When a reporter mentioned to Rangers forward Chris Kreider on Tuesday that his old teammate, Henrik Lundqvist, had just posted a video of himself on the ice, taking shots, weeks after having had open-heart surgery, a big smile broke out on Kreider’s face.
"Thank God, some good news,’’ Kreider said with a laugh. "Nothing could warm your heart more than seeing that. I mean, open-heart surgery, how long ago, and he's already feeling better, he's already active.
"That's some of the best news that I've heard in a long time and we're thrilled for him.’’
The Lundqvist news was good in and of itself. But it was even more welcome to Kreider and the Rangers, given the mood around the team after forward Artemi Panarin took a leave of absence Monday following the publication of an article on a Russian website in which a former coach of Panarin’s accused him of beating an 18-year-old woman in a hotel bar in Latvia in 2011.
"It's been a weird year,’’ Kreider said before the Rangers left for Philadelphia for Wednesday’s game against the Flyers. "Not having Artie around — he brings such an energy to the group, such a passion. He makes everyone around him significantly better on the ice, but what he does for our room, I think, probably doesn't get talked about nearly enough. He's a calming influence; he's a guy that everyone looks up to, regardless if they're older than him, or younger than him, just because of the way he thinks the game, the way he carries himself, the way he plays the game, and his work ethic. So not having him around is very difficult.’’
Players like Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and Ryan Strome will need to pick up their own games to try and make up for the absence of Panarin.
"None of us are Artie, and none of us can do the things that Artie can do,’’ Kreider said. "I'm not going to go out there and try to be Artemi Panarin. I'm not gonna be dancing on the half-wall; I'm a net-front guy. so I just got to do my job to the best of my ability and that's all anyone can do.’’
As far as the nuts and bolts of things, coach David Quinn — who also doesn’t have Kaapo Kakko (COVID-19 list) available — came up with some new line combinations at practice that saw Buchnevich with Zibanejad and rookie Alexis Lafreniere on the top line, while Kreider worked with Strome and Colin Blackwell on a second line.
"Brace yourself [for] maybe some lines changing quickly tomorrow, because we're just trying to figure out what's the best matches that we can have,’’ he said. "If you were able to sit in the meetings to decide what our lineup was going to look like, we probably changed it 10 to 11 times, so none of this is 100%; none of this is locked in stone . . . I think we're trying things and you're seeing what can or can't work.’’
Notes & quotes: Quinn said Igor Shesterkin will start in goal Wednesday . . . Forward Jonny Brodzinski, who is on the taxi squad, skated with the team in practice as the 12th forward but has not yet been recalled to the roster . . . The Feb. 14 game at Madison Square Garden against the Flyers that was postponed was rescheduled for April 22 at 7 p.m.