This isn’t exactly how I pictured tonight’s game starting. With Filip Chytil declared ready to return after missing Tuesday’s game, Gerard Gallant decided to scratch Alexis Lafreniere for the Flyers game.
What went into the decision? Only the coach knows the reason for it. Has the production fallen off since Lafreniere was moved off the top line? Absolutely. As usual, he hasn’t hit the score sheet on the third line.
Is it due to anything he’s not doing? That’s hard to say. Lafreniere got three shots on goal in Tuesday’s 4-2 home loss to the Hurricanes in less than 12 minutes. Line mate Kaapo Kakko had none for the second straight game since returning.
Why is the 20-year old left wing being singled out? Who knows. We know Gallant isn’t conventional when it comes to his lineups. There’s usually an ulterior motive. If he’s looking to motivate Lafreniere, I guess. But his work ethic isn’t in question.
In past interviews, Gallant has explained that he was happy with Lafreniere following games where he didn’t see shifts late in third periods. He’s never indicated that he had an issue with how the former first overall pick plays. It isn’t like he doesn’t finish checks.
Instead, the third line will consist of Chytil, Kakko and Barclay Goodrow. So, they’ll be tried out versus the Flyers tonight. As much as I don’t understand the move, it seems like Gallant wants to take a different look and see how the line would look with Kakko on it.
I’m still skeptical on what Kakko can bring. He missed three months and hasn’t looked in sync yet. This late in the schedule, he either has to prove he deserves that trust or maybe he’s the odd man out.
This is the first time Lafreniere is sitting out as a scratch. He played all 56 games last year finishing with a dozen goals and 21 points. In 72 games during ’21-22, he’s got 15 goals with 10 assists for a total of 25 points. All 15 goals have come at even strength.
The second-year forward also has four game-winners. He’s averaged about the same ice time as his rookie season. Stuck behind the star left wing duo of Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin, Lafreniere has seen some time on the right wing. He looked okay playing with Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.
However, the key acquisition of Frank Vatrano was made by Chris Drury to upgrade the right side on the first line. Thus far, the former Panther has been a success with Zibanejad and Kreider. He’s posted six goals and four assists for 10 points in 14 contests.
With Andrew Copp proving he’s a huge difference maker on the second line alongside Panarin and Ryan Strome, that leaves four players for the third line. Goodrow seems to be a good fit with Chytil and Lafreniere. His combination of grit and intangibles along with experience have helped.
There’s no harm in Gallant taking a look at Kakko with Chytil and Goodrow. It’s his third game back. There are seven games remaining after tonight. That doesn’t leave the Jack Adams candidate much time.
It’s true that neither Lafreniere or Kakko fit on the fourth line. At the present, it consists of Kevin Rooney anchoring Dryden Hunt and Ryan Reaves. They also have Jonny Brodzinski as a solid option for Reaves depending on the opponent.
Had Tyler Motte not gotten hurt last week, he’d be a lock on the checking line. His skating and sandpaper are an upgrade. It’s unfortunate that he won’t be available for an unknown time. He also showed off his penalty killing prior to the upper body injury [shoulder].
Whatever happens, it’s kids such as Chytil, Kakko and Lafreniere who could play a key role in how far the Rangers go this postseason. It’s up to Gallant to get it right.