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Ryan Strome, Goal Whisperer

Rangers' Center Is Rolling & Taking Rookies Along For the Ride

by Michael Obernauer

On Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, Ryan Lindgren became just the latest Ranger to score his first NHL goal, and looking back at it on Monday David Quinn said that no matter how many times it happens, moments like that never get old.

There is, however, one aspect of those moments that is tending to repeat itself: Ryan Strome keeps injecting himself into the rookies' celebrations, because Ryan Strome is the one who keeps setting them up.

There are 12 skaters on the Rangers' current roster who at one time or another scored their first NHL goal in a Blueshirt; Lindgren, Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox and Libor Hajek all have done it in 2019, and on all but Fox's goal, Strome has picked up one of the assists. Hajek got his first against New Jersey back in March after Strome kept a play alive at the blue line; Kakko skated onto Strome's backhand flick to score his first on Oct. 12 against the Oilers; and on Sunday against Florida it was Lindgren's turn, taking Strome's sharp feed across the slot and scoring the first of his 10-game NHL career.

"Listen, if there's any new guys that haven't scored yet, throw 'em on the ice with me," Strome said on Monday. "Tell the coach. We'll get him his first."

All of those goals came at the Garden. Lindgren scored his just 5:06 into Sunday's game, when Strome took an Artemi Panarin pass at the goal line and spotted Lindgren sneaking to the backdoor. The assist was Strome's first of two on the afternoon, his third straight game with an assist and his 11th game out of the last 13 in which he has had at least one point - 16 points in all, second on the team to his linemate Panarin. 

Strome said on Monday that he feels like, offensively, he is playing the best hockey of his career. But his Head Coach said "It's not just the points -- I like the way he's playing in all three zones. He's a big reason why we've been able to withstand losing Mika" - a 4-1-1 record with Strome taking on a larger role since Mika Zibanejad was lost to an upper-body injury.

"I honestly think it speaks more to our team character in our group rather than any individual guy," Strome said. "But it's been a good opportunity for me to play these minutes. … I've played more minutes than I've ever had in my career. So I'm trying to get to sleep at night, get some rest and be ready to go. It's a good challenge, and it's been a lot of fun.

"We're going to welcome Mika back with open arms, but I think in the meantime it's a good opportunity for guys to maybe show a little bit what we're made of with our best player not playing."

In the seven-game stretch beginning with the Oct. 27 game against Boston that Zibanejad had to leave after the first period, Strome has topped 20 minutes on ice five times. Prior to that, Strome had played 429 NHL games and topped 20 minutes in a total of 10 of them.

In addition to his five goals, Strome's 11 assists through 15 games put him even with Pavel Buchnevich for the team lead, and already one-third of the way to his career high of 33 in 2014-15. Each one is a little extra special when it comes on a rookie's first goal in the NHL, a feeling Strome has known three times already in less than one full season as a Ranger.

"You just see the raw emotion and the joy. I was pretty fired up for Lindie, but then I kind of wanted to get out of his way and let him have his celebration there," the 26-year-old winger said. "I don't even feel like I'm that old, but when you see all these young guys, so young, getting their first goal, and you just see the look on their face more than anything and how excited they are. You play your whole life and to get a goal in the NHL is what you dream about, so it's a dream come true.

"Plus, the Garden fans know if it's a guy's first goal too, so they're pretty excited for guys."

Strome has assisted on three first NHL goals in 78 games in a Blueshirt; in 358 games before that, he had done it once, and the Garden fans weren't too fired up about it that time. Given time to think it over, Strome came up with it: "It was at the Garden, wasn't it?" he said. "I know it. Brian Strait." It was Dec. 20, 2013, his own rookie year, when he was playing on an Islander power play and helped set up Strait for a blast that got past Henrik Lundqvist. It helped jog his memory that the assist happened to be Strome's first NHL point.

As for who assisted on his first goal, "Mine was from Vanek and Tavares. You always remember your first goal, and I know Lindgren and Kaapo Kakko can remember that for the rest of their lives."

Lindgren scored into the same Eighth Ave. net that Strait did six years ago. The rookie left defenseman was on the right side of the ice reading a play and seeing an opportunity to drop down; Strome, setting up at the goal line for Panarin's pass, was looking for his other winger, Jesper Fast, but spotted Lindgren's move and sent a cross his way. Lindgren made like a seasoned goal scorer and roofed the puck short-side.

"When Bread had it I just wanted to get open on the goal line. I kind of like getting the puck below the goal line and looking up at things," Strome said. "At first I wanted to throw it in to Quickie, and then I looked up and he was covered. Then I saw Lindie out of my left eye.

"Great finish. Good little play there, but I mean, he picked a pretty good corner. Skillful goal."

"It was a big-time goal," Quinn said. "For a guy who is known for his defensive play, to collect a puck and get it out that quickly, it's a pretty special moment for him in a lot of ways. But it didn't go off three shin pads and in; it went top shelf, so it's even more enjoyable."

Strome would know.

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