The New York Rangers’ frustrating season continues, even in the wake of a 2-1 road win against the San Jose Sharks Saturday night. In a close representation of their season as a whole, the Rangers outshot the Sharks 43-23 but struggled to score and thus made their path to victory much more difficult than it should have been.
There are plenty of reasons for the Rangers’ lack of scoring. Bad luck in spite of a solid underlying process is probably the biggest thing. There might also be something to the specific types of chances they create, and how they allow opposing goaltenders to get settled in with with too many low-danger shots. But another factor hurting the Rangers’ offensive potency of late is their lineup deployment — in particular, head coach Gerard Gallant reuniting the Kid Line of Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko at the expense of a more potent top two lines.
First, let’s level-set: Jimmy Vesey has been an excellent addition for the Rangers in his second stint on Broadway. Barclay Goodrow is a quality, albeit overpaid, depth player. Neither, however, should be sniffing top-six minutes as they have been for the last handful of games, as they do not have the requisite offensive skill to make the Rangers a truly dangerous offensive team. The way to do that? Break up the Kid Line once more, as Gallant had done earlier in the season.
Kakko is a natural fit on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. He is a puck hound and possession driver, which complements the speed of Zibanejad and Kreider and sets them up for more shooting opportunities. Lafrenière should then slot back up to the second line as the right wing with Vincent Trocheck and Artemiy Panarin, giving that line two patient playmakers along with a more straight-ahead shooter in Trocheck. While right wing is not Lafrenière’s natural position, he has looked very comfortable when playing there.
In addition, moving Kakko and Lafrenière back up to the top two lines would allow Vesey and Goodrow to slide back down into depth roles where they can be more effective. If Gallant could give Vitali Kravtsov another opportunity (and if Kravtsov could remain healthy), the bottom six could feature a third line of Vesey, Chytil, Kravtsov, and a fourth line of Goodrow centering Sammy Blais and Julien Gauthier. Suddenly that depth looks pretty good, and the top six looks much more potent.
As mentioned, bad luck has been a major contributor to the Rangers’ lack of consistency results-wise, but since the Kid Line was reunited, the club’s underlying numbers have taken a slight hit as well.
Still not thrilled with the #NYR 5v5 offense since reuniting the Kids (all via @EvolvingHockey)— Rob Luker (@RLuker12) November 20, 2022
First 14 GP: 2.85 xGF/60 (10th), 44.67 Fenwick/60 (10th)
Last 5 GP: 2.57 xGF/60 (16th), 41.94 FF/60 (15th)
Top 6 Goodrow + the Kids aren't generating as much as the combos before.
The Rangers would thus be wise to split up the kids once more – it’s much more likely the team can overcome bad luck in the long run with an optimized process versus having two depth players playing in the top six. Yes, the Kid Line was fun last postseason, but it worked for the Rangers as a whole because they had better fits for the top six in trade-deadline rentals Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp. For now, by moving up Kakko and Lafrenière, they can both help the development of two of their most promising young players and create a more threatening overall lineup.