Barring something that happens in warmups, Alexis Lafrenière will not be suiting up tonight for the New York Rangers against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s not missing the game because he is hurt. Gerard Gallant is healthy scratching Lafrenière, and Sammy Blais will be returning to the lineup in his place. The Rangers, as a team, had a poor post holiday break performance vs. the Washington Capitals, and Lafrenière is the only skater from that game that won’t play this evening.
The timing is curious given how well Lafrenière has played this month, and in December he’s 6th in team scoring with 2 goals, 5 assists, and 7 points in 12 games played. I point that out because to make a decision on a one-game sample in light of the rest of the month is odd.
The only Rangers skaters with more points than Lafrenière this month are K’Andre Miller, Adam Fox, Vincent Trocheck, Mika Zibanejad, and Artemiy Panarin. Lafrenière doesn’t get much time on the second unit of the power play, and if you just look at even strength production, he moves up to 4th with 6 points. This time only Trocheck, Miller, and Panarin finish ahead of him.
If there’s something the coaching staff has seen and wants to correct, that’s perfectly fine. This franchise has used healthy scratches to send a message at times before, and one memorable one that happened many years ago involved Mats Zuccarello.
Lafrenière is an important player to the franchise, and getting him on track in important, and perhaps they feel a healthy scratch can serve as a “wakeup call”. The only problem with that is that there’s hardly been a true meritocracy this year, so selective accountability comes across pretty hollow. When a team is collectively as bad as it was vs. Washington, I don’t know how you make one switch and call it a day.
We will see where this situation goes from here, but I think Vince Mercogliano summed up the Lafrenière scratch perfectly here.