The good news, if one wanted to start there, was that sparkplug forward Colin Blackwell, who scored in his first game as a Ranger, assisted on Alexis Lafreniere’s first NHL goal and had three points in the first three games he played for the Blueshirts, was back in the lineup Friday night against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden.
The bad news was that Blackwell took Artemi Panarin’s spot in the lineup.
Panarin, the Rangers’ leading scorer with five goals and 10 assists in the first 12 games, was unable to play after suffering a lower-body injury in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Bruins.
In that game, Panarin clearly was in discomfort on the ice and on the bench in the third period. He played just two shifts in the third, one on a power play in which he hardly moved from his spot in the high slot.
Rangers coach David Quinn said after Friday’s morning skate that Panarin’s status is "day-to-day.’’
The Rangers may have gotten a break with the timing of Panarin’s injury, though. After Friday’s game, they are looking at several days without games. Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers was postponed because the Flyers had seven players on the COVID-19 list as of Friday. The Rangers’ next scheduled game now is Tuesday against the Devils, but the Devils remain shut down because they have 18 players on the COVID-19 list.
So Panarin figures to have a few days to heal up. Quinn, though, insisted that he wasn’t deliberately held out of Friday’s game in order to take advantage of the upcoming schedule.
"No. If he was ready to go, he was going to go,’’ Quinn said.
"We don’t think it’s anything serious and long term,’’ he added. "It was just unfortunate he isn’t going to be able to go Friday], but we’re hopeful for the next time we play he’ll be able to go.’’
It should be noted that defenseman Jack Johnson was described as day-to-day with a groin injury late last month. He hasn’t played or practiced since Jan. 26. Friday night’s game was the seventh he missed.
With Panarin out, Blackwell, who missed four games with an upper-body injury, re-entered the lineup on the third line with Brett Howden and Phillip DiGiuseppe.
Lafreniere, who had been playing on that line, moved up to take Panarin’s spot on the second line, playing left wing with center Ryan Strome and right wing Kaapo Kakko. That made for an interesting second line, with the 27-year-old Strome playing between a pair of 19-year-olds (although Kakko will turn 20 on Saturday).
Lafreniere, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, has played well all season, and Quinn has rewarded him by playing him mostly among the top six forwards. Entering Friday’s game, however, Lafreniere had only the one goal to show for his first 12 NHL games.
Quinn said Lafreniere’s statistics don’t tell the story of how well he’s played.
"We all really feel Laffy continues to improve, and we want to put him in positions where he’s going to have the success that he’s capable of having,’’ Quinn said. "I thought he had a really good game night. His third period might have been his best period of the year.
"He’s earning everything he’s getting. I know he’s snakebit . . . but he’s gonna break out here sooner or later from a statistic standpoint. Because he is getting chances, he is creating chances. And it’s just a matter of time.’’