Gallant got the right Rangers lines using the wrong formula, but does it matter?

Gallant got the right Rangers lines uniting Kakko, Lafreniere, and Zibanejad.
New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) scores on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) in the first period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Friday, June 3, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Before last night’s dramatic three goal third period, the Rangers were getting utterly crushed by St. Louis. It wasn’t necessarily showing on the score board, since Jordan Binnington was doing his best to keep the Rangers in it, but it’s hard to look at the tape and say the Rangers were truly in it. Then Gerard Gallant found the right Rangers lines by putting Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko with Mika Zibanejad. It was the right line, but it used the wrong formula. The bigger question: Does it matter?

Kakko has had himself a nice season, doing everything but scoring. The poor kid hit another two posts last night, but he was controlling play and was one of the few bright spots for the Rangers. It’s becoming a running joke that he and Vincent Trocheck can do anything but score a goal. But it’s hard to argue with Kakko’s impact on the ice, even without the goals and powerplay time. He certainly deserved that promotion.

However, Lafreniere simply did not deserve the promotion. He took another offensive zone penalty and quite frankly has looked disinterested and overly cocky for a kid that wasn’t producing this year. I’m no psychiatrist, so I’m not going to try to understand what it takes to get a just-turned-21-year-old going on the ice. But whatever Gallant and the leaders in the locker room had tried previously, it wasn’t working.

So Gallant put the kids with Zibanejad, moving Chris Kreider to the third line in an attempt to shake things up. Naturally, the kids had a jump in their step. Gallant got the right Rangers lines, or so it seems. But as Luker pointed out, and it’s where the title of this post comes from, he used the wrong formula to get the right Rangers lines.

Kakko has been fine all season, albeit snake bitten. But Lafreniere was unjustly rewarded for his play and it just happened to work out. And you know what? That’s fine. We preach proper process here, but given where the Rangers are, sometimes you just need results to get the vibes back, and the process should follow.

Aside: I am nowhere near creative enough for the perfect wording from both Luker and BillTouspille here.

With the right Rangers lines, what’s next?

The Rangers have a brutal four game stretch against very good teams. As fun as the third period was last night, it will not happen against these teams. And if the Rangers play the way did last night, they will get demolished by Vegas, New Jersey, Colorado, and Toronto.

But lines matter. As we saw after one bad period against Detroit. Gallant blew up the lines for no reason, and the Rangers struggled mightily after. They were slow, the body language was off, and they couldn’t get out of their own way. We also saw how Lafreniere in particular responded to his, again undeserved, promotion. But the right Rangers lines are the right Rangers lines, and that’s all that really matters.

Whatever gets this team going is the right path at this point. The Blueshirts need wins. We can say what we want about Lafreniere’s struggles or Kakko needing a Mega Millions win to buy a goal, none of that matters going forward. They need to win. If this is what gets it going, then that’s fine.

Assuming Vitali Kravtsov, who has looked very good since his return to the lineup, sticks in the top six, then we have a solid third line of Chris Kreider-Vincent Trocheck-Jimmy Vesey. Filip Chytil might be that center as well, but we will see what happens. That, again, is a solid top nine, and Johnny Brodzinski adds needed speed to a fouth line that can be a forechecking monster.

The issue was never roster construction. This team is good on paper. Until November 6, the issue was poor goaltending and shooting. After, it was poor process and no confidence due to overcompensation. Perhaps it truly was rock bottom against Chicago. We won’t know until we see what team shows up in Vegas on Wednesday night.

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