Blais done for season with right ACL tear, why Reaves didn’t go after Subban

The news isn’t good for the Rangers. Sammy Blais is done for the season with a torn right ACL. He suffered the injury during Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Devils when he and P.K. Subban came together in the corner.

The controversial play saw Blais race for a loose puck only to be tripped by Subban, which caused him to lose his balance. His right leg was exposed to the boards. The awful collision lead to Rangers’ trainer Jim Ramsay coming out and helping the hobbled Blais off the ice.

Regarding Subban, who has a recent history of slewfooting opponents, it is what it is. If NHL Player Safety were going to take action, they probably would have by now. However, with the Devils game against the Senators postponed due to a COVID outbreak with Ottawa that also will impact the Rangers this weekend (also canceled), the NHL could still decide to discipline Subban. He’s been fined twice this season for incidents with Milan Lucic and Trevor Zegras.

One thing that works against any supplementary discipline is the ridiculous PR letter the Rangers organization put out last season. Following the perplexing decision not to suspend repeat offender Tom Wilson for his cheap shots on Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin, the Rangers put out a letter ripping Department of Player Safety head George Parros for not further punishing Wilson more than a $5,000 fine. Obviously influenced by MSG CEO James Dolan, it didn’t do the team any favors.

Furthermore, there have been complaints about why Ryan Reaves didn’t go after Subban. The criticism is misguided. They were in a close game versus a division rival. That wasn’t the time or place for retribution. Especially with the instigator rule remaining a deterrent for players to take matters into their own hands. See Anthony Cirelli’s strong response to a Brock Nelson hit on Alex Killorn in the Lightning’s 4-1 win over the Islanders last night. He got two for instigating, five for fighting and an automatic 10-minute misconduct.

Already down a forward, Reaves could ill afford to take a similar course of action. Not only because it was a rivalry game. But precious points were on the line. If he gets ejected, that leaves coach Gerard Gallant with 10 forwards for the rest of the game. Not worth it.

It is unfortunate that Blais is lost for the year. A hard-working physical player who’s made a positive impact with his hard hitting style, the Blueshirts will miss the 25-year old. A versatile forward who can play either side, the former St. Louis Blue was moved around by Gallant, who trusted him. Blais was on the right side of the top line.

You don’t replace what he brings. However, the Rangers must move on without Blais. Gallant told reporters that it’ll be the versatile Barclay Goodrow, who’ll get the first crack with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider when the Rangers host the Canadiens tonight. Filip Chytil is expected back. It looks like he’ll center the third line with Alexis Lafreniere and Julien Gauthier, who now seems to have a permanent place in the lineup. He’s played well since being reinserted.

While I don’t feel Goodrow is a long-term fit on the first line, I’m okay with it for the time being. Goodrow works hard enough on the forecheck. He brings a similar quality to Blais. However, the team’s right wing issue isn’t going away. Goodrow would be better served centering the third line where he’s proven capable in the face-off dot.

Personally, I’d like to see Chytil shift to right wing. He’s proven capable of scoring when on the wing. It frees him up. Given his game-breaking speed in transition and shot, I think he’d be a good fit with Zibanejad and Kreider.

Right now, Gallant isn’t moving Lafreniere up to that line. He’s gotta do more to be in the top six. Keeping him on the third line makes sense. He’s 20 and still learning the NHL game. As frustrating as it is to see the 2020 first pick not always getting consistent ice time, they must remain patient with him. It’s a process.

With a breakout game the other day, Kaapo Kakko will remain with Ryan Strome and Panarin on the second line. Prior to his first goal of the season and assist, he’d shown signs. Maybe Gallant knows better than us. It came together on Sunday with Kakko also getting a key goal in the shootout. Now, we must see more consistency from the third-year right wing.

With Blais no longer an option, does that injury force Team President and GM Chris Drury to explore acquiring another scorer? Maybe they’ll wait and see how things evolve with Kakko and Lafreniere. Both remain keys to the season. Without Vitali Kravtsov, who won’t be returning from Traktor anytime soon, this is what it is.

It’s either play a better secondary option out of position for now or hope Lafreniere shows enough growth to be moved up. For now, Gallant will try Goodrow on the top line. He’ll likely mix and match. That’s what happens when you lose a good player.

For the cynics crying over spilt milk due to Blais being out, enough. To repeat what New York Post reporter Mollie Walker wrote during the off-season, the Rangers couldn’t afford to keep Pavel Buchnevich. Especially over the long-term. They knew they’d have to extend Adam Fox, which they did last week for an average cap hit of $9.5 million. They prioritized Igor Shesterkin, who’s proving he’s worth his new contract that pays him over five million. Plus got Zibanejad signed.

With Kakko a restricted free agent next summer, who knows what he’ll cost. It largely depends if he can build on the good game he had. He can’t disappear again into witness protection for two weeks. They need the ’19 second pick to produce. He’s playing with a superstar and good second center. No excuses.

It’s unfortunate that Blais is done. He had four assists and 37 hits in 14 games. No. He was never going to finish like Buchnevich, who is up to four goals and four assists with the Blues. However, he quickly became a fan favorite. That’s why any fan who whines is a hypocrite. Don’t forget they also got a 2022 second round pick back in that deal. That could prove crucial.

Greg McKegg was once again recalled. Igor Shesterkin will get the nod later. It looks like it’ll be Cayden Primeau for Montreal due to Jake Allen having a concussion.

With Carey Price still working his way back after admitting he had a substance abuse problem that he dealt with through the voluntary NHL program, the Rangers are facing a third string goalie on a struggling team. They must bank the two points.

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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