do that.

Then on his second goal, he again scored from the top of the left circle unguarded. Through Ovechkin’s entire career, he’s made a habit of feasting on the Rangers and much of the league from that spot on the power play. It’s not just the Rangers. Nearly every team in the league leaves him alone and lets him have it. Maybe assign a shadow to Ovechkin on the power play at all times?

Quinn was asked about Ovechkin scoring twice from the same spot on the power play.

“Sickening,” the coach replied.

Quinn noted that an adjustment on the penalty kill worked for the Rangers late in regulation.

On the overtime decider, the Blueshirts looked gassed at the end of a long shift.

A real positive for the Rangers was the play of rookie defenseman Neal Pionk. The 23-year-old led the Rangers with 22:50 TOI and recorded three assists.

“Neal played outstanding,” Quinn said. “He was probably our best player, certainly had a lot of energy. He did a great job on the power play, does a great job on the first goal. Like I’ve said before, he’s a big piece of what we’ve got moving forward.”

Chris Kreider’s tying third-period goal came off a deflection of Pionk’s shot from the point. Kreider has gotten off to a productive start to the new season. The 27-year-old power forward has registered four goals and two assists through seven games.

With the Calgary Flames next up on the schedule Sunday, the Rangers will have plenty of time to review game tape, work things out on the practice ice and recharge their batteries.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey​.