Rangers shuffle offensive lines, defensive pairings, Tarasenko
New York returned to practice yesterday with revamped lines and a shuffled blue line. Following a outclassed loss to the Lightning, coupled with the absence of Kevin Shattenkirk; sidelined for 2-4 weeks with a separated shoulder, changes were expected. Latter concerns are the drop in their pace of play along with a marked uptick in shots against and lack of puck possession, all of which shown signs of improvement earlier in the season, but have fallen off over the past month.
As I noted in the blog comments yesterday Vesey was moved down again. Nam dropped to the fourth line. Chytil moves up to the top line while Kreider is on the second trio. Strome goes from second to fourth line. Andersson rotating on at wing with Beleskey, which could mean he is the odd man out Friday against Arizona. Zucc/Buch return to top lines, each of which was somewhat expected.
The most notable is Andersson rotating at wing on the fourth line. Much ink has been spilled regarding Andersson throughout the season. If he is only going to play fourth line minutes, but especially if he rotates in on the fourth line wing, does it benefit the player to keep him in the NHL rather than seeing top line minutes in Hartford? The answer depends on your view of player development. Does watching and playing minimal minutes outweigh seeing ice time in all situations and reliance by your minor league team? In addition, this dilemma is exacerbated by the future decision on Kevin Hayes and lineup construction.
Right now, the Rangers are a mish-mash of players with too many centers and not enough wingers, especially upper tier ones, unless a C is shifted to a W and/or elite player or two imported. That elite player could be Vladimir Tarasenko, righting a wrong when New York defected Dylan McIrath over him. St. Louis is reportedly reading to tear it down and Tarasenko, signed for the next four seasons beyond this one at $7.5 mil per, surely would look nice on the top line or power play. The cost wouldn’t be cheap and likely would have to include a first round pick, a top prospect and one to two young players. Tarasenko, for him is having a down year and he maybe has not become the stud winger he was hoped to be, but he should be good for 30 goals a year on the first line.
With Shattenkirk out and Marc Staal taking a maintenance day, the blue line was:
If Smith is in for Staal, he could be odd man out again Friday, which may mean McQuaid is ready to return. We also could see Smith play the right side next to Skjei if McQuaid is not ready. Someone needs to help steady Skjei’s game, though I don’t know if either player is the right fit. With ‘Kirk out, DeAngelo is now paired with Claesson, who probably has been the team’s steadiest blue liner this season.
One option could be to split to Pionk and Staal, recommended in this solid analysis by Mike Murphy (https://t.co/Sf70jm6aS2). Maybe pair Skjei and ADA and try Claesson with Pionk but that would leave Staal with McQuaid or Smith, which could be one of the slowest D pairings in the league. The current combinations are struggling, though the forwards need to do a better job of getting back and opting a defensive role, reducing the amount of room for the opposition in the offensive zone.