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Rangers rookie Alexis Lafreniere raising his game to NHL level

Rangers' Alexis Lafreniere warms up for the team's

Rangers' Alexis Lafreniere warms up for the team's NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in New York. Credit: AP/Bruce Bennett

Rangers youngsters K’Andre Miller and Alexis Lafreniere are rooming together in their first season in New York and their household must have been quite the happy Friday night after both freshmen scored a goal in the Blueshirts' 4-1 win over the rival Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

"Yeah, a lot of fun, probably,’’ Lafreniere said after the game when asked what the mood would in the pair’s apartment later. "We'll enjoy a little bit, but we have to get ready for Sunday, another big game against them. They'll bounce back, and they'll be ready, so we have to be ready.’’

The 19-year-old was talking about the Islanders, whom the Rangers play again Sunday night in the finale of the two-game series between the teams. But he might as well have been talking about himself, the way his play has been surging of late.

In his last five games, Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2020 draft, has two goals and an assist. And in his last 15 games, his plus/minus rating has been even or plus-1 in every game.

 

"I think he's getting a better understanding of how to generate offense at this level,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said of Lafreniere, who has seven goals and six assists in 40 games.

"A lot of times when you get a kid that's [19] years old, and they get to the National Hockey League, unfortunately for them, a lot of things that they've done that has allowed them to have success, they're not going to be able to do at this level,’’ Quinn said. "So they have to — I don't want to say totally relearn how to create offense — but there's a whole new approach that they're going to have to learn to create offense at this level.

"The skill is there, obviously, for him, but he's learning what he needs to do consistently to generate offense,’’ he continued. "And I think he's really made a lot of progress in the last two weeks. I've really liked the direction his game [has taken].’’

Lafreniere’s game seems to have picked up even more in the last three games, since Quinn tweaked his forward lines and put 20-year-old Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 pick overall in the 2019 draft, on the right wing with Lafreniere and 21-year-old center Filip Chytil. Lafreniere has scored in two of the three games the trio has played together, and the line has had shifts where it keeps possession in the offensive zone and generates some quality scoring chances.

Those three players skated together earlier in the season and have been on the ice together a total of 78:31. The Rangers have scored three goals and allowed one during that time. The Rangers have won two of the last three games since they’ve been put back on the same line.

"I think we're getting more comfortable together, as a line,’’ Lafreniere said. "We've been playing a couple of games together, so, it's getting better. And we'll try to keep playing well in our end, and try to generate some offense.’’

Quinn said the line "played a really smart game’’ Friday against the Islanders.

"They were really involved,’’ he said. "I thought they were real good on the offensive zone … There was a lot to like about their game. They're starting to jell a little bit more; they're starting to understand how to play in all three zones together. And that's important.’’

Those three, and 21-year-old rookie Vitali Kravtsov, are getting invaluable experience in playing huge games as the Rangers scratch and claw to find a way to get into the playoffs. Even if they don’t actually get there, the young foursome will no doubt benefit from the experience.

Kravtsov, who joined the Rangers after finishing his season in the KHL, has impressed in his four games, and though there are those who think he isn’t getting enough ice time, and doesn’t belong on the fourth line, he and the other youngsters seem to be making the most of the minutes they get.

Blue chips

The Rangers were off Saturday, after back-to-back games Thursday and Friday. Quinn declined to announce who will start in goal against the Isles Sunday. Alexandar Georgiev, who made 31 saves Friday in his first game in three weeks, would seem the logical choice. He is 7-2 in nine appearances (eight starts) against the Islanders, with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. Igor Shesterkin, who got the night off Friday after starting the previous five games, is 0-2, with a 3.03 GAA and a .905 save percentage against the Islanders. Keith Kinkaid is 3-4-3 in his career against the Isles, with a GAA of 2.72 and a save percentage of .909.

New York Sports