The Rangers cruised to an 8-4 win over the Penguins on Tuesday. Offensively, New York hit on all cylinders, scoring three power play goals, a shorthanded tally and four even-strength markers. Defensively, the team did lose some focus, especially after scoring goals of their own, but Igor Shesterkin was solid between the pipes. The same two teams meet Thursday night.
A few thoughts:
1) Line shuffle
- the big focus coming into the game was the line shuffle, Colin Blackwell was moved up to the second line, Kaapo Kakko downshifted to the third and Vitali Kravtsov, after a good first game, was shunted to the fourth line.
Kreider - Zib - Buch
Panarin - Strome - Blackwell
Laf - Chytil - Kakko
PDG - Rooney - Kravtsov
For one game, it all worked. Blackwell played the Jesper Fast role, scoring the first goal. The Greenhole Line (Larry Brooks' name), Kid Line, Young Uns, whichever name you like, was solid throughout, with Kakko a beast. Kravtsov was good again, showing the skills that made him a high first round pick.
Explaining the other day as to why Kravtsov was moved down, which is a short-term event and not set in stone, coach David Quinn explained: "When you make one adjustment your whole lineup changes. We like the way Kaapo’s played but we wanted to give the second line a different look with Blackwell.” The head coach noted that another reason for the move was to get Kakko and the rest of the kids line away from the other team’s top forwards and defensive pairings.
In addition, Kravtsov noted, “It’s much faster hockey. I need to be faster. The NHL is the best league. Everybody is so good and so skilled. I know the first game, it’s always hard.” Getting his feet wet on the fourth line, where due to the big lead, Quinn was able to roll four lines, using Kravtsov 11 minutes in the contest. The third line saw 14 minutes of action, despite only Kaako seeing time on the man-advantage, limited to just 31 seconds.
2) Power play
- three goals Tuesday, including one by Kaako. Larry Brooks had a field day on this in his column yesterday, calling out Quinn for his repeated usage of the top line, resulting in fewer minutes for Alexis Lafreniere especially. No disagreement in what he wrote and the second unit does need to see more action, but days like yesterday show why the top line, despite being overloaded to the right side, is on the ice for much of the man-advantage.
When the coach was asked on his Zoom call Tuesday morning how he could get Alexis Lafreniere’s ice time from the 9:00-to-12:00 range to the 14:00-to-16:00 neighborhood, he referenced the power play.
“Getting him on the power play will definitely increase his minutes. I think that’s a big piece of it,” Quinn said hours before the Blueshirts’ match at the Garden against the Penguins. “I think everybody just looks at the total minutes, and if he’s playing 12 minutes at five-on-five, that’s pretty good
But the fact is that over the last 10 games starting with the 9-0 ravaging of the Flyers on March 17 that represented acting coach Kris Knoblauch’s first game behind the bench, Lafreniere has played a total of 3:35 on the power play. To repeat: over the last 10 games, the 19-year-old winger has gotten an average of 21.5 seconds a game with the man-advantage. He has not set foot on the ice during a power play in seven of those contests.
The entitled first unit stays on for however long it likes, but that’s not even half of it. Lafreniere is no longer on the second unit, whose latest configuration features Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko and Colin Blackwell up front with defensemen K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba at the back.
Lafreniere’s power-play ice time of 1:35 per game — which ranks him ninth among rookies — is the least amount awarded to any first-overall selection in 22 seasons, since Joe Thornton got an average of 50 seconds per game playing for the Bruins in 1997-98 in a time when teenagers were scarce and their ice time was scarcer.
Nail Yakupov got more power-play time as a rookie, so did Nico Hischier, so did Patrik Stefan, so did Aaron Ekblad, so did Rasmus Dahlin. So did everybody else who came after Thornton. Some of them were even on teams that were rebuilding.
Everybody, that is, until Lafreniere.
Maybe this isn’t a laughing matter.
Laf will get his time. Patience is a good thing. With the team looking to make a playoff run, development has taken a backseat - rightly or wrongly is up to you. That will change, and if Laf and the rest of the kids played as they did last night, Quinn will be forced to play them more.
3) Adam Fox>/b> - the numbers in the tweets say all we need to know. He should be receiving some Norris Trophy consideration. If not this year, then next, since we know reputation is a big driver to inclusion in the award discussion.
4) Schedule - After wrapping up the season series with the Penguins on Thursday at MSG, the Rangers have two against the Islanders, four straight against the Devils and another one against the Islanders. The Blueshirts are not scheduled to leave the New York area until their final two games of the year in Boston, on May 6 and 8.
New York is five points behind Boston, who have two games in hand. The Rangers are nine points behind Pittsburgh with a game in hand. a win Thursday and it's seven points with that game in hand, which if they win, the gap is five points. That variance would be the same as with the Bruins, but no games in hand by the opposition, who still have Evgeni Malkin sidelined.