The Rangers look like they have finally turned a corner. They have won four in a row, with the last eight periods being the best hockey we’ve seen from them all year. They have a solid fourth line, and a second line that is finally clicking. But the Rangers top line needs fixing, and it is primarily finding the right third player. As great as two-thirds of their counting stats are, most are with the man advantage. Until that top line produces at even strength, the Rangers won’t be a truly balanced team.
Barclay Goodrow isn’t working
All due respect to Barclay Goodrow, he is entirely miscast as a 1RW, and is the primary reason why the Rangers top line needs fixing. This isn’t an indictment of Goodrow, he’s just not a top line winger. He’s not a scorer. In an ideal world, he’s in a shutdown role on the fourth line.
Which makes you wonder about that contract, but hey if he’s a key cog in the Rangers winning a Cup, then whatever. I still understand the logic in signing him, even if I hate the contract.
This is very reminiscent of the Jesper Fast and Colin Blackwell discussions, albeit with far more of a history behind it. Fast and Blackwell had never really been tried consistently in those roles, but it worked. Goodrow has never scored more than 8 goals or 24 points in his career. At 28 years old, that isn’t likely to change, even with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider as his linemates.
Again, that’s no slight to Goodrow, he’s just not an offensive player.
Rangers top line needs a playmaker
Kreider and Zibanejad are both very good hockey players. Zibanejad may have the best non-Ovechkin right handed shot in the league. Kreider is, without a doubt, the best net-front presence in the NHL, and has been for a while. But neither one of them are playmakers. Yes, they can make plays, and that Zibanejad pass to Kreider the other night was ridiculous, but you don’t look at them as stylistically the same player as say Henrik Sedin. Stylistically, emphasizing that.
Enter old linemate Alexis Lafreniere. The Lafreniere-Zibanejad-Kreider trio lasted just 39:04 before being Lafreniere was yo-yoed around the lineup. But in that 39:04, the trio put up a 57.35 CF%, and a 58.43 xGF%. So they clearly were doing something right, even if Kreider was on his off-wing.
If you’re looking for something a little more traditional, they managed 20 SOG for, while surrendering just 15 shots against. They only scored one goal (allowed one too), but that was less about process and more about bad shooting luck.
This also puts Lafreniere in a much better position to succeed. We still don’t know why that line was broken up, other than the lip service of “Lafreniere needs to be better.” We’ve seen what a bit more time and leash can do with top prospects, given how Kaapo Kakko woke up. Why isn’t Lafreniere getting the same leash? Clearly something is happening we haven’t seen.
The off-wing doesn’t matter
Despite what Gerard Gallant says to the media, there is not one iota of truth to Kreider or Lafreneire being unable to play the off-wing. If anything, it would suit Kreider more since he has a good shot from there, a very Messier-esque shot that tricks goalies.
These are professional hockey players. Wingers can play from either side. Sure there is a comfort level, and moving someone out of their comfort zone may take some getting used to. However we’ve already seen great success with Kreider on the RW. And to be frank, at some point team needs outweigh comfort. These guys are the core of the team.
It seems that the issue, at least to me, is less about Kreider playing the off-wing and more about whatever Lafreniere did –or didn’t do– to earn himself the bottom six minutes.
More importantly, Lafreniere on the third line is not consistent with the message of the offseason. The Rangers have a giant hole at RW thanks to the comedic triple fail of the Pavel Buchnevich trade, the Vitali Kravtsov drama, and the Sammy Blais injury. If the plan was to get the kid minutes, then there is no better time than the present. The Rangers top line needs fixing, and their #1 overall pick is the solution.