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Regarding the Rangers, who are not getting enough from their top forwards heading into the first road trip of the season:
1. We can start with Ryan Strome, who has seemed out of sorts all the way back to the bubble after taking that pop to the beak by Justin Williams very early in the first period of the first game of last season’s qualifying round. That was followed by an offseason of contract intrigue before No. 16 ultimately re-upped for two years at an annual $4.5 million cap charge.
Strome’s dynamic partnership with Artemi Panarin elevated both players and the Blueshirts a year ago, combining for a plus-23 (48 GF/25 GA) while partnered at five-on-five. They were simpatico, getting into the open ice for odd-man rushes, and their cross-ice passes through traffic in the zone invariably found tape.
But the pattern has not continued through the opening three matches. Panarin has produced some high moments, but he has also had just about as many, if not more, passes fail to get through in this opening week than over any individual month of 2019-20. Less time and space, perhaps.
But Strome has been no help at all, caught betwixt and between. Through three games, the center has failed to register a point while cobbling together four shots in 37:33 of five-on-five and six shots in 62:33 overall. The club’s possession rating is just below 50 percent with him on the ice. He and Panarin are even, on for one goal for and one against.
“Stromer is still trying to find his game,” coach David Quinn said. “He’s not happy with the way things have gone in these three games, but obviously we need him at the top of his game if we’re going to have a chance.”
2. Chris Kreider has barely made an impact at five-on-five beyond taking penalties very early in each of the past two games. He has been around the net, but it is difficult to recall even one shift in which the winger has had the puck in open ice through the neutral zone and across the line.
3. Mika Zibanejad’s absence from practice prompted Quinn to shuffle his line combinations. Panarin and Strome were joined by Pavel Buchnevich, and Kreider skated with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. If Zibanejad does play in the next game, Friday at Pittsburgh, No. 93 could step in for Chytil while the remainder of the remodeled top six remains in place. In fact, that is the likelihood.
The partnership that intrigues would be the one between Panarin and Buchnevich, who have logged 213:04 together at five-on-five the past two years with a 51 percent possession rating and a 14-11 edge in goals for/against per Naturalstattrick.com. It could be that Quinn perceives Buchnevich as the best available replica of Jesper Fast to take the departed Swede’s place on that unit.
“Obviously Butchie is really good in all three zones — he’s a really good passer, he can score, he can check,” Panarin said through interpreter Nick Bobrov. “He can do it all, so we have very similar understanding, he and I.
“I think we’ll give Stromer a Russian passport and he’ll be fine.”
4. Quinn could move Chytil into Strome’s spot on the 1A Line — and at some point, that is all but inevitable as the Blueshirts need to learn more about No. 72’s high-end capabilities before selling the farm to acquire someone like Pierre-Luc Dubois — but making that move would snip the Chytil-Kaapo Kakko partnership just as it was starting to gain some traction.
The fact is, the Rangers have too many similar skill-type players to jam into the top six. The logjam will only intensify when Vitali Kravtsov joins the club following the KHL season. So there are always going to be talented players who draw the short straw when it comes to ice time.
It’s Quinn’s responsibility to determine which players deserve more on which night. Tuesday, he read it perfectly by giving Chytil 3:35 of the final 7:15 (for which Zibanejad was unavailable the final 2:42). Kakko, too, was rewarded with 2:19 of ice over the final 4:15.
5. Similarly, there isn’t enough power-play time to go around that will satisfy everyone, and certainly not if the first unit continues to command almost 70 percent of it.
Through 26:58 with the man-advantage, Panarin has been on for 21:01, Kreider for 20:26, Zibanejad for 19:37, Strome for 18:09. That has left veritable scraps for Buchnevich (8:26), Lafreniere (6:01), Kakko (2:49) and Chytil (an absurd 2:05).
6. Quinn declined to say whether Tony DeAngelo will return Friday, but if No. 77 is not in, there’d have to be something completely screwy going on.
7. Defense pairs were juggled again at practice, with K’Andre Miller rejoining Game 1 partner Jacob Trouba while the Fox-Ryan Lindgren tandem was reunited.
Keep in mind that Miller would likely get a lot of first-line matchups on the road, including a heaping dose of Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh and Jack Eichel in Buffalo.
8. And this. Do you know what has been pretty mediocre on the whole so far? The goaltending, that’s what.
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