The New York Rangers got back to work on Friday and will have four straight days of practice before they play the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. The big news was Kaapo Kakko will be out at least an additional month with an upper body injury.
Coach Gerard Gallant spoke to the media after practice and broke the news about Kakko, but was circumspect about the prognosis except to say that it was an ongoing injury “that had been nagging him for a week or so.”
Gallant was asked to assess Kakko’s game. He said, “He was playing fine. Kakko is a real good defensive play. He wasn’t scoring as much as he likes. I liked his game. He’s an intelligent player for a young player. so I like his game. He played a lot with the top lines. He’s trending in the right direction… We’d like to see him score a little bit more….he was playing with two players who are having great years…Kreider was doing all the goal scoring.”
They are getting Adam Fox back from an injury. Fox said it wasn’t too bad and they were being “extra cautious going into the break.” He did say that he probably could have played, but they were being very careful and he is now 100%.
Mika Zibanejad said that the break was helpful saying, “you get some time off to not think about hockey for a few days and give your body some rest. Lucky for us we have four practices and that helps as well.”
He did note that the Rangers have had bye weeks before around the All-Star break so it wasn’t a “completely new situation.”
Without Kakko in the lineup it looks like Alexis Lafreniere will continue to play with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider and Barclay Goodrow will be on the line with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin.
Gallant did address the issue of 5v5 play. He said what you would expect, that he is happy with the way things are going, but that they would like to see more scoring from the bottom six, “I like when they chip in, it’s more about keeping the puck out of our net I think when you keep the puck out of our net and play real good defensive hockey, we’re a better team. We’ll get our goals.”
He pointed out that they will continue to build on the team’s strengths. “We’ll score enough goals if our power play keeps going like it’s going and special teams keep playing the way we’re playing. Usually the magic number is three when you win hockey games. I think we can do that consistently with our top guys. Again, I love it when Gauthier scores, when Ryan Reaves scores some goals, when Rooney scores some goals, it’s important. I want them to do their role first, play their game. ”
Gallant said that Patrik Nemeth will not be back for Tuesday’s game as he remains out with a personal issue. He was very complimentary about the defense without Fox and with Zac Jones in the lineup, saying “Jonesy comes up and played and our D played really good. In those last couple of games they played solid hockey. They played as good as they could play…the group played really well together.”
No more Taxi Squads
As previously noted, there are no more Taxi Squads, something that the coach thinks is a good thing for his young players, saying “It’s makes no sense having them up here sitting in the stands. The more pro games they play the better. When they come up they play well.”
Speaking of the youngsters, Zac Jones and Nils Lundkvist were both in the lineup Friday night when the Wolf Pack lost to Springfield 4-2. Hartford goals came from Ty Ronning and Tarmo Reunanen. Ronning is third on the team with 10 goals and fourth in scoring with 21 points. Reunanen is the second leading defenseman in scoring, just behind Zac Jones.
To replace Kakko on the roster, Morgan Barron was recalled from Hartford. In 23 games in the AHL, Barron has nine goals and 14 points.
Impact of the break
When the Rangers went on their extended break, they were in second place in the Metropolitan Division with 64 points in 47 games. Since then, the have dropped into third place behind the Carolina Hurricanes with 69 points and the Pittsburgh Penguins with 66 points. The difference is that the Rangers have a game in hand on the Pens, though Carolina has still played two fewer games than the Rangers.
The Rangers maintain a three point lead over the fourth place Washington Capitals who have played two more games. Here’s how the East contenders have done while the Rangers have been watching the Olympics.
- Carolina Hurricanes 1-1-1, 67 points in 45 games
- Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0-0, 66 points in 48 games
- New York Rangers 0-0-0, 64 points in 47 games
- Washington Capitals 1-1-0, 61 points in 49 games
- Florida Panthers 0-0-0, 69 points in 47 games
- Tampa Bay Lightning 1-1-0, 68 points in 48 games
- Toronto Maple Leafs 1-1-0, 63 points in 44 games
- Boston Bruins 1-2-0, 57 points in 46 games
If the playoffs started tomorrow, it would be another match up with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Rangers. The Blueshirts haven’t play Pittsburgh yet this season with four games in the final two months of the season. Those games will tell us a lot and could very well determine home ice advantage in the first round.
Coming out of breaks
As Mika Zibanejad noted, long breaks midseason are not unheard of. The problem is that the Rangers have not done well coming out of them.
The latest was the longest break, the four month hiatus when the season was shut down by COVID-19. We all know how the Blueshirts dropped three in a row to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Qualifier.
In January 2020, the Rangers had nine days off with the All-Star break and were lucky to come back to play the Detroit Red Wings, the worst team in the NHL in two straight games which they won.
The Rangers started the 2019-20 season with two straight wins, then were off for six days. They returned to lose badly to Edmonton 4-1 then had another four days off and ended up losing four in a row.
In January 2019 the Rangers went into a nine day break on a three game winning streak. They dropped their first game to Philadelphia 1-0 and lost three of the next four games.
In December 2018, the slumping Rangers had five days off, coming back to beat Florida in a shootout. They still dropped six of their next eight games.
In January 2018 they went into a five day break with a 3-2-0 record and came back to lose 7-2 at the Garden to the Islanders and end up losing two in a row.
In January 2017, the Rangers were on a high, winning five of six. The lost 4-2 to Toronto at the Garden in their first game back and dropped the next game as well.
So, since 2017, the Blueshirts have had seven breaks of five games or more and have won twice. Does it mean anything? In five of these instances, the teams the Rangers played had as many days off as the Blueshirts with the Rangers winning twice.
In this case, the Bruins have played three games while the Rangers were off. In those three games, Brad Marchand got himself suspended while Patrice Bergeron sustained an apparent concussion and Matt Grzelcyk suffered an injury. That has to be helpful for the Rangers.
At any rate, we’ll see how the break treats this Rangers team.