Following the hard collision with Evan Rodriguez during the second period of Sunday’s 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh, Rangers center Filip Chytil will not be available for tonight’s first of two at Buffalo. After looking like he had the wind knocked out of him, the 21-year old center took one more shift before exiting the game.
According to New York Post reporter Mollie Walker, Chytil was sent back to New York for tests to find out the extent of his “upper body” injury. Hopefully, the team doctors don’t find anything too serious. With the team struggling to establish itself at five-on-five, Chytil has been one of their most effective forwards. He was off to a good start with a pair of goals and an assist. He found good chemistry with Phil Di Giuseppe and Kaapo Kakko.
Now, it’ll likely fall on Brett Howden to move up and center the third line. Something he’s done before. The hardworking fourth line player has proven to be a good forechecker who brings a strong work ethic. He had some success last year playing with Kakko. Maybe he gets another shot to work with the improved second-year right wing.
The question is does David Quinn keep the complementary Di Giuseppe with that unit or perhaps he sticks rookie Alexis Lafreniere back on the left side to see what he can do on the third unit. Lafreniere has been featured on the right side with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider while Pavel Buchnevich has been working with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. I’ve suggested reuniting Buchnevich with Zibanejad and Kreider, who both are struggling. The KZB line should be back intact.
I would try the hustling Di Giuseppe with Panarin and Strome. He probably is the best fit to replace Jesper Fast. He’s a good enough skater and plays responsibly. It might be worth a look. Especially if it means Lafreniere plays his natural position and gets to work with Kakko and Howden on the third line. They won’t draw the hardest assignment. That could prove beneficial as it had for Chytil and Di Giuseppe. Getting a more favorable match-up might be a good way to finally get Lafreniere going. He’s done some good things, but still is without a point in his first five NHL games. I’ve long wanted to see him play with Kakko.
In terms of the fourth line, Quinn has a choice between Julien Gauthier or Brendan Lemieux. Personally, I’d prefer both in the lineup so we can find out what they are. Particularly Gauthier, who has gotten the short end of the stick from Quinn. Ditto for Lemieux, who’s the exact kind of edgy North American player the roster lacks. They can use his personality and willingness to get the jersey dirty. I simply don’t understand Quinn, who punished Lemieux for one penalty. If only the same standard applied to other guys on the team.
With Colin Blackwell scoring in his first game as a Ranger, he will be back in the lineup. I would think you’ll see Kevin Rooney too, leaving a spot for either Lemieux or Gauthier. I would lean towards Lemieux, who can make things happen while also providing energy. He needs to play.
It’ll be Alex Georgiev getting the start over Igor Shestyorkin, who got a lot of criticism for Sunday night. Granted. He allowed two bad goals in the third period. But don’t forget he didn’t have any preseason and has been splitting duty with Georgiev. It’s not easy to get into a rhythm. I’ll admit that his start has been disappointing. However, there’s no reason to panic five games in.
Remember when John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter were in the exact same situation? It’s unbelievable how quickly Blueshirt fans forget. Either that or they’re not old enough to remember. That worked itself out. I have no problem with Quinn going back to Georgiev for his third start. He’s had the one quality start with a shutout win over the Islanders. I’d hardly pin the 4-3 loss to the Devils on him. There were some tremendous breakdowns in that game with Jack Hughes dominating for three points.
My curiosity is how the goalie situation plays itself out. Quinn must handle both well. Communication being the key. Georgiev will turn 25 next month. So, they’ll each be the same age as the Rangers’ goalie tandem. We’ll see how things go.
The Rangers have dropped three in a row going 0-2-1 since the 5-0 shutout of the Islanders. Despite improved shot differential and better possession numbers, they haven’t been good at even strength. It’s not just goaltending either. There have been too many defensive breakdowns, undisciplined penalties and sloppy turnovers like the Panarin pass to no one on Sunday that lead directly to Bryan Rust scoring on a breakaway.
The bottom line is their best players have to be better. That includes leading scorer Panarin despite his six points. He needs to stop telegraphing passes and be more of a shooting option. It also means improvement from Kreider and Zibanejad, who was such a huge part of ’19-20. He didn’t look pleased in the MSG postgame via Zoom the other day.
It can’t only be the young guns such as K’Andre Miller, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren leading the way. They need more consistency from Jacob Trouba and Tony DeAngelo, who must produce even if his ice time has been cut. They’re 1-3-1 with last all to themselves at the 2-3-1 Sabres. A team that boasts dangerous scorers Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall with support coming from Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson. Keep an eye on rookie Dylan Cozens, who got his first NHL goal recently.
Buffalo doesn’t have a lockdown defense either and the goalie duo of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark sharing the net. It could be Ullmark based on his shootout win over the Capitals. Hutton boasts a good career record versus the Rangers. You have to figure he’ll get one of the games.
The Sabres are led by Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin on the back end. Game time is 7 PM EST.