Quinn’s puzzling lineup decisions with the Kid Line overshadows a not so impressive overtime win over the Sabres

Artemi Panarin and overtime hero Mika Zibanejad are all smiles following the Rangers’ 3-2 win over the Sabres. If only it was all positive for the team when it comes to the in game adjustments from David Quinn and Teflon assistant David Oliver. The good, The bad and The Ugly for a team that isn’t doing Alexis Lafreniere any favors. AP Photo by New York Rangers via Getty Images

If you watched last night’s game, here is the positive:

  • The New York Rangers won a game they had to have.
  • Their best players combined for the game-winning goal in overtime win by Mika Zibanejad with Artemi Panarin setting him up for a one-timer past losing Buffalo goalie Dustin Hasek Tokarski at 4:32 to deliver a 3-2 victory over the Sabres.
  • Adam Fox continued his emerging Norris candidacy by making a subtle defensive play to send Zibanejad and Panarin on a two-on-one rush for his 27th assist and 31st point.
  • Igor Shestyorkin won his fourth straight decision by making some big stops in a flat start en route to 21 saves.
  • Ryan Strome extended his point streak (2-14-16) to 11 straight by recording an assist on Colin Blackwell’s ninth goal that tied the game in a dominant second period that saw the Blueshirts outshoot the Sabres 15-2.
  • The ninth goal from Blackwell continued his career season that’s seen him produce 13 points in 27 games while making a strong case to stay.
  • With the victory, the Rangers cut the deficit to three behind the Bruins, who were 4-1 losers to the Pens.
  • Filip Chytil scored for a second consecutive game thanks to some splendid work from Alexis Lafreniere and Julien Gauthier.

Now, for the negatives:

  • Another lackluster start allowed the Sabres to get the first goal only 2:06 in when Rasmus Asplund was able to score on a rebound from Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin, who was allowed to take a wide open shot that created the goal.
  • For some reason, the Rangers couldn’t connect on any passes in the early going, causing sloppy turnovers that allowed a more focused Sabres to generate quality chances against Shestyorkin, who really made some key saves when his team looked like it was elsewhere.
  • The power play again saw its collective shadow by over passing so much that it looked like a bad repeat, which begs the question what exactly is offensive guru David Oliver doing to change the mentality of a top unit that refuses to shoot the puck.
  • A lost defensive draw by Zibanejad allowed Sabres forward Tage Thompson to tie it up with four seconds remaining.
  • The total ice times for the Kid Line are as follows:

A. Filip Chytil 10:02

B. Alexis Lafreniere 8:11

C. Julien Gauthier 7:16

Only Chytil received a brief 10 second shift on the little used second power play. How is this helping develop the young players? The handcuffs are on. They may as well be stapled to the bench.

  • Following that third line working hard to create Chytil’s go-ahead tally at 6:17 of period three, Lafreniere received only one more 52-second shift between the 12:26 mark and 13:18 mark of the third. He totaled 2:07 in the third period. Hardly enough trust even though it was his stick to it ness that lead to the Chytil goal. That is an epic fail by David Quinn.
  • If you’re wondering about Gauthier, who got even less time, his last shift following the second Rangers goal came between 12:14 and 13:14 of the third, totaling 60 seconds. He wound up with 2:23 played in the period.
  • Chytil, who was one of their most effective skaters, wound up with four shifts and 3:22 with 3:12 at even strength in the third. He barely played in three-on-three.

How is this helping the development of the young players? Even Kaapo Kakko, who seems to be fitting in well on the second scoring line with Panarin and Strome, was shortchanged in extras. He never took a shift after getting 5:04 in the third. That included a 29-second power play shift when the scarcely used second unit was given a chance. He totaled 18:29 overall including 1:45 on the man-advantage.

I’m all for sticking your best players out during the three-on-three due to how crucial the extra points are. But if the coaching staff can’t send out Kakko for one lousy overtime shift, what the heck is going on? Lafreniere scored a pretty goal in that very rink for his first NHL point from Blackwell. Now, he never sees the light of day in OT.

It’s puzzling the way this crack committee is handling the kids. I understand they’re prioritizing winning games due to how mediocre the Bruins and Flyers are. They feel they can sneak into the playoffs. Is it worth it? Not at the expense of the young players, who are the key to “The Rebuild.”

It doesn’t feel much like one anymore. For all the gaudy numbers Foxy is putting up while proving to be an elite defenseman, there is a level of concern with a majority of fans who want to see the younger forwards play. Here’s a sampling of how some of us felt despite the win.

I can easily cite a lot more examples of how JD, Reaper and Esquire (Mike) feel. And we aren’t alone in this thought process. Even David Shapiro of Blueseat Blogs was mystified at the lack of playing time for the Rangers’ top pick who showed a willingness to attempt shots and make a good play around the net that allowed Gauthier to dig out the loose puck for Chytil’s goal. You can’t be oblivious to what’s happening.

If the goal is to squeeze into the postseason and likely get demolished by either the Islanders or Penguins, who I think will pass the flawed Capitals (13 GA in consecutive losses), then they could be successful. I’m not saying that a real playoff experience for players like Fox, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, Shestyorkin, Kakko, Chytil, Lafreniere and Gauthier wouldn’t be beneficial. Playing in a true best-of-seven first round series would teach them a lot about how they need to play to win in the trenches.

However, I almost feel like winning at this point should be secondary. It’s the development of the kids that is most important to the Rangers’ future. Not the other way around. With apologies to the brilliant Bread Man, Zibanejad, Kreider, Strome, Buchnevich, Foxy and Jacob Trouba, who actually got a shot on goal, it truly should be about the players who this rebuild is supposed to focus on. If the Stars can do it when they’re a team trying to avoid a Stanley Cup hangover, why can’t the Blueshirts?

I can’t take all the East/West nonsense anymore. The reluctance to shoot is driving a portion of fans who love this team batty. To become successful, they have to have the right combo. That means a more straight ahead North/South style of hockey. You do need skill and can use it in certain instances like in transition and on the forecheck when it tires out opponents. But there are too many moments where you want to pull your hair out or toss the remote control when the players pass up wide open shots from scoring areas to pass the puck around like a grenade. That doesn’t work in the postseason.

You need to possess those gritty players like Blackwell, who lays it all out there to help the team win. That’s why I’m in favor of retaining Blackwell. When is the last time a secondary player scored nine goals including two on the power play off tip ins while wearing the Blueshirt? Jesper Fast did the nuts and bolts, which he’s continuing to provide in Carolina. He did in the Blackhawks with a half minute left in regulation for his fifth goal. He’s also scored a pair on the power play because coach Rod Brind’Amour knows how to use Quickie. I view what I’ve seen from Blackwell as similar. Keep him. Case closed.

Brendan Lemieux didn’t feel he was given an opportunity to show what he could provide. His role decreased under Quinn, who flat out lied about wanting to utilize Lemieux even in a top six role with power play time. He once received second duty as a net front presence like Kreider. But after the big addition of Panarin, things changed. He didn’t quite finish the way he hoped. However, the In-Grate One played with the necessary edge you’d expect from the son of Claude Lemieux. Pepe as he became known to teammates, was popular in the room because he never backed down from anyone. He played on the edge and agitated opponents. In the end, he realized he needed a change. So, he asked for a trade. He didn’t debut with LA yet due to the annoying quarantine. Good luck to him.

What about Brett Howden? Is he gonna get back in for Phil “One Goal” Di Giuseppe? This isn’t a knock on PDG, who plays a hard-nosed game and certainly mixes it up during scrums. I liked his shove on Dahlin in the first that ticked off the underachieving Sabres former top pick. He competes and is solid on the checking line with the reliable Kevin Rooney and versatile Blackwell, who at least Quinn realizes he can bump him up like Fast when he needs a spark. That’s why Blackwell should stay. As for Howden, get him back in over PDG. He’s younger and plays the game honestly. Even if it looks like he could be in danger of being moved soon.

Somehow, the team must take a look at each young prospect. What are they waiting for with Vitaly Kravtsov? It’s been over two weeks and he still is waiting…The 21-year old Russian who they selected ninth overall before Oliver Wahlstrom, must play. Find out where he is in his development, which could be accelerated due to a strong season with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL. By continuing to screw around, they risk losing Kravtsov. He wants to play for the New York Rangers in the National Hockey League!

Find out about Morgan Barron too. He has done well thus far in limited action with the Wolf Pack. Get him into the lineup. Ditto for Tarmo Reunanen. If it means a well respected veteran like Brendan Smith sits or winds up elsewhere because I can think of some teams who can use him, so be it. If they can finally see what they have in Libor Hajek, the they sure as heck can do the same for Reunanen, who only recorded his first NHL point by assisting on a Bread Man goal.

This blog is already too long. It isn’t about the game. They won. Big deal. They had a wide margin in shots over the second and third. I think the third was 21-8. So, that means they outshot the Sabres 36-10 over those two periods. It was Buffalo’s third game in four nights. They definitely looked shot in the second half. Credit Tokarski for Turning Back The Clock into Habs mode when he replaced Carey Price in the Eastern Conference Final seven years ago. He played well. That it required overtime due to a lost face-off is sad. But face-offs don’t matter according to analytic enthusiasts. Sure.

No three stars tonight. Only some very valid points about the confusing direction of this team. That finger is pointed directly at both John Davidson and Jeff Gorton. If they can’t see it, then it’s 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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