The penalty by Vincent Trocheck could’ve been disastrous.
It came with less than three minutes remaining in the third period Monday against the Flames, a tripping call that forced the Rangers to defend and force overtime instead of trying to squeak out a win in regulation. But what followed reaffirmed how “huge” — as Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant described their defensive stand — of a strength killing penalties can be for the Blueshirts.
The Rangers withstood Calgary’s man advantage and ultimately won 5-4 in overtime. They have now killed 21 of 26 penalties across their last 10 games, including a 2-for-3 performance against the Flames. Their unit sat 11th in the NHL at 81.0 percent entering Tuesday.
“We know if we give up a goal, it’s probably the hockey game,” Gallant said Tuesday. “I mean, we still [would have] got a little bit of time left, but there’s a good chance you’re going to lose that game.”
Gallant attributed their final kill against the Flames to his key members of that unit — including Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider — logging two shifts. He felt that they didn’t “give up a real good, quality scoring chance at all.”
Jaroslav Halak made two saves while Trocheck served his penalty, and the Rangers blocked another shot before an eventual giveaway set up a short-handed scoring chance.
“The guys committed to killing that penalty, and I thought they were excellent,” Gallant said. “They were aggressive on them, and it was obviously a big, big part of the win [Monday] night.”
The Rangers’ return from the All-Star break featured a new-look fourth line. For the first time, Will Cuylle, Jake Leschyshyn and Sammy Blais skated together — logging 6:37 of ice time against the Flames, according to Natural Stat Trick. Gallant said Tuesday that he thought their line was “solid” and “played real good hockey.”
Blais had returned from a “big” two-week AHL conditioning assignment, skating in a Rangers game for the first time since Jan. 16, while Cuylle appeared in his fourth NHL game. In the two games he played while Blais was with AHL Hartford, Cuylle had spent time on a line with Leschyshyn and Julien Gauthier.
“I’m seeing what I want to see, from what we need those players to do,” Gallant said. “I was happy with their game. I really was.”
Gallant didn’t alter his lines or defensemen pairings at all for practice, as Gauthier, Vitali Kravtsov and Libor Hajek were the extras who rotated in. The four main lines — Artemi Panarin-Zibanejad-Jimmy Vesey, Kreider-Trocheck-Barclay Goodrow, Alexis Lafreniere-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko and Cuylle-Leschyshyn-Blais — all remained intact from Monday night.