COVID outbreak hits Rangers with Fox and Buchnevich out tonight

For 26 games, the Rangers weren’t affected much by COVID-19. Outside of Kaapo Kakko missing a week and K’Andre Miller who sat out a couple of games, the key players haven’t had to deal with the pandemic too much compared to other teams.

However, that’s changed as they prepare to host the Flyers tonight at 7 PM. A day after it was revealed that forward Phil Di Giuseppe was placed on COVID Protocol, the Rangers learned that both Adam Fox and Pavel Buchnevich had to be put on the COVID Protocol.

So, that’s their leading scorer and top defenseman who’ll miss the game. Without both, the Blueshirts recalled defenseman Tarmo Reunanen for the game. It’ll be his NHL debut. A 2016 fourth round pick, the 23-year old Reunanen registered two goals and three assists in eight games for the Wolf Pack.

Without Fox and the injured Jack Johnson, who cleared waivers to the Taxi Squad, the Rangers will lean heavily on Miller and Trouba, who are coming off their best game of the season. They each logged over 23 minutes and went plus-two in a 4-0 shutout of the Bruins. Miller scored his second goal and Trouba assisted on a goal.

Ryan Lindgren will be without his sidekick in Fox, who plays in every situation including the top power play unit. They’ll be hard pressed to replace the Steven McDonald frontrunner. Who plays with Lindgren? We’ll see what David Quinn decides along with Jacques Martin.

Given that Brendan Smith has worked well with Libor Hajek, maybe they keep them together. That would mean trying Reunanen with Lindgren. He’s a right pair left shooting defenseman who’s a good skater. We’ll see.

As for Buchnevich, he’s been a consistent scorer for this team. His 22 points (8-14-22) pace the club. Playing at a point-per-game clip for a while, Buchnevich has boosted his value in a contract year. He recorded a goal and assist on Saturday.

Quinn had just reunited the KZB Line. They had a great game with Mika Zibanejad picking up two assists and Chris Kreider adding a goal and helper as the whole line was on for three goals for. Now, they’ll have to adjust the lines again. Does that mean Kakko moves up? It would make sense to give him another look.

Without Di Giuseppe, Julien Gauthier is back in the lineup. So will Brett Howden. So, you’ll likely see Howden play on the fourth line with Brendan Lemieux and possibly Gauthier. Perhaps Kevin Rooney gets bumped up to the Filip Chytil line. Or they could put Gauthier there with Alexis Lafreniere and Chytil.

Whatever they decide, this game and the next one on Wednesday will determine if the Rangers can give themselves a more realistic chance at the playoffs. Still a long shot given their track record. Plus they still must play the Islanders four consecutive games. Yikes.

Keith Kinkaid gets the start. No surprise. He’s played well since replacing an ineffective Alex Georgiev, who must find his game. The team also placed Igor Shestyorkin on the injured reserve due to his groin strain. So, it’ll be a little longer before he returns. The safe play.

What concerns me is the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s three players who are out. Hopefully, the Rangers are taking every precaution possible. You don’t want another Sabres/Devils scenario.

The game can be seen on MSG. It’s also an NBC game on NBCSN. I would imagine blackout restrictions apply. I’ll have more following the game.

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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