Following the New York Rangers 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Saturday, primarily due to defensive lapses by the newly minted Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, and Patrick Kane line, who experienced their second game and loss together, a message sent to yours genuinely by a reader stating, “Panarin and Kane should be broken up. You have two pass-first players on the same line, which won’t work; nobody wants to shoot.”
The request seemed reasonable, given Gerard Gallant’s reputation for changing line combinations frequently. Still, despite some changes to the power play at practice on Tuesday, the Rangers head coach kept the two all-stars together.
“They’re trying to force the play into the middle of the ice too much, and there are too many turnovers,” Gallant said. “There’s chemistry there, but they must ensure we’re making strong plays. Too often, we’re trying for that long pass, east-west in the offensive zone. “They’ll get it together, but it wasn’t good.”
It didn’t help matters that Boston’s trade acquisitions in Tyler Bertuzzi (Acquired from Detroit for a 2024 third-round pick) and Dimitry Orlov(Acquired at 25% salary retention along with Garnett Hathaway from Washington for Craig Smith and draft picks) each recorded assists in Saturday’s game, Bertuzzi’s coming at the 18:07 of his first period with his new team who won their 10th straight contest and continued their historic regular season improving to 49-8-5.
Yet as Mark Messier noted on ESPN, “It’s harder to integrate stars into your system than guys who are there to provide depth ( Orlov, Hathaway, and Bertuzzi), so expect it to take some time for Kane to feel comfortable.”
“When you’re changing from one unit to another, it’s not that big of a deal because you play with everyone at some point,” Mika Zibanejad said, “But it’s a major adjustment with Kaner, and (Before Tuesday) we haven’t even had a morning skate to work together, only video and talking.”
Another reason for Kane’s slow start, per his new teammate Vladimir Tarasenko could be attributed to playing in the opposite conference, something New York’s other trade acquisition said he’s still getting acclimated to himself.
“It’s a different style of hockey playing in the Western Conference, and I’m still adjusting to the faster play of the Eastern Conference,” the winger said after his three-point night in Wednesday’s 3-2 win at the Philadelphia Flyers, which included the overtime winner and preceded a goal on Thursday and an assist on Saturday for his ninth point in 12 games as a Blueshirt.
The reason for the different preferences is a conversation for another time. Still, it would make sense, as Tarasenko was a member of the St Louis Blues for 10 and a half seasons which included a 2019 Stanley Cup victory, while being a Chicago Blackhawk, where he won three Stanley Cups and appeared in 1,297 games over 16 years, including 136 postseason tilts, was all Kane knew.
Alas, while breaking up Panarin and Kane, who was a force in Chicago from 2015-17, could happen down the road, it would be illogical to do so after a mere two games together, something Gallant applied to Tuesday’s practice.
The Rangers bench boss kept the two together on the top power-play unit. At the same time, Zibanejad and Chris Kreider were demoted to the second team, replaced by Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere, while Adam Fox continued to protect the blue line.
“We want to put people in the right spot, and Mika is a pretty important guy from the left circle,” Gallant said, referring to the revamped second unit featuring Zibanejad, Filip Chytil, Tarasenko, Kreider, and Jacob Trouba with Kaapo Kakko being the odd man out. “We hoped the first two games would go smoothly, but they didn’t. So, we’ll try to adjust. The biggest thing I found in two games is people didn’t want to shoot the puck.
They wanted to keep passing it and keep passing it. You’ve got to put some pucks to the net, and then things open up. We didn’t do that enough.” The passive approach resulted in a shorthanded goal against and just a single goal scored in 17 minutes of ice time for the man advantage since the Kane acquisition.
There were no changes to the five-on-five lines sans the NHL-approved emergency call-up of forward Jonny Brodzinski from Hartford and the return of defenseman K’Andre Miller from his three-game suspension for spitting on Drew Doughty during the Rangers’ 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on February 26th. The moves give New York 18 skaters for Thursday’s game at the Montreal Canadiens, meaning they won’t be bodies short any longer after doing so three times in four nights last week.
Also noteworthy from practice was the sight of Ryan Lindgren and Tyler Motte skating. The two are close to returning from their injuries but didn’t participate in the team scrimmage, where the Krieder-Zibanejad -Tarasenko group dominated the Kane- Trocheck-Panarin trio.
“You probably saw Panarin and I are forcing passes a little bit to each other,” Kane lamented later, “I know what people are thinking, and I know what people want, but it’s just tough to do that right away. ”
Kane though remained optimistic and seemed to understand that succeeding in a new environment can take some time, making these final 19 regular season games paramount to the team’s potential playoff success.
“This team has such a winning culture right now. I don’t want to say I’m stepping on anyone’s toes, but trying to fit in is the way to start. But as time goes on, there will be times when it will be important for me to be myself, especially as we get closer to the playoffs. That’s the real reason I’m probably here, is for the playoff experience and playing in those big moments and coming through in those big moments. I’ll keep at it.”