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Rangers face Sabres tonight, line combinations, Pajuniemi, Othmann

November 21, 2021, 12:10 PM ET [177 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Rangers return home to face the Sabres at 6pm at MSG tonight. New York received an unplanned day off due to postponement of their contest against the Senators last night, a game that will need to be made up. The Blueshirts come in off a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs on Thursday and take on the Islanders at UBS Arena on Wednesday.

A few thoughts:
1) Faceoffs - the Rangers lost 37 of 46 - no that is not a misprint -draws Thursday. Granted not every draw lost is fillu lost possession, but against Toronto, who are in the to-five in the league in faceoff % won, that was the case. Ryan Strome was particularly dreadful - a fact he noted in the post-game - winning of one of 12 draws.

2) Game play - I thought the team was okay, not great, the first two periods. Solid enough but generating sufficient chances while the forecheck needed to be turned up a notch. In the third, they were a beast, challenging Toronto on everything. As said in the post-game on MSG, you get the sense that if the contest lasted a few more minutes, New York would have tied Toronto. If they play tonight as they did in the third period, the Rangers should notch a victory.

3) Lines - the lines today, especially now that Mika Zibanejad's COVID test was a false positive, are expected to be the same as Thursday versus Toronto. Having Barclay Goodrow with Zib and Chris Kreider is fine, not optimal. I have said a few times that I prefer allowing combinations a chance to build chemistry rather than constantly making changes. But you also have to realize when it is not working and a shift is needed.

I much prefer giving Alexis Lafreniere, who I thought was fairly good with Filip Chytil and Julien Gautheir, another shot, especially since that the LZK trio was driving play when they were together earlier in the year, despite not scoring. If not willing to move Laf up, then try Gauthier, who appeared to have turned the corner recently, on the right side of Kreider and Laf. Per Darren Dreger, GM Chris Drury is looking for a middle - really top, but by saying middle, he thinks the price will fall - winger, which looks to be a crying need with Sammy Blais done for the year and Vitali Kravtsov, who scored twice more today, in the KHL.

One possible option if Drury wants to dip into the minors is Lauri Pajuniemi, who is up to five goals for Hartford. Drury might want to let Pajuniemi marinate a bit more in the minors, but he did play well for Lilga, so he has "professional experience" and likely won't be overwhelmed. Pajuniemi might not be the first option, but continued strong play should make him a viable consideration.

4) Home cooking - as noted in the NY Post,  heading into their seventh game of the season at Madison Square Garden on Sunday when they face the Sabres, the Rangers are tied for the second-fewest home contests of any NHL team. They are 4-1-1 for nine points at home with a points percentage of .750, which ranks No. 7 in the league. New York has played 10 on the road and seven at home, not a wide discrepancy, but nice to know they will have a few more games at home than away from MSG the remainder of the season.

5) Future - I admit I was one who questioned the Brennan Othmann pick. But so far, he certainly looks to have taken his game to the next level. Othmann didn't look out of place in rookie camp and continued solid play makes him a primary candidate to get a chance at a roster spot next season.

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