The Rangers will be without their top scorer, Artemi Panarin, for a second straight game as he continues to work through an lower-body injury sustained in the Feb. 10 overtime loss to the Bruins.
The loss of Panarin, who currently leads the team with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists), has led to the birth of a new line that has provided the Rangers with a bit of an offensive jolt.
The new-look second line of Alexis Lafreniere, Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko will take the ice again Tuesday night against the Devils. After they were one of the most opportune groups in the shutout loss to Boston, with eight scoring chances, head coach David Quinn is opting to stick with it to see what another game of building familiarity and chemistry can provide.
Asked if he would be open to keeping Lafreniere, Strome and Kakko together even when Panarin becomes available again, Quinn didn’t shut the door on the possibility.
“I don’t think [the Panarin-Strome tandem is] too established, I think we’re open for anything right now considering our offensive production,” he said Tuesday morning.
Panarin and Strome have been skating together consistently since the back end of the 2019-20 season. Both skaters were among the top three producers on the team last year, with Panarin recording 95 points and Strome registering 59, but that level of success hasn’t quite translated into this season yet.
After going without a point in five of the first six games of this season, Strome has taken time to get back to the level of play he uncovered last year. But after getting Lafreniere and Kakko on his wings last game, the 27-year-old center appeared to tap into the high-octane pace that earned him a relatively permanent spot next to Panarin.
Playing next to Panarin comes with its own set of expectations. Quinn said he believes that those expectations may be affecting Strome. But once he became the veteran on the line next to the 19-year-old Lafreniere and 20-year-old Kakko, Strome seemingly played without that pressure weighing on his shoulders.
“I think he’s taking a little more charge of the situation, because I thought he did a good job the other night,” Quinn said of Strome. “I thought there was constant communication with these guys when they came in on the bench. Stromer is a guy that’s got a great personality and he’s talkative and he’s always involved. So I think that’s good for these two young players to play with him.
“Then there’s also, when you’re playing with Bread, I think every player we put on that line they feel the inclination always when they get a puck on their stick, you know, ‘Where’s Panarin, I want to give it to him,’ which is never a bad thought, but sometimes that can get in the way of making the right play and I think maybe Stromer right now doesn’t feel that – I don’t want to call it pressure – but the instincts to kind of always defer to bread.”
Quinn said he wants that second line, as well as the whole lineup, to focus more on staying in on their offensive chances and have that sense of urgency to finish the play.
“We’ve just got to continue to have an urgency after a scoring chance to finish it, because I think there’s more opportunities there from that original chance,” he said. “At this level, that’s usually where you create a lot of your offense. It’s not the original chance, it’s what comes after it.”