To say this has been a crazy year for the New York Rangers would be a remarkable understatement.
Since the season commenced, the Blueshirts have been bombarded by injury (Filip Chytil, Jacob Trouba), COVID-19 protocols (Kaapo Kakko), an altercation between teammates leading to the waiving of Tony DeAngelo, and now a leave of absence taken by Artemi Panarin due to an assault allegation by a former coach.
Regardless, the Rangers must carry on. They still have games to play, points to get, and they have a lot of ground to make up if they want to be competitive in the East Division come the end of the regular season.
On top of the unprecedented circumstances the Rangers have dealt with, it is clear who is underperforming – Mika Zibanejad just notched his second goal (an empty netter) of the year. Chris Kreider’s point production has dipped tremendously as well. And between Panarin, Chytil, Kakko, and Trouba being out – all for undisclosed amounts of time – it’s time for the bottom six to step up.
As of right now, here are the lines we could expect for tonight:
Today's #NYR practice lineup:
Laf – Mika – Buch
Kreider – Strome – Blackwell
Lemieux – Howden – Gauthier
PDG – Rooney – Brodzinski
Lindgren – Fox
Miller – Smith
Bitetto – Hájek
(Johnson is rotating in on the bottom pair.)
— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) February 23, 2021
With these injuries, Brett Howden, Brendan Lemieux, Julien Gauthier, and Jonny Brodzinski will all be getting promotions.
Howden has been pretty much silent thus far. He has just 2 points in 16 games and has bounced between the second and third-line center position. However, on the bright side, his faceoff percentage is shy of 50% at 49.3%, which is certainly a bright spot compared to the teamwide performance in the faceoff circle.
My key player to look out for is Julien Gauthier. Gauthier, who has one goal and one point in 10 games, will be moving up to the third line as well. He notched his first career goal a couple of weeks ago due to some great movement to the net to bury a pass from behind the net. Though he has played a minor role on the fourth line, Gauthier will be pouncing on this opportunity.
And, because it’s always a common occurrence with David Quinn, there is a chance he will be cycled around with different teammates.
The key in my mind for Gauthier – and all of the other players in the Rangers’ bottom-six – is speed. You won’t match the skill that players like Panarin and Kakko bring to the lineup.
By playing fast and hard and winning one-on-one puck battles, they can give the now underdog, ragtag Blueshirts, a chance in every game.
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