The Quinn Combos line shuffle continues, what the lines should look like instead


It’s time to find out what Kaapo Kakko can do on the top line. Ditto for jailed former 2017 first round pick Lias Andersson. Getty Images

On Tuesday night, the Arizona Coyotes visit town for the first of a three game tour over four days with stops at the Islanders Thursday and Devils Friday. First up are the Rangers at MSG later today in the Big Apple.

It’s a return for Antti Raanta again. Since leaving in a trade with former playoff hero Derek Stepan, it’s been some bad luck for the former Rangers backup goalie. Injuries have contributed to him losing the starting job to Darcy Kuemper. However, Raanta just won his second start the other day against Ottawa. He could get the call versus his former team.

While the Coyotes enter playing well due to improved all around play in Rick Tocchet’s system that features two good netminders, the Rangers are losers of four in a row. In losses to Edmonton, the Devils, Capitals and Canucks, they’ve been outscored 17-7. Even more alarming, they rank 29th in goals with 17. That’s mostly due to coach David Quinn unable to find the right combinations for Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko, whose only goal came on a nice pass from Ryan Strome in transition against the Oilers.

Jesper Fast has three points (2-1-3) over his last two games. Due to being elevated to the top line where he set up Artemiy Panarin for his fourth in Sunday’s comeback that fell short, he’s starting the Blueshirts’ seventh game on the first line with Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.

That was my initial reaction. Notice my confusion over why Lias Andersson continues to be buried on the jail fourth line. I don’t understand what Quinn is doing. Nobody does. It looks like our 2017 first round pick GM Jeff Gorton selected seventh overall, is going to be out of the top nine forever. Great trade. The idea is for development. Not to stunt growth. He’s 21 and outplayed Brett Howden to this point. Yet Howden will center line two between Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko. At least Kreider is back on the left side.

Nothing against Fast, who’s one of the hardest working players they have. If everyone had his work ethic, maybe they wouldn’t be struggling. However, Quickie cannot be on the top line. It should be Kakko getting that chance. Meanwhile, Pavel Buchnevich is on a third line with Strome and Brendan Lemieux. Eh. Even if there are some aspects of Buchnevich’s game I dislike, he has to be in the top six.

If I were making the Quinn Combos, this is how they’d look for now:

Panarin-Zibanejad-Kakko

Kreider-Strome-Buchnevich

Lemieux-Andersson-Fast

McKegg-Howden-Smith

At this point, that makes the most sense. It gives Kakko the opportunity to learn while working with their top two forwards. That should include the power play. He’s the key to the future. Let’s see what the second pick can do.

Strome for now is the best option to center the second line. We know he’s not a top six forward. However, based on experience and his ability to make plays on the forecheck while being responsible defensively, he should stay there until Filip Chytil returns from Hartford. Give Kreider and Buchnevich consistent minutes with Strome and see if it can work.

Andersson is the gritty two-way center whose strong work habits, would fit in well with Fast and the pesky Lemieux. That had a perfect balance to become a solid checking line. They can lean on Fast’s experience. Plus become an effective forechecking unit. Exactly what fans want to see.

The fourth line is your basic energy line. McKegg and Smith bring a good work ethic. Howden should be the fourth center for now. He has good speed and playmaking instincts. So, having him on this line should be okay. He kills penalties like Andersson, but gets favorable minutes from DQ. There’s nothing wrong with doing the opposite and finding out if Andersson is capable of a more responsible role. He deserves a chance to succeed.

As for the D pairings, Quinn has decided to stick with what he had last game. So this is it for now:

Hajek-Trouba

Staal-Fox

Skjei-DeAngelo

I don’t agree. Brady Skjei has to be in the top four for the money they invested in him. He’s a much better skater than Marc Staal, who would be better suited for the third pair and PK role he plays. There’s nothing wrong with that. I would switch Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox. Fox can play with Skjei on the second pair. Let DeAngelo stick with Staal, who he’s familiar with on the third pair.

At some point, Libor Hajek cannot stay with Jacob Trouba. That’s insane. He’s not ready for that kind of role which is why Quinn mixes and matches as games go along. Hajek has to be sheltered because he’s not strong defensively. I’d like to see what Ryan Lindgren can do. They’re shafting him. He doesn’t belong in Hartford. He should be getting into games.

This is clearly a PR move by the organization by giving both Howden and Hajek increased roles due to the Ryan McDonagh/JT Miller trade with the Lightning. It’s not the right philosophy. Minutes should be earned. The results for Hajek have been mixed. I’ve had my say on Howden.

Alexandar Georgiev makes his first start at home. He last was in at the Devils. Hopefully, he’ll be sharper. He’s an important part right now because they can’t overwork Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist was peppered on Sunday after the Washington debacle. At least the Devils game was competitive.

That’s it for now. We’ll see if they can snap the losing skid.

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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