The Rangers expect Chris Kreider to go with the lineup drop
Gerard Gallant said his decision to rebuild the Rangers’ lines, which included dropping Chris Kreider to the fourth unit, to start the club’s third period. disappointing 3-2 overtime loss to the Red Wings Sunday had been preparing for a long time.
However, instead of going back to the lineup they’ve stuck to for most of the season, the Rangers head coach kept some of those changes and even made some new tweaks during the practice on Monday in preparation for the Islanders. A lineup change could not only wake up some key players, but also provide a spark on offense for a team that has lost six of its last 10 games.
“You’re responsible for making your team play better and that’s what I want,” Gallant said after practice Monday in Tarrytown. “We always point out that Chris Kreider went to the fourth line [Sunday] night Well, it did, but we changed a lot of the lines. Today in practice, you mix and match your lines a little because I want everyone to be better. Not just Chris Kreider.
“He has to be one of our leaders and he has to pull his weight forward instead of going the other way. That’s what we need from our players, our leaders, our best players. They have to lead the our team when we don’t play well. … It has to start at the top.
“When you’re really good, our best players have to be our best players. And I’m not happy with the way we’re playing and I think it’s going the other way and we have to change it.”
The new combinations in Monday’s practice bore little resemblance to the ones Gallant put together in response to a lackluster second period on Sunday. Artemi Panarin scored 5:31 on the front line with Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko in the loss, during which he held a 2-0 lead in scoring chances, so the Russian winger was there again.
Panarin and Zibanejad haven’t spent much time together since becoming teammates in 2019-20, when they skated alongside each other for the first seven games of that campaign before reuniting for to two other contests later in the year. Kakko also joined them twice that season. Additionally, Panarin and Zibanejad only skated together for two games in 2020-21 and three games last season.
With Panarin on the front line, Jimmy Vesey has taken his place alongside Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere. And with Julien Gauthier now sidelined with an upper-body injury he presumably suffered Saturday against Detroit, the fourth line featured a combination of Sammy Blais, Ryan Carpenter, Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves. The Rangers may want to go with Reaves in a matchup with the heavyweight Islanders on Tuesday at the Garden.
All of this has pushed Kreider out of his usual spot on Zibanejad’s left. Kreider, whose 10 points in 13 games aren’t indicative of how much more the Rangers need from him, was demoted Sunday along with Carpenter and Gauthier in a decision Gallant essentially said was justified.
Kreider would never stay on the backline, but he wasn’t given his top-six job back, either. He skated on what is largely considered the third unit Monday, slotting in on the left wing of Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov.
Knowing that Kreider is capable of scoring 52 goals in a season, which he proved last year, the move was no doubt made in hopes of prompting a response from the 31-year-old winger. Kreider has acknowledged that he’s not playing well enough, but he’s also expressed his commitment to the details that should help him find the back of the net again.
“I think I look the same, they just don’t go in, and they will if I keep doing them [little] stuff,” Kreider said. “I’m going to score. I’m going to score a lot. But for me, it’s the details. To skate, is to hit, establish that forecheck and put my nose on the pucks. Those are things I can do consistently whether the puck goes in or not. So those are things I’ll do consistently.”
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