Could rookie Pavel Buchnevich be sidelined for longer than expected?
It’s certainly possible.
The Russian forward, who had a promising start to the season, will miss his fourth straight game today with back spasms — he also missed five with the same malady in mid-October — and will undergo further tests to determine whether there’s a deeper issue.
“This obviously might be more than back spasms, so we’ll take a good look and come up with a plan,” coach Alain Vigneault said after Buchnevich sat out practice yesterday after skating with the extras in Columbus on Friday morning for more than 30 minutes.
“Not a setback,” said Vigneault, “but again he came in [yesterday], and didn’t feel the way we expected him to.”
Buchnevich, 21, a third-round draft pick in 2013 who played in Russia before settling in New York last summer, had a recurrence of pain in warmups in Edmonton last Sunday, and didn’t play. The right wing has said he never had back issues previously, but the problem has limited to him to just 10 games. He has four goals and four assists.
The coaching staff clearly wants to find and treat the cause, even if means that Buchnevich must be sidelined. This is where depth up front, which the Rangers collected during the summer, comes into play.
For example, in some positive injury news, center Josh Jooris, who dislocated his shoulder against the Bruins on Oct. 26, spent a full practice playing between Brandon Pirri and Jesper Fast on the fourth line yesterday, and is expected to return today against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden.
Afterward, Jooris said he was ready to go, and because the Rangers will not have a morning skate, it appears Jooris will play and Oscar Lindberg will be a healthy scratch.
SUPPORT FOR LUNDQVIST, MILLER AFTER SHAKY GAME
Although he had a rocky game in the 4-2 loss in Columbus on Friday, allowing three stoppable goals on 24 shots, Henrik Lundqvist will return against the Panthers today. “He’s the last person that I worry about,” Vigneault said. “All goaltenders will give up the odd goal that they’d like to have back, especially one that has such a high standard as Hank.” Backup Antti Raanta is expected to play tomorrow in Pittsburgh.
J.T. Miller, whose two turnovers led to Columbus goals, including a shorthanded game-winner in the third period, and was benched for the final 8:25, was on a regular line yesterday in practice.
“After he made his first turn- over, I threw him back out there,” said Vigneault. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in J.T., but towards the end you have to go with guys who were going to give us a little bit more. On both 5-on-5 goals, J.T. and Jesper Fast, there’s no pressure and they made the wrong decisions [with passes that were intercepted].”
WEIGHING IN ON POSSIBLE SHOOTOUT CHANGE
The NHL is considering a new shootout format, akin to the Olympics, where after three players on each side shoot and if the game isn’t decided, a player can try multiple times.
Call it the Oshie Rule. Oshie, who currently plays for Washington, scored four times on six shots to help the U.S. defeat Russia, 3-2, in February 2014 in Sochi as a member of the Blues.
Henrik Lundqvist shrugged yesterday when asked which he’d prefer. “A shooter’s a shooter,” he said.
Derek Stepan, who was there and enjoyed when Oshie put on a show, said he wouldn’t mind seeing a variety of players get a chance. “That’s fun to watch. Otherwise it would be Zuke, Zuke, Zuke, Zuke, [referring to Mats Zuccarello, the team’s most successful scorer in shootouts].” Zuccarello took the politically-correct approach: “I like both,” he said.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh was a realist: “Well, that would probably shut me out of ever getting a chance.”
Five Rangers from last season are having mixed results elsewhere:
Keith Yandle, Florida: It’s early but so far he is living up to the seven-year, $44.5 million free-agent contract. Eight assists entering yesterday, three of them on the power play, no goals in 17 games, 44 shots. Judge for yourself. The Panthers visit the Garden tonight.
Derick Brassard, Ottawa:
Forward is off to a very slow start: 2-5-7 in 17 games with a faceoff percentage of 50.7. Had career year (27 G, 31 A) in 2015-16 with Rangers. His counterpart in the trade, Mika Zibanejad: 3-10-13, FO% 53.0, 42 shots.
Eric Staal, Minnesota: Just 3-3-6 in the 20 games after arriving via trade late last season. With something to prove, his game has returned as the No. 1 center with the Wild: 5-8-13 in 16 games, FO% 54.1
Dom Moore, Boston: Moore, 35, keeps chugging along as a valuable role player. In 17 games, 4-2-6 (1 SHG), 13:24 TOI, FO % 56.6.
Viktor Stalberg, Carolina: The bottom-six winger was due for a dropoff. In 14 games, he is 2-1-3, minus-3, just 19 shots.
Jesper Fast (10-20-30 last season) is a solid two-way forward and penalty-killer whose instincts are valued by coach Alain Vigneault. This year, although playing about 1:30 less per game, the Swedish right wing is making the most of his time on ice. He already has two goals and eight assists, including eight points in 5-on-5 play.
Primary assists (5 on 5):
6 Leads team, tied for 2nd in NHL
Assists per 60 minutes, (5 on 5):
2.47 Leads team
Points per 60 minutes (5 on 5):
3.09 Ranks 3rd on team, 16TH in NHL
Total takeaways: 13
He and five other Rangers are in NHL’s top 35
Courtesy of Stats.hockeyanalysis.com; nhl.com