Tonight, the Rangers host the Blue Jackets at MSG. The game can be seen on MSG at 7 PM. After a three day break following a 5-1 loss to Calgary, the Blueshirts look to get their first win on home ice. They’re 0-1-1 so far at 33rd and 7th.
Through seven games, the Rangers are 4-2-1 with nine points. That’s good for fourth place in the competitive Metropolitan Division. After playing a busy schedule with their first seven games over 12 days, they finally got some practice time in this week. Hopefully, that means an improvement on the power play. They rank 28th at 11.5 percent, having gone 3-for-26. It would be nice if someone other than Chris Kreider could score a power play goal. Paging Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.
The second unit should be upgraded with the return of Kaapo Kakko. After a strong preseason, he only played one game and a period before suffering an upper body injury on a hit against the boards. He sounds ready to contribute. Kakko is in his third year and looks like a different player. Now, it’s a restart for him. Aside from being featured on the second power play unit with Alexis Lafreniere, Sammy Blais, Filip Chytil and Nils Lundkvist, Kakko will play on the second line with Panarin and Ryan Strome.
While Kakko is finally healthy, Ryan Reaves was placed on the injured reserve due to a lower body injury he sustained in the first period against Columbus. He played just over a minute before not taking another shift. Without Reaves, coach Gerard Gallant has decided to go with veteran Greg McKegg on the fourth line over Julien Gauthier. Vince Mercogliano gave me a direct answer as to why Gauthier is out.
While it’s true that Gauthier doesn’t fit on the fourth line which will comprise Kevin Rooney, Dryden Hunt and McKegg, if he can’t consistently crack the lineup, what was the point of keeping him on the roster? This goes also for eighth defenseman Libor Hajek. Is he ever going to take a shift? Jarred Tinordi looks like a waste of a spot after only getting into the first game against the Capitals. A misguided lineup that got blown out at Washington. Overkill.
If the organization still views Gauthier as a potential top nine forward, there aren’t many openings. Not with Barclay Goodrow getting a look on the top line with Kreider and Zibanejad tonight. Goodrow is being used similarly to former Ranger Colin Blackwell. Goodrow got a look with Strome and Panarin on Monday and didn’t look out of place. That’s due to his work ethic. He can be moved around.
Truthfully, Goodrow should be on the third line. However, Gallant wants to take another look at Lafreniere with Chytil and Blais. They were impressive at the end of a perfect road trip. With Lafreniere being totally accountable for an off game where the coach mentioned him by name, I see nothing wrong with reuniting that young trio and seeing if they can continue to have chemistry. Especially with how hard Blais plays. It rubs off on Chytil, who seems energized.
Obviously, the rest of the lineup remains the same. All three defense pairs are intact. I would guess Igor Shesterkin will be in net. Columbus has ace goalie Elvis Merzlikins. He’s been splendid to start the season. Goals will likely be at a premium. So, Shesterkin should start. You go with your best. Especially with the Blue Jackets off to a good start.
I’ll be back later with a game review.