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Gerard Gallant's bottom line: Rangers need more production out of third line

Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere skates with the

Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere skates with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

VANCOUVER – Rangers coach Gerard Gallant didn’t seem happy with his team’s performance in the win Sunday night against the expansion Kraken in the opener of the Blueshirts’ four-game trip through the Northwest. But two nights later, Gallant was willing to dress the same lineup in the second game of the trip, Tuesday night in Rogers Arena against the Vancouver Canucks.

That meant Igor Shesterkin -- the biggest reason the Rangers managed to win Sunday -- was back in goal. But it meant a couple other things, too. For one, defenseman Jarred Tinordi was again in the lineup, instead of rookie Nils Lundkvist; for another, the lines were configured the same as they were Sunday, meaning Barclay Goodrow was still up on the first line, with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, and Alexis Lafreniere was still on the third line, with Filip Chytil and Sammy Blais.

At the Rangers’ optional morning skate Tuesday, Gallant said Goodrow will stay on the top line for now, which means Lafreniere will stay on the third line. But Gallant said something else Tuesday morning: He said he wants more from the Lafreniere-Chytil-Blais combo.

"I need to see more from that line,’’ Gallant said. "I didn't like their last game. They’ve got to play a lot better ... They had a tough game, I thought, the last one (in Seattle).’’

The line did not play the final seven or eight minutes of the game, Gallant said, because he didn’t like some of the turnovers they committed late in the game.

"You know, important times of the game, in close hockey games, you’ve got to make sure you're doing the right thing and managing the puck,’’ Gallant said. "The effort's always there; they all work, and compete. But it's just about managing the puck, and not giving those turnovers. And when you're winning 2-1, with five minutes left in the game, you're putting the guys out that you feel comfortable with, that had a really good game.’’

And that wasn’t the third line.

Indirectly, it was the second time in eight days that Gallant had said he needed more from Lafreniere, the 20-year-old who was the No. 1 pick overall in the 2020 draft. This time, it was as part of the line, but last Monday, after the Rangers had lost, 5-1 to Calgary in Madison Square Garden, Gallant singled out Lafreniere after the game, saying he needed more from him.

On Tuesday, Lafreniere said he didn’t feel as though he was being picked on by the coach.

"No, I don't feel weird,’’ Lafreniere said. "I think it's normal. He wants good games from everyone. And you know, I had a tough game against Calgary.

"You know when you're playing good and when you're not, so… it's normal.’’

Lafreniere acknowledged that his line did turn the puck over in the third period Sunday, and, he said, "in tight games, you can’t do it.’’

"All of us want to make plays, but there's times in the game that you can't really risk anything,’’ Lafreniere said. "So you just try to be smarter. If there's a play, you make it. But (if not) place pucks (behind the opposing defensemen) if you need to. I think that's a that's a huge part of our game that we need to improve.’’

Lafreniere was asked if he’s more comfortable playing with the 22-year-old Chytil and the 25-year-old Blais, who is French-Canadian, as he is, than he was playing with Zibanejad and Kreider. He said he’s comfortable on either line, but did admit he has a special connection with Blais, who has become one of his closer friends on the team.

"He speaks the same language as me, obviously, so it's easier a little bit,’’ he said. "I feel like I can find him pretty easily on the ice, and he can find me too.’’

New York Sports