The Rangers kid line needs to play more
The Rangers kid line has been the best line for the Blueshirts, and very few will argue otherwise. They have consistently had offensive pressure, spend most of their shifts in the offensive zone, and put up points and goals. Alexis Lafreniere is at the forefront here, with four straight games with points, including the critical game tying goal last night. Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko both have a goal and an assist while driving play and looking dominant in their matchups.
Rangers kid line driving play
Per Natural Stat Trick, the kid line is the only line that has a positive CF%, albeit with a negative xGF%, in the playoffs thus far. Now to be fair, small sample size warnings are needed, as are many warnings about how Games 1 and 4 deeply impacted the Rangers stats. They’ve also been among the top Game Score players all series.
I’m not a big fan of single game stats, since there is a lot of variance, especially in the playoffs, but this checks out with what we are seeing on the ice too. This line is consistently in the offensive zone and getting shots on net. Not all of them are quality chances, as the Penguins have been good at keeping the Rangers to the outside, but they’ve been getting the job done.
A part of this is matchups, as the Rangers have been putting the Zibanejad line out there against Crosby. But that’s what you need to do – get your third line out there against Pittsburgh’s inferior depth. The kid line is one of the reasons why we thought the Rangers had a good matchup against Pittsburgh, as that is a legit third scoring line. The series hasn’t played out that way, of course, with the kid line generating the most consistent chances, even if not all are going in.
Can they find more ice time?
The big question is how the kid line can get more ice time without impacting those matchups. Taking time away from the top six isn’t happening either, despite their relatively poor play. You can’t win without your top players playing like they should, so the team will go as far as they do, regardless of ice time.
So the simple answer is getting them more ice time in lieu of the fourth line, assuming Gerard Gallant runs 12F/6D going forward. If Tyler Motte is good to go, then it’s safe to assume he goes in for Patrik Nemeth, who didn’t play at all in Game 5. If that’s the case, then we are likely to see Motte-Rooney-Reaves as the fourth line, which isn’t the best option, but it’s better than what they’ve been running.
That iteration of the fourth line is better than what they’ve been trotting out, but it’s not going to be a true shutdown line you can put out there against one of the Crosby or Malkin lines. In that case, the fourth line becomes a breather line. This is where the extra minutes for the Rangers kid line will come from. Or at least, where the minutes for the Rangers kid line should come from.
It is time Gallant adjusts to what he is seeing on the ice, and not what he wants to see. The fourth line is not currently a viable option, and the Rangers kid line is playing very well. Logically speaking, this is an easy decision to make.
Or, if we are uncomfortable with giving the Rangers kid line more even strength time, give Alexis Lafreniere, who is white-hot right now, PP1 time at the expense of Ryan Strome.