Expect Gallant to make many lineup changes as Rangers find the right mix
The Rangers added four players at the trade deadline, and significantly improved the teams depth up front. These were much needed roster moves, and the Rangers are a better team on paper because of it. Now comes the fun part, which some will find infuriating. Gerard Gallant is going to tinker with the lineup regularly, and likely in-game too, so that the Rangers can find the right line combos heading into the playoffs.
Rangers lineup changes aren’t that easy
When the trade deadline was done, we all had our own projected and preferred lines. I thought the best way of going about things was to keep the top line steady, keep Frank Vatrano on the second line as a trigger man, add Andrew Copp to the third line to give Filip Chytil someone skilled finally, then keep Tyler Motte on the fourth line. We saw that in the first iteration of the lines. But now, things have changed.
Changing up the combos in practice doesn’t necessarily mean they will translate to a game day lineup. After all, the lines were shifted again at the end of practice. The outrage over moving Alexis Lafreniere to the third line in the middle of a point streak was certainly justifiable, but there was a clear reason for it after the kid was benched in the third period in the Jersey debacle. Backchecking was the main culprit here.
Another thing to consider is the condensed schedule. We are going to see more Alex Georgiev because of it. We are also going to see more rotation among forwards too. Especially someone like Lafreniere, who does appear to be gassed as well (this is just observation, not confirmed, but all of us in the BSB chat noticed it too). It will also be a reason why Ryan Reaves, who is currently a healthy scratch based on the lineup changes, will be scratched more often.
At this moment, winning matters more
For the rest of the year, it is about finding that right lineup that will win in the playoffs. Nothing right now is set. As much as we want to focus on development, there’s nothing wrong with seeing Gallant try to find the right combination.
GG had this message for #NYR regarding line shuffling:
"We just had a little chat about, ‘Let’s stay positive. We're trying to do this to win hockey games to go as far as we can if we make the playoffs… Have patience. There’s a lot of people on the ice & you’re all teammates.'"
— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) March 24, 2022
Regarding Lafreniere specifically, it’s said he’s comfortable on LW despite his scoring streak on RW. If the Rangers can have three legitimate scoring lines with Laf on the LW, then doesn’t that make the team deeper? Doesn’t it make them more dangerous? And on the flip side, does it hurt development that much to give Laf different looks?
Things will change again once Kaapo Kakko is back too. Let’s not forget that, should the second line find a rhythm, that Kakko might not go back to the second line immediately. If Ryan Strome and Artemiy Panarin click with Copp, then Gallant may not want to break up that line immediately. Kakko did work well with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, for what it’s worth.
What about the defense?
With all the changes at forward, we often overlook the defense. It’s no secret that Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren have been struggling. K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba, while overall strong, have been wildly inconsistent as well. If the forwards are being changed, why can’t the defense?
It does appear to be highly unlikely the top four see any changes, or at least it seems that way. Sometimes letting players play through their issues works out, sometimes not. I’m sure this is on Gallant’s mind, but he’s less focused on that at the moment.
The priority might be finding the proper third pair between Patrik Nemeth, Justin Braun, and Braden Schneider. Schneider was scratched in that Jersey debacle, so we might see him back in the lineup tonight. Braun wasn’t acquired to sit in the press box either, so it might be Nemeth’s turn to sit. Or not. Honestly you never know since Gallant plays lineup games until puck drop.
Patience is a virtue
If there’s one mindset to have right now, it’s patience. The next month or so will be just like October all over again. It’s a new Rangers season with four new players, and now it’s about finding the right lineup and push the right buttons to win in the playoffs.
The same level of patience we showed in October is going to have to be the same level of patience we show now. The difference: Igor Shesterkin has been human for a few games. It’s easy to be patient when the team is winning, albeit winning in an unsustainable manner. The trick now is showing that patience as the lineup tinkering continues, and hopefully better process comes of it.
Remember. They don’t need to be perfect. The Rangers just need to be good enough.