Chytil close to being ready as Rangers take on Bruins tonight and Sunday as fans return

For the first time in nearly a year, there will be fans at Madison Square Garden when the Rangers host the Bruins tonight and Sunday. A limited capacity crowd of approximately 2,000 spectators are allowed to attend the home games. They’ll have to wear protective masks and be socially distanced due to the pandemic rules.

To me, that hardly sounds like fun. But if people want to go and support the team or as we’ve seen this week with the Knicks, God bless them. I just hope they’re truly safe and don’t have any health issues.

Personally speaking, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. If you’re like me and have trouble breathing through the masks for long periods due to anxiety or other health related issues, there’s no option. That is too bad. The daily stresses of mental health have taken a toll on many people.

I’m sure the players will get a lift from the supportive fans who will attend this weekend. Maybe it’ll help struggling first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. He has two goals and no assists so far in his first 17 games.

The Rangers bring their 6-8-3 record into play against the very tough Bruins. They should be in a foul mood after getting spanked 7-2 by the Islanders on Thursday night. They gave up five unanswered goals in the third period. So, expect a better effort from a good team that’s lost three of their four games in regulation to the Isles. The other coming recently to the Devils.

In the first two match-ups earlier this month, Boston swept the pair at MSG by scores of 3-2 (Brad Marchand in overtime) and 1-0 (Jaro Halak shutout). The Rangers were without Artemi Panarin in the rematch that turned nasty. It featured three scraps including Pavel Buchnevich mixing it up with Jeremy Lauzon, who’s out with an injury. You also had Trent Frederic acting psychotic following losing to Brendan Lemieux, insisting they do it again. The rematch could come later. If not, you have the early matinee on Sunday.

Whatever the case is, the Rangers need to win hockey games. They were able to squeak out a shootout victory at the Flyers and beat the Capitals for a second time. But instead of following it up with an actual winning streak, they were too sloppy and undisciplined in an ugly 4-3 loss to the Flyers in a rematch. Igor Shestyorkin was hung out to dry. He faced multiple breakaways and did his best to keep his team in it despite giving up a bad short side goal to Kevin Hayes that held up as the winner.

The big takeaway from the latest one-goal loss was the improved play from streaky power forward Chris Kreider. He was flying literally during that game and recorded his third career hat trick. Two came on the power play and one at even strength. All within a few feet of Brian Elliott. Kreider has four goals over two games and now leads the team with eight. He’s certainly raised his level since the Panarin news broke on Monday. He remains out with not much in the way of updates. Hopefully, that issue goes away soon. It doesn’t sound bad.

Regardless, the Rangers must prove they can win without Panarin. They’re 0-3 this season when he doesn’t play. Counting the only game he missed last year, that’s 0 for 4. Obviously, it’s a big loss. He leads them in points with 18 including 13 helpers. He’s so dynamic that he’s a scoring threat in almost any shift. Opponents must game plan for him.

Without the Bread Man, it’ll continue to fall on the aforementioned Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, who had an up and down game on Wednesday. The good was he set up two goals thanks to his shot. The bad being he failed on two breakaways and lost 12 of 14 draws in the dot. Zibanejad still is without an even strength goal. We’re talking about over a quarter of the schedule played.

The Rangers could be getting some good news soon. Filip Chytil has finally been cleared and practiced yesterday full contact. He has been sorely missed. The 21-year old center was off to a good start with two goals and an assist in five games. He was looking more confident with and without the puck. It’s important to get the third line pivot back. That would give the team three scoring lines. Chytil is such an upgrade over the offensively challenged Brett Howden. He’s not expected to go tonight. But Sunday is a possibility. It depends if he’s ready.

Without Chytil and again no Kaapo Kakko or K’Andre Miller due to COVID Protocol, it could very well be the same lineup we saw the other day. That could mean little used Jonny “Soda” Brodzinski on the fourth line. I don’t see why they can’t try Morgan Barron.

The same for Tarmo Reunanen after how bad the defense looked outside of Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Brendan Smith. There’s not enough pop coming from the back end. It remains problematic when David Quinn must ice a lineup with Jack Johnson, Libor Hajek and Anthony Bitetto, who didn’t look as good on Wednesday.

UPDATE: K’Andre Miller was taken off the protocol list. That is good news. He should be in tonight.

Truth be told, Miller makes a difference. His skating and poise are missed. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon. They’re already down Jacob Trouba and the dismissed Tony DeAngelo, who continues to wait at home doing nothing. It isn’t a coincidence that the scoring from the defense has regressed since his departure. I know so many people couldn’t wait for him to go, but wouldn’t you say Marc Staal is missed? Badly.

I’ve caught some Hurricanes games. Former Blueshirt Jesper Fast is fitting in nicely over in Raleigh. He’s up to three goals with a couple of assists playing in the top nine. Coach Rod Brind’Amour even rewarded him with power play time where he scored one and set up another PPG. Good for Quickie. They never replaced him. From a leadership standpoint, he’s missed. He was also that versatile two-way forward who the coaching staff could slide up and down the lineup.

Colin Blackwell is a revelation thus far. He’s filled in nicely. Quinn is using him in the top six minus Panarin and Kakko. He’s even earning power play time and helped assist on Kreider’s third goal versus the Flyers by throwing the puck towards the net. Never a bad play. If only more Blueshirts had that simplistic approach. Paging Pavel Buchnevich and Ryan Strome. Both could have more goals if they thought shoot first. Strome hasn’t buried some scoring chances while Buchnevich is too pass happy.

The Bruins remain without David Krejci. A key second line two-way pivot behind Patrice Bergeron. They do still have Charlie Coyle who remains overlooked. He’s solid overall and is effective. They’re looking for more offense from Jake DeBrusk. A streaky scorer with a nice touch. He’ll be featured on the second line and power play.

Of course, Bergeron will center Marchand and power forward David Pastrnak. The Perfection Line. Kinda cheesy if you ask me. Why not something more Boston such as the New England Clam Chowder line or Beantown Line? It’s not a good nickname. It comes off forced. They’ll definitely be motivated off last night.

Charlie McAvoy anchors the defense. He really is blossoming into one of the game’s most complete defensemen. Big, strong and physical, the right defenseman also combines smooth skating with smart defensive positioning and is a good offensive contributor due to his booming shot. He hasn’t missed a beat since Zdeno Chara departed for Washington.

Given that Halak threw a fit after being in for all seven Islander goals which led to him breaking his goal stick, it’ll be Tuukka Rask for the B’s tonight. I’m sure the Rangers will see their Kryptonite on Sunday at high noon.

Maybe they can take advantage of Boston being short some guys. Their defense hasn’t been as good lately. That requires a strong forecheck with persistence and net front presence. If they can win the board battles, then it’s possible they can win. But they’re down significant pieces which puts a lot of pressure on the top guns.

Will anyone take up for Shestyorkin after Nick Ritchie bumped him last time?It should make for an interesting game. Face-off is approximately 7:08 PM with coverage on MSG starting at 6:30. We’ll see if the crowd makes a difference.

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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