Rangers coach not influenced by team icons when making Matt Rempe decision

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Messier, Henrik Lundqvist and Wayne Gretzky are among the franchise icons who have recently voiced their support for reinserting Matt Rempe into the New York Rangers lineup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite their stature, Rangers coach Peter Laviolette is not being swayed by their opinions.

That doesn’t mean Rempe won’t play in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers on Friday. The popular rookie may very well be in uniform when the puck drops shortly after 8 p.m. ET. But it won’t be because a Stanley Cup champion or Hockey Hall of Famer said Rempe needs to play.

“It does not,” Laviolette said when asked if their opinion influences his decision. “Any decision that I make is based on conversations that we have as a group internally here.”

After the Rangers were shut out 3-0 at home in Game 1 against the Panthers, Messier expressed his belief on ESPN that the Blueshirts could use a spark from Rempe.

“I’m not questioning the coach right now, but I am saying he does get in on the forecheck, he does ground and pound, he does get the crowd involved and the players do seem to follow that mindset. But right now they’re just playing, in my opinion, a little too careful.”

During an appearance at the Matteau Foundation charity event Thursday night at Bohemian National Hall, Stephane Matteau treaded lightly into the Rempe water.

“Losing a (playoff) game brings a lot of doubts. That’s a good chance to bring some changes to the lineup,” Matteau explained. “[Rempe is] a young player who brings a lot of energy. He’s a physical guy and he made an impact as soon as he first played his game.

“I am a numbers person and their record since he’s been in the lineup is incredible (21-3 in regular season and postseason).”

Related: 1994 Stanley Cup winners believe Rangers have what it takes to bounce back in playoffs

Rangers have lineup decision to make for Game 2 against Panthers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Kaapo Kakko — Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

As Laviolette alluded to, lineup decisions are not just about Rempe, the wildly popular 6-foot-8 forward who scored New York’s first postseason goal. There’s also Filip Chytil. Will Cuylle. Kaapo Kakko. Blake Wheeler. Jonny Brodzinski.

There’s a lot of moving parts.

At the morning skate Friday, Chytil skated on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Jack Roslovic moved to the third line. Kakko and Rempe stayed on the ice later.

What does it all mean? Is Laviolette throwing up some smokescreens to throw off his Panthers counterpart Paul Maurice? Or will there be some tweaks to the Rangers look Friday?

Certainly Laviolette isn’t saying.

Chytil played nine minutes in Game 1, his second game played in more than six months since sustaining an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion Nov. 2. He took a big hit from from former Rangers defenseman Niko Mikkola late in Game 1 but is healthy.

Kakko is an interesting topic. He’s played all 11 postseason games and has one goal, one assist and 17 shots while average 11:33 in ice time. His underlying numbers have been decent. His production is lacking, though he did make a slick pass to spring Braden Schneider on a breakaway in the first period Wednesday.

“I think the [third] line has had good numbers. At the end of the day i think you’d like to see production from everybody,” Laviolette said. “Yeah, I’d like to see Kaapo generate more production … but I think as a line you’d like to see them generate more.”

That third line has totaled two goals in these playoffs. Cuylle scored the other, and Alex Wennberg is without a goal all postseason.

All of it leaves Laviolette with decision to make before the critical Game 2 against the Panthers. But be assured, outside noise will not factor into the equation.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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