Anthony Bitetto said he was speechless for a moment when he played his first game in a Rangers uniform at Madison Square Garden on Monday against the Penguins.
But the Long Island native, who was elevated from the taxi squad earlier in the week, was even more stunned when he finessed his first goal as a Blueshirt during Thursday’s 4-2 win over the Capitals. Taking the puck all by himself around Washington’s net, Bitetto worked his way down the middle and finished the strong play with a backhander past Caps netminder Vitek Vaneck to lift the Rangers ahead 2-0 at 9:15 of the second period.
“It was magical,” he said. “I usually don’t score those types of goals and you put that jersey on and weird things happen. More importantly, we got a good win and that’s a huge game for us as a team. That’s a Cup-contender team that we played, and I think we took a big step forward.”
Bitetto described it as a “blackout moment” before he began to pray that the goal wasn’t disallowed, considering his previous three tallies were challenged and taken away.
“I was thinking, holy bleeping, what is he doing?” coach David Quinn said of what he thought watching Bitetto take the puck himself. “And then it goes in the back of the net, and I thought it was a good play by the end of it.
“You’ve got to let players play to a certain degree, and he’s got a way about him. He’s just a guy that our players really enjoy and [he] competes, brings a life to our bench. And he’s played well for the two games he’s played. I really, really like his game.”
The Predators’ 168th-overall pick in 2010 was the only defenseman in the Rangers’ lineup Thursday who was in his 30s. After signing a one-year, two-way deal with the Rangers as a free agent on Oct. 9, Bitetto started the season on the taxi squad and has now found himself with a role in the defensive core amid injuries to Brendan Smith and Jack Johnson, as well as Tony DeAngelo’s exile.
Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin tracked the puck well for a majority of the night, beginning with a stop on a partial breakaway from Alex Ovechkin just 50 seconds into the game.
The rookie netminder, who finished with 31 saves and improved to 3-2-1 on the season, only gave up goals to Carl Hagelin on a bouncing puck at 18:57 of the second, and to Ovechkin, on a snipe halfway through the third that made it a 3-2 game.
“I feel better and better in net,” Shesterkin said through a translator. “I think this might have been my best game of the season so far. I’m looking ahead and, hopefully, going to continue in this direction.”
Alexis Lafreniere registered three shots on goal through 12:38 of ice time in the win.
Over the final 10:40 after Ovechkin made it a one-goal game again, the 19-year-old winger received just two shifts.
Jacob Trouba established a single-game career-high with nine blocked shots and tied for a game-high four hits, while posting a plus-one rating in 24:42 of ice time. The 6-foot-3 defenseman became one of just two Rangers who have been credited with at least nine blocked shots in a game, joining Dan Girardi.
The Rangers recalled Libor Hajek from the taxi squad and the 23-year-old made his season debut Thursday night. Filip Chytil, who is expected to miss four to six weeks with an upper-body injury, was officially designated to the injured reserve.