In a 56-game regular season, when it comes to fixing problems that crop up, Rangers coach David Quinn knows he doesn’t have time to waste. He also doesn't have much time to experiment.
So the experiment of playing the righthanded-shooting Tony DeAngelo at left defense, on a pair with fellow righty Jacob Trouba, lasted one scrimmage in training camp — four days — before being scrapped. And after the Blueshirts were embarrassed by the Islanders, 4-0, in the season opener on Thursday, Quinn was quick to change up his forward lines and defense combinations for the rematch against the Isles on Saturday.
Part of that change included scratching DeAngelo as a punishment for his unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty in the third period Thursday. And while Quinn promised that DeAngelo will "be back in the lineup soon,’’ the Rangers’ 5-0 win Saturday might have complicated that statement.
Everything Quinn did Saturday seemed to work. Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev started his first game since March 11 and made 23 saves to earn his fifth career shutout (second against the Islanders). Kaapo Kakko, dropped from the second line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, scored a goal. Brendan Smith, who replaced DeAngelo in the lineup, was plus-3 in the game and had a beautiful assist on the first of Panarin’s two goals.
The entire reconfigured defense corps was so effective that Quinn could be tempted to keep DeAngelo out a little longer. Adam Fox took over for DeAngelo on the top power-play unit and set up Panarin’s third-period power-play goal. And all three reconfigured "D" pairs worked well together.
"There were some new partners today, but we’ve got a lot of good defensemen on this team, guys who are easy to play with. And we played well tonight,’’ Fox said. "Guys trust who they’re out there with, and it’s just a real good ‘D’ corps.’’
Trust might be the most important factor when considering the chemistry players need to have with each other to form good partnerships. Trouba, for instance, seemed a little skeptical about playing with another righthander in DeAngelo, worried that his cross-ice, defenseman-to-defenseman passes would more often than not need to be accepted by DeAngelo on the backhand.
On Thursday, DeAngelo partnered with Jack Johnson, but the two struggled. So now the question, whenever DeAngelo does return to the lineup, is this: Who will be the best fit for him?
If Smith comes out of the lineup to make room for DeAngelo, will Quinn plug DeAngelo in next to the 20-year-old K’Andre Miller? Or will he reunite him with Johnson?
If Quinn decides not to bring DeAngelo back into the lineup Tuesday against the Devils, these are questions he can put off for another day.