The New York Rangers have been on fire recently and the vibe around the team has been the best it’s been in a long time. The trade for St. Louis Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko has seemed to give this team a big shot of energy and they’ve scored 18 goals in the past three games, all wins. With the Rangers first round opponent in the playoffs almost assuredly decided already, would there be value if the Rangers rest players down the stretch?
The case for resting players
If the Rangers rest players down the stretch, there will certainly be many people defending it. Health is possibly the most important factor going into the playoffs, as even the best teams can be derailed by the wrong injury. Holding players out as the season progresses for health reasons can be smart, but the Rangers aren’t exactly safe yet. The Rangers aren’t locked in, so don’t expect minutes management yet. But if/when they clinch, then expect the Rangers to rest players down the stretch.
We may see some earlier instances where the Rangers rest players, but likely against weaker opponents. Speaking in generalities, they shouldn’t need Artemi Panarin or Vladimir Tarasenko or Chris Kreider in these types of games. The issue is the Rangers could be at risk of losing these winnable games –something they did quite often early in the year with a full squad– and thus give the Devils or Hurricanes even more space in the chase for home ice.
Health and endurance through the playoffs is important, but there are other factors at play as well. It’s not as cut and dry as scratching Adam Fox here and there.
If the Rangers rest players, it may come back to bite them
Say the Rangers rest players in a rotation, one or two guys at a time, and they put up a stinker against the San Jose Sharks or Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s not a good look for a team that needs to grab every point they can in the coming weeks. That can certainly be a blow to their mentality.
Building chemistry, keeping confidence high, and finding the right lineup with Tarasenko in tow are all arguably more important that one game off for a key player. When you look at the teams that win the Stanley Cup every year you see how tight knit and close those groups are.
The chemistry in the Rangers locker room we can pretty much say is stellar. The vibes, after all, are immaculate. Between Kreider and Zibanejad’s bromance, the new Panarin/Tarasenko bromance, and the Fox/Lindgren bromance. We’ve seen how strong this locker room is. We’ve seen in clips on social media and on TV of all the players being great friends and teammates. It’s so important to remember these guys are humans, not hockey playing robots. They want to go to war every night with their brothers.
Playing into this chemistry is also finding the right line combinations. We have seen how well Kreider and Zibanejad play together, and now they have that key shooter with Tarasenko, something similar to Frank Vatrano last season. Panarin and Vincent Trocheck seem to be finally starting to find that spark with plug Jimmy Vesey as the Jesper Fast type complement to complete the line.
Barclay Goodrow is finally in the bottom six, where he belongs, giving purpose and a role to the fourth line. The Kid Line, which seem to be in the midst of a massive breakout, is firing on all cylinders. The lines appear to be set, save for a minor tweak on the fourth line. Now is the time to both build chemistry and possibly find Plan B’s should Rangers playoffs injuries mount.
One last thing to consider: If the Rangers rest players, home ice advantage in at least one round could be at stake. Having last change is extremely valuable and gives Gerard Gallant the opportunity to match up his lines to his opponents as best as he can (whether or not he will is a separate issue). The Rangers don’t currently hold home ice advantage but it’s definitely something they’d want. The Rangers are rolling at home now, and opening the playoffs in front of a loud Garden faithful will give them an extra boost.
At this point, even winning the division isn’t out of the question, so the Rangers have a lot to play for. No longer is making the playoffs the goal. No longer is “winning a round” the goal. The goal is to win a Stanley Cup. The goal is to have a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in June. It’ll be an easier goal to accomplish with chemistry, injury plans, and home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.