When the Rangers take on the Sabres in the rematch upstate, they’ll be without Jack Johnson. The veteran defenseman will miss his second game of the season. Unlike the first time this past Sunday at Pittsburgh, he won’t be a healthy scratch. He’ll be out due to a groin strain.
While it’s no cause for celebration, the injury to Johnson likely gives another opportunity to Brendan Smith. He’s been the extra defenseman David Quinn isn’t shy about using. Smith played twice in place of Tony DeAngelo and once for Johnson. If he is in, then the third pair will have DeAngelo with Smith. DeAngelo is still without a point having struggled. Not having a consistent partner hasn’t helped.
Another option the Rangers could consider is taking another look at Libor Hajek. Once thought as a good prospect due to his performance a couple of years ago at the World Junior Championship, he’s become the forgotten guy. Someone the organization wanted included in the Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trade to Tampa that netted Brett Howden and two draft picks (Nils Lundkvist and Karl Henriksson, the 22-year old Czech didn’t establish himself last year. He got into 28 games and recorded five assists. Hardly enough of an impact to merit the Rangers’ faith in him.
I’d be for seeing Hajek get another crack. He was a second round pick by the Lightning in 2016. The Rangers took him due to former Tampa GM Steve Yzerman’s unwillingness to include D prospect Cal Foote. Former Rangers forward Vladislav Namestnikov was also in the trade. He was a solid top nine forward who killed penalties well. Eventually, he was dealt to Ottawa. He’s currently a Red Wing.
The issue with that trade is the Rangers so far have received very little in return for a top four defenseman in McDonagh and a top six forward in Miller, who now plays on the Vancouver top line with Elias Pettersson. Howden is a bottom six player who currently is centering the third line in place of injured center Filip Chytil.
That means Lundkvist and Henriksson better turn into good players, or it’ll go down as one of the worst trades in franchise history.
As for who is in net, it’s Igor Shestyorkin. He gets the start still searching for his first win. That means more consistency. Alex Georgiev hasn’t been lights out either, but has been steadier and has the team’s only win. If he wants to grab the starting job, this is an opportunity to do it.
The Rangers are 0-3-1 in their last four and desperately need a win. It’s up to the top guns to start playing up to their contracts. We’ll see if Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, Jacob Trouba and DeAngelo can get it going.