The Rangers are finally back in action when they visit the Blue Jackets tonight at 7 PM. It’ll be their first game since a 4-3 home win over the Panthers on Monday.
After missing Monday’s game with an injury due to accidentally colliding with Sammy Blais in the first period of a blowout loss at Calgary, Filip Chytil was placed on the IR by the team. It’s retroactive. With the fourth-year forward again hurt, the Rangers recalled veteran center Greg McKegg from Hartford.
The 29-year old journeyman has already played in eight games for the Blueshirts in his second stint. He appeared in 53 games during ’19-20, tallying five goals and four assists in a secondary role. Last season, McKegg played in five games for the Bruins scoring a goal. He spent most of his time on the taxi squad.
At this point, McKegg is a filler who can play on the fourth line when needed. Given the team’s continued face-off woes, that’s probably why they summoned him. Even without Chytil, who isn’t a true center due to his inability to win draws, the Rangers have four NHL centers on the roster. Behind Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome are Barclay Goodrow and Kevin Rooney. While Goodrow is used mostly on the wing, he can play center and already takes face-offs. Both he and Rooney are over 48 percent along with Strome. Zibanejad is lower despite taking the most draws.
In regards to who gets the start, it’s anyone’s guess. Alex Georgiev was front and center talking to the press yesterday about his bad start. He spoke about getting back to the goalie he was. Truthfully, he hasn’t been the same since the blowup with former teammate Tony DeAngelo following an overtime loss to Pittsburgh. DeAngelo plays for Carolina now and is doing well. Georgiev must rediscover what worked. He’s allowed too many rebounds and been beaten on stoppable shots.
With the schedule picking up over the next 10 days including the Rangers hosting the Devils (5-2 losers to Boston earlier) at MSG tomorrow in a back-to-back, they’re going to need both goalies. That means Georgiev should get at least two starts over the next six games. Igor Shesterkin is the clear number one having played extremely well. However, he’s not a robot. That means he can’t play every night or be expected to save the team like he did Monday when he was under siege. They barely survived a furious Panthers’ rally.
I’m terms of what to expect, Kaapo Kakko continues to practice with Strome and Artemi Panarin. Despite not having any points, he was better against Florida. He lost his first point of the season when a Panarin goal was overturned on a successful coach’s challenge for goaltender interference on Strome. It was incidental contact. Kakko attempted more shots. He must continue to to finally get on the score sheet.
With Alexis Lafreniere struggling to produce, he’ll likely continue to play on the third line. It’ll be weakened without Chytil. On Monday, he played with Goodrow and Julien Gauthier, who again failed to score on a breakaway. Stone hands. If they stay intact, look for Sammy Blais to again play on the first line with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. He had an active game. Blais isn’t a top line player. But he is the kind of versatile player Gerard Gallant trusts. Ditto for Goodrow. Both have been good additions.
Defensively, the team must improve. Part of it is they aren’t spending enough time on the forecheck at five-on-five. If you checked the numbers at five-on-five, it’s scary. There aren’t many players faring well. That includes Panarin, who despite being a point-per-game, isn’t happy with his game. Good. He shouldn’t be. The even strength statistics are atrocious.
Due to that, they spend way too much time defending. That isn’t what Gallant wants to see. He voiced his displeasure following the one-goal win over Florida. The third period was unacceptable. In fact, they’ve been outscored 11-1 over the last four games in third periods. That needs to change.
The Rangers average under 23 shots a game. That’s absurd. They must have more of a shooters mentality. It starts in the face-off dot. A notorious bad team on draws despite having a former linesman work with them during training camp, nothing has changed. Losing face-offs leads to less puck possession. Go check the zone starts for most players. It isn’t pretty. Go by five-on-five on hockey-reference.com. That’ll paint a true picture.
Elvis Merzlikins is starting for Columbus. He’s been excellent so far. In the first meeting, the Rangers got the better of him by scoring four times on 37 shots in a home win on Oct. 29. That’s his only loss so far. He enters 5-1-0 with a 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage. If it’s Shesterkin again, it’s a high profile goalie match-up. He’s 6-2-2 with a 2.37 GAA, .931 save percentage and one shutout that came versus Columbus.
I’ll have more following the game.