After a three-game winning streak, the New York Rangers have now dropped two games in a row following Sunday’s disappoining 3-2 overtime defeat at home to the Detroit Red Wings.
Despite having a top-six forward deployment that has shown much more good than bad so far this season in terms of tilting the ice in New York’s favor, head coach Gerard Gallant had apparently seen enough between the Thursday night loss to the Boston Bruins and the first two periods against the Red Wings. He switched up the lines for the remainder of Sunday’s game, including a noteworthy demotion of Chris Kreider to the fourth line.
Following that game, the question was whether Gallant would keep a different look in the forward combinations heading into Tuesday’s home tilt against the New York Islanders. The answer appears to be yes — even though the combinations are a bit different from what we saw against the Red Wings:
#NYR lines based on jersey colors:— Mollie Walker (@MollieeWalkerr) November 7, 2022
Looks like Lafrenière is skating on the left wing... So Lafrenière-Trocheck-Vesey is the alignment.— Mollie Walker (@MollieeWalkerr) November 7, 2022
Fourth line is looking like Blais-Goodrow-Carpenter
I would rather Gallant have not messed with the top six after just a couple of so-so games in a long season, but at least these are better than the mid-game changes he made on Sunday. The top line should be very potent, as Kaapo Kakko and Artemiy Panarin have been arguable the two best forwards on the team to this point.
One concern is how formidable the second line can be with Jimmy Vesey, who is more effective in a defensive role. But at least he’s a better option than Barclay Goodrow or Sammy Blais. In addition, putting Kreider on the third line with the recently-returned Filip Chytil and an apparently healthy Vitali Kravtsov (yay!) might give the Rangers a little more balance; as good as they’ve been at generating chances overall, it’s been the top six carrying the weight. They have not gotten much from their bottom six, especially with Chytil and Kravtsov missing time.
At the end of the day, it’s still November, and early in the season is the best time to tinker if warranted. While the top six as constructed was very good in my opinion, aiming for balance and a spark to get out in front of things before a losing streak begins to spiral out is at least justifiable. (This is the new, very low bar we have to set for justifying NHL coaching decisions: Can you plausibly defend the decision even if it’s not optimal?) I’m also pretty confident that before long, Kreider and Zibanejad will be reunited on the top line, as these changes are designed to create a spark but likely aren’t permanent.