As the New York Rangers struggle in March, the only thing most can agree on is the way they are playing now won’t cut it in the playoffs. Badly outplayed for over a month now, something needs to change. The easy answer is to flip Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko, but perhaps the best path forward is to break up the Kid Line.
As Luker pointed out on Monday, the Kid Line simply hasn’t been as good as last year or even earlier this year. Per Natural Stat Trick, this line has wildly different splits with and without Adam Fox.
- Kids with Fox:
- CF/60: 63.95
- CA/60: 42.04
- CF%: 60.34
- xGF/60: 3.24
- xGA/60: 1.87
- xGF%: 63.36
- GF%: 63.64
- Without Fox:
- CF/60: 53.7
- CA/60: 53.95
- CF%: 49.89
- xGF/60: 2.03
- xGA/60: 2.76
- xGF%: 42.31
- GF%: 53.57
We can draw several conclusions about the above, notably that the kids with Fox are producing in line with expected play driving, while the kids without Fox are simply on a shooting bender. Lately, that line hasn’t produced much at even strength, signaling their SH% might be dropping to expectations given their play driving numbers.
Now if the Rangers break up the Kid Line, it isn’t something that should be jumped right into, since we’ve seen how reuniting the trio reinvigorated Alexis Lafreniere. Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko have had success in other spots with other linemates, but Lafreniere was unlocked when they were put back together.
It’s not just the Kids struggling
The other aspect to consider beyond the thought to break up the Kid Line is that this problem with and without Fox extends beyond just one line. Leaving out the Kreider-Zibanejad-Tarasenko line, which is atrocious in play driving, all other lines struggle without Fox. That’s a breakout/zone exit problem, which certainly needs addressing.
Since we know the defense is having trouble moving the puck out of the zone, we need to find the best forward combinations to compensate. It doesn’t take a hockey genius to see the current iterations of the lines are struggling. The Rangers are routinely spending too much time in their own zone, which is a product of both poor defense and poor offense. The best defense is a good offense, and one that plays in the offensive zone the majority of the game.
If the Rangers are to succeed in the postseason, they need to find ways to play in the offensive zone. They aren’t doing that today. The key may be in breaking up the Kid Line.
To break up the Kid Line or to not break up the Kid Line
There’s a strong case to break up the Kid Line, just like there’s a strong case to not break up the Kid Line. It may not even come down to the play of the kids, and more about the play of the six star forwards ahead of them in the lineup.
The case against breaking up the Kid Line is simple: The team needs more time. Kane was just acquired, and Thursday night’s game was their first game since then with a full 18 skaters. They’ve only had one practice. All of this matters. But the Rangers are also running low on time to find what works. How long is too long to wait?
The answer to this may come after the next back-to-back this weekend. If the team is still struggling, then we may see Gerard Gallant shake things up. Perhaps it is as simple as flipping Tarasenko and Kane, putting Kane with Zibanejad and Kreider and Tarasenko with Trocheck and Panarin, a trio that worked prior to the Kane trade.
This is certainly the path of least resistance, as it leaves 90% of the lineup intact and still gives the Rangers three dangerous scoring lines. It may also help compensate for the putrid zone exits without Fox on the ice. This is the move most people see happening as soon as Monday.
In the event that at least one line still struggles following this flip, then the only other option is to break up the Kid Line and redistribute the wealth across three lines with specific skill sets. I don’t want to steal Luker’s thunder, but his proposed lines make the most sense:
Two of the three lines have documented success already, which gives us a good launching point. The third line with Lafreniere, Chytil, and Kane can be the sheltered third line, getting offensive zone starts and feasting on weaker competition. But this involves managing egos, a wild card which is difficult to predict.
This option brings more balance to the lineup and potentially creates three solid play driving lines that can score without being liabilities in their own end. It may be too soon for this conversation, but we may be arriving at this situation faster than expected. The next few games will be very telling for the Rangers.