After perhaps their worst showing of the playoffs this past Thursday night, it’s a challenge to remain optimistic about the Ranger’s chances against the Hurricanes in game six. We can take comfort in the fact the series is returning to Madison Square Garden, and with the Hurricanes’ abhorrent away record thus far in the playoffs, the Rangers are bound to feel more confident playing them on home ice. That being said there are a couple of things I’d like to point out that have either developed or become more apparent in the last few games.
Artemiy Panarin’s Play
Listen, Panarin is supposed to be our superstar player. When the odds are against the Rangers, he’s the one who puts the team on his back and finds a way to climb that insurmountable slope to success. I am by no means criticizing his impact as a player to this team. He’s been absolutely tremendous, lights-out, the difference maker, you can insert any positive phrase here and that is who Panarin has been for the Blueshirts in the regular season. This postseason run, however, has been mostly different for the Russian superstar. His only multipoint game came was early in the first round, and since then he’s only recorded 6 points in 10 games. This is a far cry from his regular season production both in measuring multi-point games as well as ppg.
Artemi Panarin records his 19th multi-point game of the year, tied for the fifth-most in the NHL.— NYR Stats & Info (@NYRStatsInfo) March 7, 2022
Since 2019-20, Panarin's 66 multi-point games are the fourth most in the NHL.
His play, especially in the second round against the Hurricanes, has become less and less effective. The sudden drop has many speculating if the Rangers forward is playing with a nagging injury, and it doesn’t help that he seems apprehensive to shoot the puck, having just registered 0 shots on goal in game 5 while getting the most ice time out of any forward. After all, playing through an injury is typical NHL stuff, that warrior mentality is idolized and promoted league-wide. We’ve all seen it year after year, a team gets eliminated and it’s announced half their roster is playing with an injury that would hospitalize a normal person. This brings me to the point, should Panarin be playing? While a Panarin at half capacity is still a better winger than almost any other Ranger if there is a risk to his health or any chance of a possible long-term impact the team needs to make the tough decision and scratch him from the roster.
Gerard Gallant’s Lineup Decisions
I’m not going to feed a fed horse here, Gallant has consistently made questionable decisions in both line structure and on-ice matchups throughout the playoffs. Great, this has been thoroughly discussed. However, what needs to stop immediately, is Kaapo Kakko’s demotion to the fourth line. Tyler Motte has been a great addition to this team, especially after he came back from his injury at the end of the first round. He’s a tenacious in-your-face player that is exactly what the Ranger’s fourth line needed, and Drury needs to find a way to re-sign him in the off-season. But Kakko is a more effective and skilled player, his effort to control play when playing with Rooney and Reaves is wasted when neither player can help him maintain possession. Gallant needs to reunite the kid line for game six, it’s been the Rangers’ most effective and consistent line through large stretches of the postseason.
With home ice advantage, the Rangers’ Head Coach will have no excuses for his matchups in tonight’s game. While the top lines do need rest, Ryan Reaves and the fourth line should not be on the ice for critical moments of a match. In game five trailing by two goals with less than three minutes to play, Reaves and the fourth line jumped over the boards and onto the ice. Going forward this can’t happen, especially in a situation where it’s more important than ever to gain possession and attack the net. Maybe he thought the game was getting chippy, maybe there was a plan in place that justified this, there are a lot of things we don’t know and see as fans of the game, but it’s incredibly apparent that Gallant needs to manage the bench and the rotation of his lines better for the team to stand a chance against the Carolina Hurricanes’ impressive depth.