Quinn better hope reinserting Jack Johnson doesn’t result in another loss

It’s only the beginning of Year Three for coach David Quinn behind the Rangers bench. He’s done an admirable job developing some young players so far. Let’s not ignore the development of Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Tony DeAngelo, Alex Georgiev, the injured Filip Chytil and improved Pavel Buchnevich. Igor Shestyorkin we still have to wait on due to his start following the nice 12 game run last year.

Despite some positives including the emergence of rookie blue liner K’Andre Miller in the top six, patience is wearing thin on Quinn. It has to do with his questionable lineup decisions and in game adjustments. Case in point, Jack Johnson will be back in for Brendan Smith tonight at Buffalo. The question is why.

Part of the blame has to go to the Rangers organization. For some reason, both Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton thought signing Johnson as a Marc Staal replacement would be good. They talked up his character and experience. While both are true, if his early play is an indication, nothing has changed. The Penguins and their fans couldn’t wait to get rid of him. It was one of GM Jim Rutherford’s worst signings. They laughed at the Rangers for signing him.

We’ve already seen why. Paired with Tony DeAngelo, it’s been a disaster. It seems like they’re both on for goals against. Having Johnson with DeAngelo is like putting Tanner Glass on a scoring line. It’s not conducive. DeAngelo’s strength is his skating and offensive capability. If he’s with Johnson, he’s stuck defending on the worst pair. He has no points so far and is minus-five. DeAngelo also sat out twice due to a temper tantrum, which resulted in an extra minor penalty during a lifeless 4-0 loss to the Islanders.

Quinn made an example of DeAngelo. But it took him five games to scratch Johnson. This is the same coach who treats Brendan Lemieux with kid gloves when he takes a penalty. If only that same standard applied to everyone on the roster. You wonder how some of the players feel towards Quinn, who by all accounts is a good man with character. However, he’s not Mike Keenan, Pat Burns or John Tortorella.

Speaking of Lemieux, he comes back into the lineup to play on the fourth line. How much he will play is anyone’s guess. Will he break seven minutes? That’s the confusing part of how Quinn handles the bench. His fourth line played well the other night thanks to the addition of Colin Blackwell, who scored in his first game. With Brett Howden elevated to the third line, it’ll likely be Kevin Rooney centering Blackwood and Lemieux, who is capable of playing a bigger role on a team that isn’t hard to play against.

If Pavel Buchnevich remains with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin, then top pick Alexis Lafreniere will again start with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, who shifts to the right side. My apologies for indicating in another post that it was the other way around. If the top six stays the same, then you’re likely looking at Howden centering Phil Di Giuseppe (PDG) and Kaapo Kakko.

The question is for how long until Quinn tinkers with the lines. Something he does too much of for the players to find chemistry in this abbreviated 56-game schedule. He seems to prefer Fox on the point for the top power play unit which isn’t scoring enough given all the chances. It’s too right-handed. Strome is being wasted because he never shoots on the right side. It’s always deferring to either Panarin or Zibanejad, who every opponent knows are the trigger men. It’s only when Fox shoots that it looks good. I will continue to suggest Buchnevich in place of Strome because he’s a left shot on the right side who can one-time the puck or pass across.

The second power play unit rarely gets enough ice time. Although in the previous game, they actually got more time. But weren’t able to do much. Another thing I disagree with is this insistence on using both DeAngelo and Jacob Trouba on the points. Trouba already has too much responsibility. He should be only utilized at even strength to match-up and on the penalty kill. DeAngelo is an excellent power play quarterback due to his ability to get his shot through while also finding open teammates. If they flipped Buchnevich and Strome, the second center provides a capable face-off man for the second unit. Howden has been used due to being reliable. But he’s not a power play player.

There should be a better balance for both power plays. Quinn is over relying on the top one. That leaves little time for Buchnevich, Kakko, Lafreniere and DeAngelo to make an impact. I didn’t agree with Chytil hardly seeing any power play time.

Quinn has managed Johnson’s shifts. He’s used on the third pair and on the penalty kill. An area he excels. My question is why was it necessary to sign him when they had Smith, who has been a better fit. He also kills penalties well and fills in admirably. He also doesn’t take himself out of position frequently like Johnson, who goes for big hits.

The truth is they should’ve not signed Johnson. It’s like Libor Hajek has vanished. We knew that wasn’t a good trade. But you’re telling us he can’t do worse. Or at least try Anthony Bitetto. At this point, I don’t care.

The Rangers can ill afford to lose more games. They have two against a beatable Sabres team. They better hope Johnson isn’t an issue.

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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