New York Rangers line juggling seems to be working

The New York Rangers have been playing intense and winning hockey over the last six weeks. Despite their success, head coach Gerard Gallant has been unable to find the right line combinations that meet or exceed his expectations.

One would think that a 15-4-2 record since the Jacob Trouba Helmet Toss on December 3 indicates a hockey team is in a good place. Although, with All-Star weekend approaching, it appears that good place is nowhere near Gallant’s line of sight.

New York Rangers line juggling

new york rangers
Jan 23, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers with teammates during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Blueshirts have been tinkering with line combinations for most of the season. Sammy Blais, Jonny Brodzinski, Ryan Carpenter, Julian Gauthier, and Vitali Kravtsov have been in and out of the lineup on any given night this year. You can throw in Ryan Reaves (trade) and Dryden Hunt (waivers) when they were here as well.

When Will Cuylle steps on the ice for his first game as a New York Ranger, he’ll be the 17th forward to lace them up for Gallant.

Regarding the lineup shuffling, the veterans haven’t been immune from Gallant’s desire to find perfect chemistry. The likes of Jimmy Vesey, Barclay Goodrow, and Alexis Lafrenière move around the most. But lately, Vincent Trocheck, Filip Chytil, and Chris Kreider have found themselves with either new linemates or in a new position. As Gallant struggles to find the combinations he is comfortable with, we’ve seen several different looks in the last two games alone.

Here’s his forward lineup against the Boston Bruins in last Thursday’s 3-1 loss:

  • Kreider – Zibanejad – Kakko
  • Panarin – Trocheck – Kravtsov
  • Lafrenière – Chytil – Goodrow
  • Vesey – Leschyshyn – Brodzinski

In Monday’s 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers the line combos were:

  • Panarin – Zibanejad – Kreider
  • Lafrenière – Chytil – Kakko
  • Vesey – Trocheck – Goodrow
  • Kravtsov – Leschyshyn – Gauthier

“Honestly, I wasn’t overly happy most of the night,” Gallant said after Monday’s victory. “You win 6-2 and you’re questioning your lines again. We’ll see what happens [Tuesday at practice].”

What do a bunch of forwards have to do to please this guy?

On Tuesday, the Rangers called up of Will Cuylle from the Hartford Wolf Pack, who will make his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs. It was a two-fold move to give a highly-touted prospect a chance and to get Sammy Blais a two-week conditioning assignment to find his game.

A conditioning assignment, per the CBA can’t be for more than 14 days and must be agreed to by the player. That’s why Blais did not need to go through waivers.

Projected for tonight, the fourth line will see Cuylle take Vitali Kravtsov’s spot.

Gallant in trying to find the perfect four lines wasn’t ecstatic with the third-year winger. During his post-practice presser with the media discussing the roster changes, he was very honest in his assessment of the 23 year-old.

“[Kravtsov’s] been fine, but again he’s not a fourth-line player,” Gallant noted. “He’s built to play in a top nine position… He’s been fine, I wish he’d score more, I wish he’d finish more checks and stuff like that. Overall he’s played about 20 games in a row and been okay.”

The next question will be how much of a look Cuylle will get? He could be around for the 14 days or until the club decides what the next move with Sammy Blais will be.

At the end of the day, there’s a fine line a head coach must balance to be successful in the NHL. Has Gallant been too quick in changing the line combinations or has he done the right thing? Considering the Rangers have amassed 32 points in the standings since Dec. 5, it appears to be working.

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