It’s another early start for the Rangers and Hurricanes on a early hot August Monday afternoon in Toronto. For David Quinn’s team, this is almost do or die. They don’t want to fall behind 0-2 in a abbreviated best-of-five series versus a good team.
In order for that not to happen, they need more from key players Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. Neither Panarin nor Kreider did much of anything in Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Game One. Time and space was taken away from the Bread Man while Kreider didn’t make Petr Mrazek sweat in net. He saw the shots and stopped them.
As for Zibanejad, even though he had a goal and assist that set up Marc Staal shorthanded late, he wasn’t as consistent at even strength or on a power play that fired blanks in seven chances. Clearly, both Zibanejad and Panarin can raise their level. Kreider must be more of a factor in a couple of hours. It’s those three forwards who make this young team go. They’re the leaders.
It can’t only be Pavel Buchnevich and kids Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil going along with Julien Gauthier. Those were the best four forwards in Game One. Buchnevich was active which helped lead to Zibanejad scoring on a neat tip in of a Ryan Lindgren shot. Kakko and Chytil were noticeable throughout with the 19-year old rookie one of the few Rangers to get through the stingy Canes checking and generate chances. With Jesper Fast out for today, he’ll find himself on the second line with Panarin and Ryan Strome, who also must be more involved. If not, maybe Quinn swaps Chytil and Strome.
Regarding who comes in for the injured Fast, who was blown up by a clean Brady Skjei hit on the game’s opening shift, it’ll either be Steven Fogarty or Vitali Kravtsov. My bet is on Fogarty, who can slide in on the fourth line. He plays a straight ahead style and can fill in on the penalty kill. If by some surprise they decided to let former 2018 first round pick Kravtsov make his NHL debut, he would have to play on the third line. That’s if the coaching staff believes they need offense.
I fully expect Gauthier to be on the third line with Chytil and Phil Di Giuseppe. He had a good game and showed aggression versus his former team. Gauthier possesses good speed for a big man. There’s no reason not to try him in a top nine role.
On the defensive front, the Blueshirts need big games from Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo. Neither established themselves in the first game with Fox all but invisible. I expect him to bounce back. As for DeAngelo, he got one good shot on Mrazek during a power play, but didn’t make the passes we’re accustomed to seeing. He might not be 100 percent after being a game time decision on Saturday. That doesn’t matter. He must be a factor offensively. Especially on that top power play unit that didn’t get much done.
If it continues to struggle, don’t be surprised if Quinn bumps up Kakko for Strome. Kakko was much improved due to his skating and strength, leading the team with five shots. He looked more confident and didn’t shy away from contact.
In terms of the goalie, who knows. Igor Shesterkin practiced yesterday, but it all depends on what Quinn thinks. If the rookie is still uncertain, they’ll go with Henrik Lundqvist again. He was outstanding in his franchise playoff record 128th consecutive start making 34 saves. Goalie is the least of their concerns.
The Blueshirts must play with more edge. That means winning the board battles, controlling play more, and driving the net to make life difficult on Mrazek, who didn’t have to work too hard the other day. They must pick their spots on finishing checks. Not take risks that put them out of position. You want to be aggressive, but in the right way.
This is a big test for the team. They know what Game Two means in a five game series. Win and it becomes a more manageable best two of three. Lose and their backs are against the wall. They’d have to win three straight against a proven Canes that went to last year’s Conference Final. Highly unlikely unless you’re the Pens or Oilers. The only two teams I give a chance if they went down 2-0.
With game time an hour away, things are about to get interesting. By day’s end, we’ll learn a lot more about these Blueshirts.