The Rangers get a chance at revenge later today when they take on the Flyers at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately they’ll do so without Chris Kreider, who suffered a fractured foot in Friday night’s 5-2 loss in Philadelphia. The Rangers are still in the thick of the playoff race, but will have to figure out how to clinch a wild card berth without the services of the speedy power forward, who has been playing at a point-per-game pace for the last two months. Naturally, I have some thoughts on this, as well as some other Rangers-related issues.
- This may be a somewhat controversial take, but calling up Vitali Kravtsov is not the answer here. There are a few reasons I feel this way. After a whirlwind year for him, he’s just settling into a groove in Hartford. By all accounts, his performances have been solid and steadily improving, but he’s not exactly lighting the world on fire (1 goal, 5 assists in 11 games in February). Kravtsov’s style of play is also much different from Kreider’s, and I think the best route forward is to keep as much of the lineup intact as possible.
- Keeping the lineup intact means not breaking up the “1B” line of Panarin-Strome-Fast, or taking Filip Chytil out of the middle and playing him on the wing (a short-term experiment that didn’t bear much fruit when Pavel Buchnevich missed two games earlier this week). Kaapo Kakko has played much better lately in a third line role alongside Chytil, and he’s more comfortable on the right wing (Kreider is a LW), so I wouldn’t move him either.
- The two best candidates for Kreider’s spot then are Brendan Lemieux and Julien Gauthier. Lemieux is probably the Rangers’ second best net-front player after Kreider, while Gauthier has size and speed that approximate Kreider’s. If I were David Quinn, I’d give Gauthier the first crack with Zibanejad and Buchnevich.
- Switching gears, how good is Adam Fox? His play deserves more praise than just one bullet point in a blog post, but I have to call it out. He reminds me so much of Brian Leetch. I realize that’s high praise, but the Rangers have not had a defenseman with the mix of offensive and defensive talent that Fox has since #2.
- The rest of the defense lately has been… not great. This past week, the Rangers were on the wrong end of the shot attempt and scoring chance battle in all of their games. I know that doesn’t mean everything, especially this time of year when points are paramount, and the Rangers had a difficult week between the trade deadline, car accident, and lots of travel. That said, their much-improved process is the reason the Rangers are in this race. Yes, the goaltending has been good, but it hasn’t had to steal points every single night. Let’s hope this is just a blip in the radar and not a regression to the historically bad ways of October and November.
- Artemi Panarin for Hart, playoffs or not. It defies all logic that he’s considered outside the current top 4 of McDavid, Draisaitl, Pastrnak and McKinnon. Look at Panarin’s linemates! That’s no slight to Ryan Strome (who I think has been much better than most will give him credit for) or Jesper Fast, but come on.
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