Kreider leads Rangers to high-scoring win over Sharks
NEW YORK -- General manager Jeff Gorton spent the offseason stockpiling forwards, most of them known for their speed, to reinforce a bottom-six group that had gone from strength to weakness in recent years for the New York Rangers.
On Monday night, that depth and speed throughout the lineup helped thwart one of the quicker teams in the NHL.
Seven players -- six forwards, including newcomer left wingers Jimmy Vesey and Michael Grabner -- scored as the Rangers overwhelmed the San Jose Sharks 7-4 at Madison Square Garden.
It wasn't a complete cakewalk, as the Sharks scored three times in the third period and cut a 5-2 lead to 5-4 with 4:29 remaining, but Mats Zuccarello and Grabner buried empty-net goals in a wild yet impressive victory.
Vesey's first NHL goal with 7:23 remaining proved to be the winner.
"It was definitely just pure joy," said Vesey, the college free agent that was courted by many teams during the offseason. "I think I expressed it a little bit on the ice. I think I gave two fist pumps and I just couldn't be happier to get that one out of the way."
The Rangers' team speed allowed coach Alain Vigneault to worry less about matchups than he normally would, as he said afterward the only matchup he looked to get was to have Mika Zibanejad's line on the ice against Joe Thornton's line. The pressure from the Rangers (2-1-0) was relentless and having four lines that can skate well was a big advantage against the Sharks (2-1-0).
"It was hard through camp to see what we had," said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who scored the game's first goal. "We had a lot of different guys in the lineup. I thought right off the bat, our first game, we had that feeling of being quick and playing fast and we have been the last three games. Tonight was no different."
Before the seven-goal third period that transformed the final score into something out of the 1980s, the teams weren't all that far apart through 50 minutes.
Sharks center Logan Couture answered Staal's first-period goal with a late 5-on-3 goal that sent the teams to the intermission knotted at 1. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, who made 22 saves, allowed a pair of somewhat soft second-period goals to left wingers Rick Nash and Chris Kreider as the Rangers grabbed a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes.
Defenseman Brent Burns scored his first of two third-period goals at the 9:13 mark to make it a 3-2 game, but that was just the start of the roller-coaster ride. Left winger Kevin Hayes and Vesey scored 21 seconds apart to pull the Rangers ahead 5-2, but Burns and center Joe Pavelski scored 1:34 apart to put the pressure back on the Rangers, who responded with two empty-net goals to finally put the Sharks away.
"We got what we deserved tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "You have to win all kinds of different ways. It would have nice to pick up some points and stick around, but I think the team that competed the hardest won, and that's the way it should be."
"It's one of those games," said Pavelski, who had a goal and three assists. "We had it early, then we didn't. They get ahead, then we get back a little bit. We weren't good enough. We were chasing it a little bit too much. Every time we fought back and got close, something just broke down."
Rangers goaltender Antti Raanta made 27 saves in his first start of the season and felt the pressure once the Sharks cut the lead to 5-4 on Pavelski's goal.
"It was 5-3, then it was 5-4 and heavy panic inside the goalie's head," Raanta said. "Even though they came so close, I think still it was a really good 60 minutes. There are some things we can do better but you think about the team we played against and they were in the Stanley Cup Final (last season), so we have to give a lot of credit to the guys who were doing a great job and scoring (seven) goals."
NOTES: The Sharks scratched LW Micheal Haley, D Dylan DeMelo and C Ryan Carpenter. ... The Sharks used the same lineup as in their first two games. ... Rangers LW Michael Grabner played his 400th career NHL game. ... The Rangers were without D Dan Girardi (hip flexor) and D Kevin Klein (back spasms). Klein is expected to practice Tuesday and could make his season debut against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. Girardi is day to day. ... Rangers LW Pavel Buchnevich missed his first game with back spasms. ... Rangers D Dylan McIlrath and C Josh Jooris made their season debuts.