TORONTO — On a night when the Rangers dressed a lineup that featured several skaters who were intended to be bottom-six players — or just depth players in general — the team pushed the Maple Leafs to overtime Monday.
The Rangers, for the second straight game, had to rely on their top two lines to generate offense — and Artemi Panarin delivered with the game-winning goal at 3:48 of OT to secure a 2-1 win over Toronto in front of 18,098 fans at Scotiabank Arena.
It all came against a top-heavy Toronto team, featuring the likes of Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and Auston Matthews — the NHL’s reigning top goal scorer who made his season debut against the Rangers after recovering from wrist surgery and racked up a game-high eight shots.
Goaltender Igor Shesterkin was spectacular in his second straight start, turning aside 40 of the 41 shots he faced and keeping the Rangers alive through a lopsided second period. The 25-year-old stood on his head in overtime, making highlight-reels saves against Matthews and David Kampf.
With Ryan Strome in COVID-19 protocol and Kaapo Kakko’s recent designation to injured reserve with an upper-body injury, the Rangers were without much of their offensive firepower.
“It’s just going to be moving parts all season long,” head coach Gerard Gallant said Monday before the game. “Do I wish we had our top guys? Definitely. But we’ll move on and we’ll play the best we can and work hard. It’s no excuse if we’re not winning games.”
Barclay Goodrow was bumped up to the top six for the first time this season, on the second line with Panarin and Filip Chytil, who has filled in for Strome the past two games. Instead of his usual fourth-line spot, Kevin Rooney centered Julien Gauthier and Sammy Blais on the third unit. Greg McKegg, who was recalled when Strome went into protocol, skated in the middle of Dryden Hunt and Ryan Reaves.
Losing Strome and Kakko this early revealed that the Rangers need more top-six and power-play reinforcements. It’s not an ideal situation when a player like Hunt is logging 2:11 on the power play, which finished 0-for-3 on the night.
Mika Zibanejad held up his end of the bargain, and the Rangers struck first despite struggling to enter the offensive zone and getting pinned in their end a couple times after committing two penalties. Zibanejad’s shot from the slot at 13:49 went off the post, then the crossbar and out so fast that the goal wasn’t announced until after video review deemed the puck crossed the goal line.
Toronto dominated the middle frame, limiting the Rangers to just two shots on goal while racking up 17 of their own. Michael Bunting knotted the game 1-1 just over a minute and a half into the period.