The Rangers received news shortly before Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers: Coach David Quinn and his entire staff would miss the game, and order to stay away due to the NHL’s coronavirus protocols.
Two minor coaches were called in to manage the team, and they were joined behind the bench by a team manager who was hastily delegated as an assistant coach. For a Rangers team with a constant feature of their contradiction, however, it was not a problem. Mika Zibanejad scored three goals and added three assistants in a second period of seven goals as the Rangers beat the Flyers 9-0.
“It was a different year, a different season,” Zibanejad said. “There were also a lot of firsts around the world this year.”
“Obviously you’re a little shocked when you hear that,” he said the entire coaching staff would be absent from the team, “but he needs to adjust.”
At least for one night, the Rangers took the ice under the leadership of Kris Knoblauch, the coach of their American Hockey League branch in Hartford; his co-coach, Gord Murphy; and Rangers general manager Chris Drury.
They replace Quinn and his assistants Jacques Martin, David Oliver and Greg Brown, who were temporarily isolated from the team. The Rangers said Thursday that Quinn and the other coaches will not be released to return in time for Friday and Saturday night in Washington, and that Knoblauch, Murphy and Drury will be behind the bench for both games.
The last while was not unprecedented, in the NHL or in the NBA, in the coronavirus era. The Vegas Golden Knights is coached one evening late January by their general manager, Kelly McCrimmon, when their coaching staff had to be isolated due to a positive test. And the Toronto Raptors soon played without their head coach, Nick Nurse, and five of his assistants thereafter. they were all found unavailable end of last month. Nurse ended up missing three games.
Knoblauch trained with his team, the Hartford Wolfpack, on Wednesday morning before receiving a call from Drury to travel to New York for the game in Madison Square Garden. After grabbing Murphy to help, Knoblauch said he was in contact with Quinn several times during the day.
“Everything is planned,” said 42-year-old Knoblauch, a former Flyers assistant coach in his second year as coach of the Rangers’ leading minor team. ‘We had a Zoom plan and had the video set up. Murph and I went through the video, talk shows and contests. We did not really have time except to implement what he planned. ”
Despite the unusual circumstances, the Rangers played perhaps their most dominant game of the season. Most notable was the actions of Zibanejad, who said before the shortened season in January that he had already recovered from his own attack with the coronavirus. Zibanejad has struggled this season; he entered Wednesday night with just three goals in 27 games.
His six points in the second period obscured the team record that Bill Cook had previously set on March 12, 1933, against the Americans in New York. And the 27-year-old Zibanejad became only the second player in league history to score six points in one period, joining Bryan Trottier of the Islanders, who did so in a 1978 game against the Rangers.
Knoblauch said his message to the team before the game was simple. “It was just trying to make things difficult,” he said. “Just go play and trust that we have what it takes to win a hockey game.”
Pavel Buchnevich also had two goals and two assists in the outburst of the second period, which was one less than the Rangers record of eight goals in one period – set on November 21, 1971 in a 12-1 throne of the California Golden Seals was. Alexandar Georgiev scored his sixth career finish, while Brendan Lemieux, Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba and Filip Chytil also passed for the Rangers, who improved to 12-12-4. They are in sixth place in the Eastern Division and will have to pick up their pace to play in the playoffs.
Knoblauch, who said Wednesday he had packed enough if he was to coach in Washington over the weekend, said the initial unrest disappeared when the Rangers took a 2-0 lead over the Flyers, who defeated them in overtime on Monday.
“When the game started, there were definitely some nerves and excitement, but then you get into game mode or coach mode when you call out the first line,” he said. “It’s definitely an evening I’ll never forget.”