Lineup changes for struggling Rangers who visit Red Wings tonight

Coming off a second straight game where they blew a two-goal lead, the Rangers are winless in three with only one point that Jaro Halak earned in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Red Wings.

The latest disappointment came at the hands of the bitter rival Islanders, who scored three unanswered goals in a third period comeback to prevail 4-3 on Tuesday night. It marked the fifth consecutive win at MSG for the Isles.

Set for a mini two-game road trip that begins tonight in Detroit with a stop at Nashville on Saturday, it’s imperative for the Rangers to right the ship. With the surprising Devils continuing to win games along with the surprising Flyers, Islanders and Hurricanes all ahead in the standings, they can ill afford to fall too far behind.

At the very least, the 6-5-3 record has still produced 15 points. Five behind the first place Devils who go for their eighth straight win when they host Ottawa. All the teams above in the Metropolitan Division are in action later. So, it’ll be a busy night.

Facing an improved Red Wings team that brings a 7-3-3 record into play, it’s a chance to avenge the recent loss at home. A game where they let an early 2-0 lead slip away due to a lackluster second period that resulted in Gerard Gallant switching up his lines. Without Halak stopping Filip Hronek late in regulation, they don’t get a point. He played well in defeat making 33 saves.

Considering that the schedule allows for an off day before they take on Nashville this weekend, it would make sense for Igor Shesterkin to get his second consecutive start. Obviously, he needs to be better. He hasn’t made too many game changing saves like last year. He still has a 2.58 GAA. But the .910 save percentage isn’t indicative of the goalie he is.

With the team struggling to score at five-on-five, it’s time for Shesterkin to emulate Henrik Lundqvist and go on a run. Lundqvist used to carry past teams that weren’t the best offensively when they needed a jolt. The rating Vezina winner is certainly capable. If he has to make the difference for now, so be it. That’s part of the job description.

Goalie is the least of the concerns. It’s mostly about the roster performing more consistently. They don’t score a lot at even strength. Mika Zibanejad remains without a goal at five-on-five. That’s despite having seven including a team-leading six on the power play. Both Zibanejad and Chris Kreider must start producing.

Despite playing well for two periods the other night due to line changes Gallant made which was highlighted by Kreider playing with Filip Chytil and rookie Vitaly Kravtsov, it looks like the lineup will have a different look for the Red Wings in an Original Six rematch.

For starters, key defenseman Ryan Lindgren returns after missing two games due to being injured on a blindside hit from David Pastrnak. He was missed. However, the Rangers should’ve won both the games he didn’t play in. They have nobody to pin it on. Every team has injuries.

With Lindgren back in to pair up with Adam Fox, that means a defenseman will come out of the lineup. Judging from the morning skate, it looks like rookie Zac Jones is the odd man out. He took part in the bag skate with Ryan Carpenter and Ryan Reaves. Despite playing a better game on Tuesday, he’ll likely sit in favor of Libor Hajek.

That means Hajek will likely pair with Braden Schneider while the disappointing second pair of K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba are together for a second game in a row. Unless both key defensemen improve, there could be more issues.

In particular, Trouba has made a lot of glaring mistakes that’s seen the captain on for many goals against. Miller hasn’t been consistent either. That must change moving forward. Regardless if Trouba is playing through something.

With the possibility of Chytil being reunited with Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, that would put the three former first round picks back together. Having strong chemistry due to familiarity, the trio is effective at forechecking and creating scoring chances.

If they are back intact, it could mean better balance. Zibanejad with Kreider and probably Jimmy Vesey, who’s played well lately. Kravtsov possibly with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck. The checking unit would be Sammy Blais with Barclay Goodrow and Julien Gauthier, who appears ready to return.

We’ll have to wait and see what the actual lines are in a few hours. Either way, there must be a full effort. Not just two periods. That’s the only way for them to get out of this slump.

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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