Panarin in protocol, Jones in for Nemeth, Lafreniere on second line for big test in rematch versus Lightning

Normally, I don’t post blogs leading up to a game. However, with it being a good measuring stick to see where the team is, the rematch versus the champion Lightning starts soon in a Sunday afternoon matinee at MSG.

News broke that leading scorer Artemi Panarin won’t be available for the game. He’s in the dreaded protocol. With the Bread Man out, Gerard Gallant has had to tweak his lines for a big match-up.

Alexis Lafreniere will get a chance in the top six. He’s in Panarin’s spot on the second line with Ryan Strome and Barclay Goodrow. It’ll be interesting to see how he does. Coming off a win where he notched his seventh goal thanks to a Brian Elliott gaffe, he’ll have a bigger role. It’s a good test for him.

Also of note, the Rangers list defenseman Patrik Nemeth out due to “illness.” Whatever that means. Top secret. Witness protection! Without him, K’Andre Miller gets a shot on the top pair with Adam Fox. We’ll see if he can build on a good game in Friday’s shootout win in Tampa.

Obviously, that also means different pairings for the other two. Libor Hajek gets to play with Jacob Trouba. His job is to keep it simple and make a good first pass. Cancel that! Hajek back with Fox while Miller stays with Trouba. My mistake due to little sleep. Tough night.

With the D a bit shorthanded, rookie Zac Jones plays his first NHL game of ’21-22. He showed some potential last year. Now, he will have a small role on an all rookie third pair with Nils Lundkvist. How much they play depends on how the game goes.

Don’t forget the Rangers host Edmonton tomorrow night. So, a back-to-back which could signal Alex Georgiev. That could be a factor in how much ice time Gallant gives to his supporting cast.

Mika Zibanejad will need to step up with Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko. He did when Panarin was out prior to the long Christmas break. But the second line will be a key.

There is also the marquee all Russian goalie match-up between Igor Shesterkin and the returning all world Andrei Vasilevskiy. That makes it an intriguing game. If you don’t care about the NFL like me due to the pathetic Giants, then this is the kind of game to look forward to.

Even with the lineups probably favoring the Bolts, it’s an opportunity for the Rangers to get a sweep versus the champs. It’ll be interesting. I’ll have more later.

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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