For 65 minutes, the Rangers played a fantastic hockey game in Tampa. From an on-ice performance perspective, you really couldn’t complain about their efforts. The Rangers scored the first goal, Igor made some big saves, Andrei Vasilevskiy made some great saves, and the only goal scored in real time against Igor was from a broken play in front and it just slid past him. All in all, Igor made 39 saves, but it wasn’t enough for the Rangers, who lost in the shootout.
The big story going into the game however, was that Alexis Lafreniere was a healthy scratch. It’s clear Lafrenière has been a huge disappointment this year. Did he at times deserve to be scratched this season? Yes. Should he have been scratched for this particular game in lieu of Sammy Blais getting his minutes? Probably not.
The optics on Lafrenière are what they are at this point, he could be heading into “bust” territory, he could be heading into an okay player territory. He could just have his development being warped. We just don’t know, because he we only see flashes of that pedigree from his QMJHL days, even when given the opportunity in the top six. So Sammy Blais got his ice time, and proceeded to be a plug who was just out there to run cardio and throw a few hits on the forecheck. Oh, and miss wide open nets on two-on-one’s.
On the positive side, the reunited top line of Chris Kreider, Kaapo Kakko, and Mika Zibanejad looked great. They scored the Rangers only goal thanks to Kakko’s work down low to keep possession before Zibanejad got the puck in his wheelhouse. Kakko will go without the assist, but the goal doesn’t happen without him. Hopefully he can maintain ice time with that top line and continue to get point opportunities.
When discussing the development of the young Rangers, it’s easy to rip on them when we see such directionless play from a Lafrenière, but give Kakko credit. He has found his role, he understands his assignments, and he is finding himself in the right positions on the ice to set things up. He’s having a great season and is on pace for 20 goals.
Thank you for following along in 2022 and looking forward to many more recaps and giving you my thoughts on what transpired in these hockey games. Until Sunday against Florida!