New York Rangers back in action – finally! Face Panthers in Florida

There will be no shortage of question marks when the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers — two of the top six teams in the NHL in point percentage — meet on Wednesday night in Sunrise, Fla.

How will the teams handle long layoffs? Who is healthy and in condition? Who will step up given the opportunity?

“I don’t know what the first period is going to be like,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant admitted yesterday. “It’ll be interesting to see because (the Panthers) are in the same boat. There could be some mistakes both ways or it could be a real good period. I don’t know what to expect to be honest.”

New York Rangers back in action

The Rangers are expecting defenseman Patrik Nemeth back from the COVID-19 list, where he’s been since Dec. 17. Then again, that was also the most recent Rangers game before the entire league went on hiatus.

“I’m feeling better,” Nemeth said. “I should be good to go (but) a little rusty after sitting at home for 10 days.”

However, Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren is on the COVID-19 list. Still, of New York’s top seven defensemen, six are expected to be available.

At goalie, the Rangers placed backup Alexandar Georgiev on the COVID-19 list. The Rangers are expected to go back to starting goalie Igor Shesterkin, who hasn’t played since Dec. 3 due to injury.

“I think just I need to stretch more maybe because I’m not young right now,” Shesterkin said via NY Post. “I don’t know how [to say it in] English, but usually in Russia, we [say], if you’ve got something, it means it should happen and you need to be stronger.”

Shesterkin has been brilliant this season, going 13-3-2 with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage. He is on a five-game win streak, and he beat the Panthers in New York the only time he has faced them this season.

Star winger Artemi Panarin tops the Rangers in points (33), and reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox leads New York in assists (26) as he continues to build his case as the NHL’s top defenseman.

Other Rangers to watch include Chris Kreider, who leads the team in overall goals (18) and power-play goals (11), streaky center Mika Zibanejad and hard-hitting defenseman Jacob Trouba.

“There’s almost that energy at the beginning of the season where guys are chomping at the bit,” Chris Kreider said on Tuesday. “We’ve gotten to the point where we just want to play.”

Rangers promote two from taxi squad

The New York Rangers also promoted defenseman Zac Jones and forward Tim Gettinger from the taxi squad last night. The move now gives the Rangers 7 healthy defenseman and 13 healthy forwards.

Greg McKegg is expected to replace Kevin Rooney on the 4th line as he entered COVID-19 protocol today.

A more interesting possibility is Zac Jones making his season debut.

Jones, 21, was selected by the Blueshirts in the third round (68th overall) during the 2019 NHL Draft. After an excellent college career, he made his Blueshirts debut at the tail end of last season picking up 4 assists in 10 games. This season for the Wolf Pack, he leads all defensemen in scoring with 17 points in 21 games.

Panthers will also be rusty

rangers panthers
Nov 8, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) attempts a shot on goal in the second period against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers have announced that their star goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, will start on Wednesday. He’s had a terrific season, going 12-3-2 with a 2.47 GAA and a .917 SP. He hasn’t faced the Rangers in over two years, beating them on Nov. 16, 2019.

Rookie backup Spencer Knight was in goal when the Rangers raced to a 4-0 lead and held on for a 4-3 win on Nov. 8.

The Panthers, who have not played since Dec. 16, will enter Wednesday on a three-game losing streak. They haven’t won a game since Dec. 10, and they haven’t won a home game since Dec. 4.

Overall, though, the Panthers lead the NHL in home wins (14-3-0). But the Rangers are tied for second in the league for most road wins (11-4-2).

On Wednesday, the Panthers are expected to get several players back from injuries or COVID-19 protocol, including star center Aleksander Barkov, who has been out since Dec. 7 (lower body).

Also back are forwards Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe and Ryan Lomberg.

“It’s almost like the first day of school,” said Lomberg, who has been out since Dec. 12 due to COVID-19. “We have a tight-knit team. Any time you are away, you miss the boys.”

Florida’s biggest absence is winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who was added to the COVID-19 list on Sunday. He leads the team in assists (23) and points (33).

The Panthers have their top five defensemen, including Aaron Ekblad, who is second on the team with 24 points.

NHL Rumors

Check out the latest NHL Rumors regarding the Oilers, Rangers, Penguins, and Maple Leafs. Read here.

–Field Level Media contributed to this article