Quinn sits Johnson for Smith, Blackwell in for Lemieux, Shestyorkin starts

In less than five hours on NFL Championship Sunday, the Rangers face the Penguins again in Pittsburgh. It’s the second meeting over three days at the Steel City. They’ll look to rebound from a tough 4-3 shootout loss where they blew a two goal lead.

Even though they outplayed the Pens, the hosts got a couple of breaks to come back and win on Friday. They then went to work on Igor Shestyorkin in the skill competition with both Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang beating the Russian netminder with nice backhand shots for the win. Perhaps Shestyorkin’s unfamiliarity hurt him against those shooters. He’ll make his second consecutive start versus them tonight.

The Rangers outshot the Penguins 34-28. But penalty trouble resulted in Jared McCann getting credit for an own goal by Ryan Lindgren. He tried to push the puck into Shestyorkin to get a whistle. Instead, it went in to swing Friday’s game.

Instead of sitting Kevin Rooney for his minor penalty that lead to that crucial power play goal, David Quinn has decided to bench Brendan Lemieux. Citing a penalty he took, he isn’t happy with the one energetic forward who plays with edge. This is a player who has laid out to block shots while hobbled. He’s also a physical player who can provide a lift and draw penalties. But Quinn hardly used him last game.

One has to wonder what Quinn has against Lemieux. The Rangers aren’t a hard team to play. They’re still too reliant on their skating and skill. In Lemieux’s place, Colin Blackwell will make his Rangers debut. The coach praised his work. We’ll see how much he plays and how he does.

In another move that’s unsurprising, Jack Johnson comes out of the lineup. Brendan Smith is back in for his third game. Having been more effective so far, good for Smith. He deserves it. He’ll pair up with Tony DeAngelo, who’s off to a slow start. Pairing with Johnson couldn’t have helped. Johnson is a minus-four while DeAngelo is a minus-three.

DeAngelo must produce offensively. Even if he’s on the third pair, he plays second power play due to Adam Fox supplanting him. That’s cut into his minutes. A player with a good shot and superb passer and skater, he needs a good game.

Ryan Strome is another struggling Ranger entering play. Without a point in four games despite 10 shots on goal including a breakaway Tristan Jarry denied him on, he feels his line needs more simplicity. There is such a thing as being too fancy. Artemi Panarin hasn’t been as effective at five-on-five. He’s getting points on the power play. But we haven’t seen the same dominance at even strength. Perhaps they miss Jesper Fast.

Chris Kreider certainly can do more. It’s not only him off to a slow start with linemate Mika Zibanejad also off slowly. Three combined points between both isn’t going to get it done. Does Quinn put KZB Line back together? Pavel Buchnevich has been a bright spot. Maybe he should.

The question becomes what to do with line two. Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko are playing well enough to swap onto the Panarin line with Strome moving down to Phil Di Giuseppe and Alexis Lafreniere. That depends on who Lafreniere starts with. He’s still searching for his first NHL point.

By continuing to rotate guys in and out, Quinn isn’t giving the fourth line any chance to gel. I have no idea what Julien Gauthier has done to merit not playing. He went from having a good season debut to having his minutes sliced in half. Now, he’s missing his second game in a row. Isn’t the whole point to find out what he can do?

At least K’Andre Miller is evolving after recording his first NHL point on a secondary assist on a Kakko goal. He is now paired with Jacob Trouba. If Miller continues to excel, there’s cause for optimism.

Lindgren will work with usual partner Fox, whose four points have all come on the power play. That’s nice, but the team needs to be more successful at even strength. They also continue to struggle at face-offs. When Brett Howden is your best and he is on the fourth line and penalty kill, that’s a problem.

I would expect the Pens to give Jarry another start. He played well to get his first win of the season making 31 saves including denying both Zibanejad and DeAngelo in the shootout. He’s supposed to be their number one goalie.

The Rangers can’t expect Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to be as quiet as they were the other day. They better be on their toes.

After this game, they have two against the Sabres coming up this week.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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