Two days before the first meeting between the Rangers and Devils on Thursday, coach David Quinn made some changes to his lines. Before I get into my befuddlement over it, let’s take a look at what reporter Vince Mercogliano tweeted.
For starters, he’s decided to end the Ryan Strome experiment on the second line. Instead, second-year center Brett Howden will get the opportunity to play between Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko.
This strikes me as a little odd for two reasons. Howden hasn’t proved anything in the first three games despite a lot more ice time than Lias Andersson. The other oddity is Strome got a nice assist on Kakko’s first NHL goal. The timing is strange.
If he’s gonna go that route, why not try Andersson? He’s been more noticeable during his shifts. The sad part is he is stuck on the fourth line, hardly playing more than eight minutes a night. How is this fair treatment to the seventh overall pick in 2017? Especially after the good training camp he had. Andersson just turned 21. It is his second NHL season. So, there’s time for things to change. It just seems like he’s getting the short end of the stick.
Another notable change is moving Brendan Smith up to the third line where he’ll play in the top nine. Uh. Why? I get that the secret weapon has been effective in his dual role where he also served as the team’s top penalty killing defenseman. But how is having Smith on a third line with Strome and Fast smart? Are they simply rewarding him? It isn’t a long-term solution. So, I wouldn’t go overboard on the overreactions we’re seeing on social media.
To be blunt, Fast needs to get it in gear. If he’s going to play top nine minutes while being one of their reliable penalty killers, he can use a goal or assist. Secondary scoring has been an early issue. It probably will be for a majority of the season until Filip Chytil makes it back. I’m not sure when that is. But he’s obviously closer than newcomer Vitali Kravtsov, who’ll take longer to develop in Hartford.
Strome is a better fit for the third line. But he’s much more effective on the right wing. That’s where he got most of his 18 goals after coming over from Edmonton. He was good on a second power play unit last season. An area he can excel at when Quinn isn’t giving the top unit the majority of power play time. That also limits Kakko, who is stuck behind Pavel Buchnevich. A good offensive player who won’t shoot. He has two shots in three games. Far from enough to be considered a threat playing with Mika Zibanejad and Artemiy Panarin.
At the moment, the fourth line is Andersson, who must feel like he’s stuck in Siberia. He practiced with Michael Haley and Greg McKegg. Brendan Lemieux took turns with Haley due to being under the weather. I’m not sure that’ll improve with heavy rain forecast for tomorrow.
As for the mixed D pairings, it remains the same. That means Marc Staal with Tony DeAngelo, Libor Hajek with Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei with Adam Fox. While the new defense has been a little better, I’m not sure this is sustainable. In order for it to work, Trouba must be on the top pair as the shutdown defenseman. He can do it all.
No disrespect to Staal and DeAngelo, who weren’t as bad as perceived in the 4-1 home loss to the Oilers. If you looked at the three goals Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid got in the third period, the first was on the power play with McDavid banking one off Trouba. The second was Draisaitl going through Lundqvist on a backhand that was stoppable. The third was an empty net. The problem is I don’t think you want Staal and DeAngelo as your match up pair.
I could see going to Staal and Trouba over the short-term until Skjei finds his game. That’s the issue. Skjei must perform better. He’s being paid handsomely. Not to be on a third pair at this point in his career. He must find consistency. Until that happens, it won’t matter how much improvement Fox and Hajek show. They need Skjei to deliver or this blueline is in deep trouble.
At the moment, the Rangers remain 2-1-0 due to the ridiculous schedule. They’ll draw a desperate Hudson rival that remains winless after blowing a 4-1 lead on Columbus Day in awful fashion. John Hynes is already on the hot seat. Jack Hughes remains without a point. You know the Devils will be hungry on Thursday.
It’ll never the less be interesting to see what unfolds.