Lineup changes looming

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The New York Rangers practiced on Monday and based on how the players lined up in practice,  three of the four lines will have a new look.  It’s an obvious effort to jump start the offense that came through with only four goals in regulation over the last two games.

The initial look has the Zibanejad line remaining intact, but Colin Blackwell was moved up to play with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin.  Kaapo Kakko will be back with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafrenière and the fourth line will be Kevin Rooney centering for Vitali Kravtsov and Phil DiGiuseppe.

David Quinn was asked about moving Blackwell up. “Getting Blackwell on that line with Strome and Bread gives it a little bit of a different look.  He’s had success with them in the past, he’s got a little bit more of a Jesper Fast feel to his game than Kaapo has.”   Quinn reiterated that it’s not a matter of teaming up the best players, that chemistry is a big factor.

He said that the reunited “kid line” will not see the opposition’s top pairings so that may help their offense. “I’m anxious to see it now…I really liked Lafrenière’s game the last few games and Chytil’s starting to play better and Kaapo’s played well.  I’m not worried about how they looked before, …the guys have continued to improve and I’m anxious to see how they play together, ”

Of course, with Blackwell moving up that means Kravtsov finds himself on the fourth line.  Quinn said it was no reflection on Kravtsov’s play, it was just a result of changing the lines.

It’s another problem

Moving Blackwell up is ignoring the biggest problem facing the Rangers recently. It’s that the Zibanejad-Kreider-Buchnevich line had gone ice cold.   Their stat line over the last ten games looks pretty good,but that is due completely to the two high scoring games against the Flyers.  Here are the even strength number over the last ten games, not including special team, overtime or open net goals.

Strome-Panarin-Kakko :  10 games, six goals, eight assists, 14 points

Zibanejad-Kreider-Buchnevich:  10 games, six goals, 13 assists, 19 points

Those numbers are great,but take out the two Flyers games and it’s a different story:

Zibanejad-Kreider-Buchnevich: Eight games, one goal, six assists, seven points

In other words, Mika is back,but not all the way.  Kreider is in the middle of one of his disappearing acts and Buchnevich is a streaky player who has gone cold.

If you want a simple reason why the Rangers are not scoring, it’s because the Zibanejad line has no goals and one even strength assist over the last five games.  That line has been outscored by every other line on the team over that time period.

Ulterior motives?

The logical thinking has always been that the Rangers will expose Colin Blackwell in the expansion draft.  With nine goals and 13 points while playing just over 13 minutes per game, they may be rethinking that strategy.   Moving him up in the lineup may be a means of giving him quality ice time to see how he responds.  Blackwell is the kind of player that every team needs. He’s an overachiever who can play all three forward positions, the power play and the penalty kill.

Under contract through next season, the27-year-old could be protected, but that would mean they would have to expose Brett  Howden or Julien Gauthier.

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