The Rangers young players are all beginning to find their game. After much trial and error concerning where to place young forwards in the lineup, it seems the “Kids Line” is working. Vitali Kravtsov has also been an exciting and long awaited addition. However, the Rangers are still struggling with consistency from their veterans. Particularly, the top line has been fairly quiet of late.
Tonight the Rangers begin a four game set against the New Jersey Devils and need to pick up all the points they can. Igor Shesterkin has already been named the starter.
Rangers: 19-16-6 (44 pts)
Devils: 14-20-6 (34 pts)
(7:00 p.m. ET – TV: MSG Network, Radio: ESPN 98.7 FM)
Rangers Kids Line finding their game
There was always a belief that Kaapo Kakko would spend most of the season, if not all, on the second line. Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome already have excellent chemistry that could be complimented by Kakko’s skill. There was a degree of hesitation the organization had with moving Alexis Lafreniere up in the lineup so as to not rush him. Then there was the question of whether Filip Chytil would be their second or third line center.
After trying a variety of combinations, David Quinn decided to put these three players together on the third line. The original move was somewhat surprising. Three young players on a line together would give them a ton of responsibility in all three zones. This was going to be a real test for them. But it seems that they’re finding chemistry.
Kakko’s play has clearly improved since last season. He is less hesitant overall, and he’s more diligent in the defensive zone. Lately, he has shown more of a willingness to go to the front of the net. All season he’s been more involved in plays. He has 12 points on the season and five in his last five games (one goal, four assists). On the Rangers broadcast on Sunday night against the Islanders, Steve Valiquette was talking about how Kakko and Lafreniere are pushing each other to elevate their game. This is important if they are consistently playing together. They need to be playing at a level where they can compliment each other. As Kakko has picked up his game, so has Lafreniere. He has tallied two goals in his last five games.
Filip Chytil has been a good fit at center between Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. Chytil has four assists/points in his last four games. One very notable goal for this line came against the Islanders on Friday. It was scored by Lafreniere with both Kakko and Chytil picking up assists. This goal was all them. When putting these three together, there may have been a concern surrounding d-zone play. It is difficult for young forwards to play effective defense in the NHL. They have handled the task well so far. Overall, the development of the Kids Line is quickly becoming a very exciting storyline for the Rangers.
KZB line lacking consistency
The Rangers veteran struggles have been an issue all season. At the moment, the top line is fairly quiet. They aren’t just being overshadowed by the sudden success of the Kids Line. Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich seem to have disappeared. Buchnevich started out the season strong and has had good stretches throughout the year. But right now, he is less noticeable on the ice and seems to be unable to finish.
Chris Kreider was explosive earlier in the season. Quinn demoted him to the fourth line for a time on Sunday. When Kreider was putting up points consistently, including a couple of hat tricks, this was unimaginable. But he’s always been this type of player, and right now he’s in one of his invisible phases. He has two points in his last five games, neither of which is a goal. This highlights his inconsistency as more is expected from the team leader in goals.
Mika Zibanejad got back up to normal Zibanejad standards in March and continues to play well. He has tallied two goals and two assists for four points in his last five games. This is the production that the Rangers need out of their top line. But it takes three to make a line, and right now Zibanejad’s linemates are not tremendously helpful to him.
Vitali Kravtsov’s NHL journey has just begun
Vitali Kravtsov registered his first point on Sunday with an assist on Brendan Smith’s goal. Kravtsov already looks reasonably well adjusted to the NHL pace. Yes, he is playing mainly on the fourth line but David Quinn gave him more responsibility on Sunday. Kravtsov was noticeable against the Islanders that night, so when Quinn shuffled the lines, he put him on with the second line at one point.
Kravtsov may be a good fit on the second line. While Colin Blackwell has played well with Panarin and Strome, he has proven that he can really play with anyone. Since the Kids Line has been thriving, it doesn’t make sense to break them up, but it would be ideal to get Kravtsov off the fourth line. So it would be interesting to try him with Panarin and Strome at least a little bit. He already has quite a bit of skill and is only going to improve. Kakko seemed to gain confidence playing with Panarin and Strome, so it’s possible the same will be true for Kravtsov. Moving him to the second line would mean dropping Blackwell to the fourth, but it wouldn’t really be a demotion. It would simply be about using him as the utility player he can be. Though with the play of the wingers on the top line of late, Blackwell could probably get a look there too.
Note: All stats come from hockeyreference.com
Rangers Pre Game Notes
- All-Time vs Devils*: 122-96-27-10 (67-35-20-4 at home; 55-61-7-6 on the road) *Note: All-time record includes games against the Kansas City Scouts from 1974-75 – 1975-76 and the Colorado Rockies from 1976-77 – 1981-82
- Artemi Panarin ranks second in the NHL (min. two games played) in assists per game (1.00) and ranks third in the NHL in points per game (1.40) this season, and he also leads the NHL (min. 20 games played) in points per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5 (3.21) and assists per 60 minutes of ice time at 5-on-5 (2.51) in 2020-21.
- Artemi Panarin – 1 game away from 100 with the Rangers; 3 assists away from 300 in his NHL career.
Pre game notes courtesy NYR