Jimmy Vesey left Game 2 last night with an upper body injury, clearly a shoulder injury, and did not return. The Vesey injury shortened the bench for Peter Laviolette, something he likely would have done with Matt Rempe anyway. Instead, Remple played regularly in the third period before getting a shift in overtime before the Barclay Goodrow winner.

It sounds like the Vesey injury is more than just a bump or a stinger, and it’s possible he misses an extended period of time. This will force the Rangers to rethink their lines, and perhaps make more prudent decisions to help the Rangers generate more offense, time, and space.

Option 1: Swap up the top-nine

The most likely option is Kaapo Kakko will dress as the primary option while the Rangers deal with the Vesey injury. Kakko doesn’t provide much offense, which is certainly a disappointing development throughout the playoffs. The skill is there, but for some reason it simply hasn’t translated to the NHL.

Given the Rangers have just two goals in two games, there’s a need for more offense. This presents Laviolette an opportunity to shake up the top-nine to get more offense. Filip Chytil as a winger just isn’t the right move, and the top line didn’t look good. Chytil looked good, but the rest of the line did not. There is a big difference.

There’s an opportunity here for the Rangers to turn their third line into a hybrid scoring/shutdown line, much like the Mika Zibanejad line, but reinserting Chytil as the 3C with Will Cuylle and Kaapo Kakko or Jack Roslovic. I’d lean Kakko since Roslovic’s speed is a better complement for Zibanejad than Kakko’s methodical play, but both work within different roles. That leaves Kreider-Zibanejad-Roslovic with Cuylle-Chytil-Kakko.

The other option is to flip Roslovic and Kakko, but this would effectively neuter the Kreider-Zibanejad combo’s offense at the expense of defense. There’s plenty of statistical evidence to support Kreider-Zibanejad-Kakko as a defensive line that can still drive play up the ice. That would leave Cuylle-Chytil-Roslovic as a speedy third line that can grind.

In this scenario, Alex Wennberg moves down to 4C with Barclay Goodrow and Matt Rempe or Jonny Brodzinski, depending on who Laviolette wants to play in Sunrise without last change.

Option 2: Address the Vesey injury directly with no other changes

If Laviolette doesn’t want to shake things up too much, then swapping Kakko in to address the Vesey injury is the cleanest way of doing things. Kakko is a natural RW, so it isn’t a direct swap. Rempe should be able to shift to LW rather seamlessly, but that may not be the best option heading to Sunrise without last change.

If we figure it will be Rempe-Goodrow-Kakko, then that line would fit the bill of defense-first. Kakko and Goodrow would do the heavy lifting while Rempe’s role would be to get in deep on the forecheck and just survive in the defensive zone.

There’s a strong argument to leave things be given how well the Rangers played for most of Game 2. Two goals in two games won’t cut it, but they looked much better in Game 2 than in Game 1, even if they weren’t necessarily dominated in Game 1.

Option 2 leaves things mostly the same without really addressing any areas for improvement either. Remember, just because they won doesn’t mean there aren’t areas to improve upon.

Option 3: Play Zac Jones and take a risk

Addressing the Vesey injury is likely going to come in the form of two of Kakko, Rempe, and Brodzinski. But let’s throw a wild card out there in playing Zac Jones and going 11F/7D. This is only an option because it’s abundantly clear Adam Fox is playing on one leg, and it’s a big concern.

Fox at 50% is still better than half the defensemen in the league, but the Rangers have lost that elite, game breaking defenseman. Erik Gustafsson has done well in splitting PP1 time with Fox, and while the powerplay is a concern, Fox’s knee issue isn’t the main concern.

Fox’s mobility at 5v5 is the big concern, as he’s simply unable to do the things the Rangers need and expect him to do. His cuts are hampered, his acceleration is hampered, and his strengths of walking the line and keeping the zone are certainly taking a hit.

This is where Zac Jones comes into the picture. He’s no Fox replacement, and I want to be clear on that. He’s not going to be a one-for-one replacement. In an 11F/7D scenario, there is no replacement. Jones would simply be out there with Braden Schneider while Gustafsson takes some of the defensive zone minutes and time away from Fox. In theory, this limits his exposure.

For what it’s worth, Jones is a strong puck mover who would likely be able to step right in and make smart, quick up passes to avoid the aggressive Panthers forecheck.

Option 3 isn’t a realistic option, but it had to be mentioned since it’s being talked about as a way to address the Vesey injury.

Last change plays a role

With the next two games in Sunrise, last change will play a role in how Laviolette addresses the Vesey injury. Matt Rempe usually hasn’t been an option away from MSG, but Laviolette may not have a choice in the matter. Florida is a physical team, and Brodzinksi certainly does not bring to the lineup what Rempe does.

The most likely scenario in addressing the Vesey injury is option 2, a direct replacement on the fourth line and letting the rest of the lines role. Personally, I’d prefer option 1 with Chytil back at center to stretch the offensive depth a bit. Chytil has looked fine, and it’s time to take the training wheels off.

The theme here is that, regardless of the Vesey injury, two goals in two games isn’t enough. The offense needs a spark, and Chytil can be that spark in the right role.


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