The Rangers kick off the completion of their four-game West Coast trip with a game against the Kings tonight. Vitali Kravtsov, slated to sit again today, remains a topic of conversation amongst the best writers, continuing the discussion we had in this blog yesterday. Vince Mercoglino listed his 20 points from the first 20 games, a few of which resonated with me and we have not brought up in detail listed below. After tonight’s game, the Blueshirts take on the Ducks tomorrow.
The quote below is from coach Gerald Gallant when asked when Kravtsov might return to the lineup. You already know my view on this, mirrored in the column by Mollie Walker as well as Mercogiano in his article. The one caveat to that view is that Walker noted that Kravtsov said he feels ready to play, but admitted he’s not 100 percent after recovering from the stomach flu and dental work on his infected tooth. Maybe that is a driver for him sitting, but sooner or later Kravtsov needs to be in the lineup to see if he can fill a key role or is that another spot that needs to be covered by an acquisition or call up.
here are five of the 20 points raised in the column that I don’t think we have substantively discussed and deserves broader conversation. This is not to say the other 15 don’t, but we probably have brought each one up as some time this year. I welcome your view.
11. I think, if the Rangers want to rise to the level of the Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins and other top contenders, they need to get faster. Infusing the lineup with speed must be a priority, especially if they want to be a team that prides itself on an aggressive forecheck.
This is an aspect that Frank Vatrano brought last year that is broadly missing this year. Last year, we noted substantively the lack of speed, especially compared to year’s past. Part of that might be due to the system with the forwards collapsing low at times. But the lack of skating speed, especially from the Kid Line, and need for improvement in that regard was a post-playoffs point of focus. New York hired Jessica Campbell, who was to work on improving the team’s skating, but lost her when she was hired as an assistant coach. This is a crying area of need and should be a target before the trade deadline.
15. I think the Kid Line of Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko can be a useful option when Gallant is searching for a spark, but probably shouldn’t be the lineup norm. The top six has gone into a scoring slump since the change was made.
17. I think Chytil has been the best of that trio so far this season. A suspected concussion set him back, but no one on the roster can match his speed-and-skill combination. If Gallant really wants to shake things up, I’d consider Chytil on the second line – either at wing or swapping spots with Vincent Trocheck, who hasn’t exactly clicked with Panarin yet.
I group these two together as they are somewhat linked. The Kid Line has great advanced metrics numbers but have been unable to score. if the team continues to win, at least in short run, I don’t foresee a change happening. But if the lack of offense up and down the lineup impacts the end result, then a switch will occur.
There is no doubt Chytil has been the best of that line. The gains we saw in last year’s playoffs have carried forward into this season. Moving Chytil to wing has been proposed several times. But his play down the middle has been solid. If he moves to wing, even on the second line, that would make Barclay Goodrow the third line center, which is not optimal. If Chytil slides up a like, Vincent Trocheck becomes a very highly paid third line center. That might end up as the solution but only if Artemi Panarin’s offensive woes continue.
Larry Brooks noted this is his Post Sports+ column today: “ There may come the time when the right move is to shift Panarin to Chytil’s left while Lafreniere moves up with Zibanejad and Kreider skates with Trocheck (who has formed zero connection through six weeks with Panarin). That would signal a significant upheaval.”
18. I think Jimmy Vesey deserves credit for reinventing himself and making the most of his second chance with the team. He’s probably better-suited in the bottom six, but he’s brought useful versatility and leads all Rangers with an eye-popping 66.88% xGF.
Jimmy Vesey parlayed a PTO into a roster spot. His hard work has kept him the lineup and moved him to the top line. I don’t think anyone believes that is the right spot for him or the team. But for now, he has not looked out of place there and is the least of the concerned on the top-six, especially 5x5
20. I still think the Rangers are going to make the playoffs, but the road is looking tougher than we thought in the preseason. The surging New Jersey Devils are for real and the New York Islanders are competitive again, giving the Metro Division six teams with legitimate playoff aspirations. I’m still including Carolina, Pittsburgh and Washington as threats until proven otherwise, plus the Atlantic’s big four of Boston, Toronto, Tampa and Florida. If you add the up-and-coming Detroit Red Wings, that makes 11 teams fighting for eight spots in the Eastern Conference. In other words, buckle up.
Thanksgiving is always viewed as a demarcation line for the NHL playoffs. If you are in a playoff spot then, you have a good chance to have one when the season ends. Clearly, that’s no guarantee with nearly 75% remaining, but a point of defense for the future.
The Eastern Conference and Metro Division is no cakewalk. As seen from the above, several teams who on the past were not viewed as playoff contenders and on the outside looking in are crashing the party. The Rangers are currently in the second Wild Card spot. Wins tonight and tomorrow will keep them in that posturing - at a minimum - and can push them into one of the top two spots in the division.
The Rangers have their fifth back-to-back set of the season on Tuesday against the Kings and Wednesday against the Ducks. In the first game of a back-to-back schedule, the Rangers are currently 2-1-1.