Claesson replaces Smith in lineup tonight

When the Rangers take on the first place Blue Jackets tonight in Columbus, they’ll do so with a couple of notable lineup changes. One was anticipated while the other is not too surprising even if I don’t necessarily agree.

Both teams are playing the second of a back-to-back. What that means for the Blueshirts is Alexandar Georgiev gets the start, giving Henrik Lundqvist a rare day off. He can use it after how last night concluded in Detroit. Plus the team is back home in a couple of days for the improved Canucks, who are led by amazing rookie Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat. That won’t be easy.

Neither should the Blue Jackets in half an hour. John Tortorella’s club is finally starting to play well. Sergei Bobrovsky has rounded into form following an uneven start. He won’t be in net. It’ll be backup Joonas Korpisalo. He isn’t Bobrovsky. So, that gives them a better chance.

Let’s get to the other lineup changes by coach David Quinn. As expected, Brendan Smith comes out on the blueline. He’s really struggled lately after a good start. The big mistake he made that resulted in Detroit’s first goal by Justin Abdelkader early in the third period stands out. It gave the Red Wings momentum for their comeback win in overtime.

Taking his place is Fredrik Claesson. He’s finally off the injured list and healthy. He deserves to play. Before he got hurt, he had nothing wrong. A steady defensive defenseman, he is a decent skater who has been fine when given the chance. Here’s another one with Smith scratched.

The other move is Cody McLeod back in over Vinni Lettieri. Eh. Lettieri did nothing wrong on the little used fourth line with kids Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil. I would like to see more of that trio. But Quinn has other ideas, deciding to move Andersson up on the wing to the Kevin Hayes line with Chris Kreider. Ryan Spooner will drop down to the fourth line with Chytil and McLeod.

I don’t know. I’m just not seeing it. Spooner is a top nine forward if he’s gonna play. May as well have benched him and kept Lettieri in. Chytil needs to play more. He can’t be stapled to the bench in the third period. It’s not good for his development. Unless they use him on the second power play unit, what chance does he have? I like that Quinn continues to play him, but wish he could be higher on the depth chart. He still is only 19. They’re remaining patient with him.

For Columbus, Cam Atkinson is back in the lineup after missing Friday’s 2-1 win over Washington due to illness. That means he’s back on the dangerous top line with Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois. They should be a handful. Who draws the assignment? Brady Skjei and Tony DeAngelo, or Marc Staal and Neal Pionk. Probably the top pair because they don’t get pinned in as much.

Does Quinn match the top line of Mika Zibanejad, Vladislav Namestnikov and Pavel Buchnevich against them? Or is it gonna be the Hayes line with Kreider and Andersson? I’m thinking they put Andersson with those two because he battles hard and is better defensively than Spooner. Hayes has been on a good roll lately. So has Kreider. We’ll see.

Brett Howden sticks with Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast. It would be nice to see Fast score a goal. He’s been stuck on one since getting his only tally on Opening Night. The first goal the team scored.

Keep an eye on Anthony Duclair. He’s up to seven goals on his fourth team. He got the winner last night. Four of his seven tallies have come on the power play. He finally looks to be finding a home with Columbus. Duclair now goes to the net and finds garage goals. He is on the third line with Alex Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The Blue Jackets have one of the best defensemen in the game in Seth Jones. He won’t be paired with Zach Werenski. Instead, it’ll be Ryan Murray. Werenski is with Scott Harrington on the third pair.

Columbus isn’t only reliant on the top line. They have some heavy players who can create offense off the forecheck. The second line featuring Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson (seven goals) can get it done. So can Brandon Dubinsky. Though not the player he once was due to injuries, he’s a tough match up centering the fourth line. Riley Nash is also a hard worker.

The Jackets won’t blow you away. But they have lots of balance throughout the lineup. That’s why they come in 9-6-1 with 19 points.

It’ll be a good challenge for the Rangers. Let’s see how they respond.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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