Lineup changes don’t guarantee anything for desperate Blueshirts

In a few hours on national TV, a game will be played at 33rd and 7th. It’s Game Six of the Battle of Hudson. The Rangers face elimination tonight against the Devils. Can they prevent a lousy conclusion to the season?

Of course, it depends on their key players. By now, we all know that there’s a zero next to both Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin in goals. There hasn’t been much from Vincent Trocheck (1 goal) either. Chris Kreider, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Patrick Kane have been pretty quiet after a hot start.

Even the 21 and over Kid Line hasn’t been heard from that much. So, Gerard Gallant decided to alter his top three lines for the do or die sixth game at MSG. He’s hoping tweaking the lines will provide a spark for a team that’s beaten Akira Schmid only two times over three games since he replaced Vitek Vanecek.

At yesterday’s practice, Gallant had Tarasenko up with Zibanejad and Kreider. A line suggestion I made during the Game Five debacle. Tarasenko will see additional ice time, which might include finally getting top power play minutes. After starting 4-for-7 in the series, they’re 0 for the last 13. If he is on the top unit, who comes off? We won’t know until later.

With Panarin all but disappearing, he has been dropped down to the third line. If you can call it that, he’ll play with Chytil and Kakko. The latter who has been an effective skater for the slumping Blueshirts. Kakko has been able to generate quality scoring chances due to his strong puck possession and more willingness to drive the net. He still only has one goal. But maybe his hard work can rub off on Panarin.

Trocheck will be between Alexis Lafreniere and Kane. Lafreniere is still searching for his first point. Despite bringing a strong work ethic that’s seen him take the body and be tough on the boards, the former top pick hasn’t produced a goal or assist. The Rangers need him to be more involved offensively. Perhaps teaming him with the creative Kane can help.

While the top nine are all changed, the checking line consisting of Barclay Goodrow, Jimmy Vesey, and Tyler Motte remains intact. While they’ve been willing to chip pucks in and forecheck (a foreign concept), there hasn’t been enough from the defensive oriented line that has been caught out against Jack Hughes. Something that shouldn’t happen.

A good question for Gallant is why hasn’t he tried to move up, Goodrow? A solid two-way player that Chris Drury paid a lot of money for, he remains on the fourth line while being a fixture killing penalties. A gritty player with character who tried to wake up his teammates by taking on Kevin Bahl in a nothing fight, Goodrow hasn’t been plugged by Gallant. He used him better last year. If the team’s lacking energy, why not bump him up? It should be a consideration.

Sometimes, you have to be willing to make in-game adjustments. If the Rangers again come out sluggish and fall behind, Gallant can’t wait. It’s an elimination game. There’s a lot riding on this. After leading two games to none by blowing the doors off the Devils, they haven’t been the same team. Can you imagine the doomsday scenario playing out. Four straight losses to the close Hudson rival after management went all-in by acquiring Tarasenko, Kane, Tyler Motte, and Niko Mikkola.

There’s no perfect way to win a pressure packed game. Maybe it’s a depth player who comes through. It’s all hands on deck. The new lineup doesn’t guarantee success. However, it’s an interesting subplot to what should be a highly viewed game on ABC in prime time on a Saturday night.

Adam Fox has more to give. He went from being universally praised to being quieted by the Devils tighter defense. Fox needs to have his fingerprints on this game. He needs to also think shot. It can’t always be looking for the perfect pass. Something that applies to Panarin. Hitting the net would help.

K’Andre Miller has been very quiet since setting up Tarasenko for an early goal in the series. He needs to be more involved. That doesn’t mean being caught out of position. Take calculated risks when the opportunities are there.

Igor Shesterkin might have to steal it. He sure has seen a lot more Devils in his crease than Schmid has seen Rangers. He can’t do it all. His shot on goal last game was as much about frustration as he showed after robbing Timo Meier and then letting the bench know what he felt. He’s temperamental. He wants to win.

Would it kill the Blueshirts to have a couple of bodies in front of Schmid on a long point shot? Something we’ve seen other teams execute in the first round. It can’t always be the perfect play. Sometimes, you have to be willing to get the greasy goal. Kreider did it in the first two games. Trocheck had the last one on a Kreider rebound that tied Game Four. There’s been nothing since.

They must play with more urgency. Make life difficult for Schmid, who admitted that he’s had plenty of help following his first career postseason shutout on Wednesday night in Newark. It’s a team sport.

The Rangers must play the right way to extend the series. It can’t be one player trying to do it all by himself. They will have to chip pucks in against the Devils’ 1-2-2. Win the battles. They didn’t win any last game. Even worse, they flat out quit in a lopsided third period that resembled an exhibition.

The leadership has said all the right things. They’ve been here before. It was last year that they needed to win three straight elimination games to take down the Penguins. They followed that up by taking the final two to beat the Hurricanes. Those were different series. This one went from a potential Rangers domination to the Devils taking over. Can they get off the mat and force a deciding Game Seven?

The answer will be provided later tonight. For the fans attending, it better not get ugly. If it does, the Rangers will have no one to blame but themselves.


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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2 Responses to Lineup changes don’t guarantee anything for desperate Blueshirts

  1. hasan4978 says:

    Well I guess one of us will be right after all, someone’s winning in 7. What a weird-ass series for one that’s going the distance though, four blowouts and two sloggish close games with sloppiness all over the place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Felix says:

      Yep. I didn’t expect that at all. The Kreider goal changed the game. I actually thought they’d lose in OT.

      I’m writing about that now. One of us getting it right. I guess it was destined to go 7.


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