GREENBURGH, N.Y. – With the regular season opener a week away, the Rangers are inching closer to their opening night lineup. On Wednesday, the second practice group had the look of a nearly complete regular season lineup, though coach David Quinn cautioned not to read too much into how the players were aligned.
“You could jump to a lot of conclusions, but don't do that because ... it did look that way, but that's not the case,’’ Quinn said.
Still, with the trio of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich at the top; and defense pairs of Brady Skjei-Jacob Trouba, Marc Staal-Tony DeAngelo and Libor Hajek-Adam Fox, and goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev working in the second group, it sure did look like a few things had been put in place.
But with two preseason games left, there are still some roster decisions to be made and some positions and roles to be finalized. One interesting combination at practice was the second line, which had Ryan Strome in the middle, between Chris Kreider and Kaapo Kakko. Filip Chytil, who had gotten the first crack at being the second line center, was working on a third line as a right wing, with Vlad Namestnikov on the left and Brett Howden in the middle.
“It's still hockey, you know?’’ Chytil said when asked about moving to the wing. “I was just playing the game and enjoying [the fact] I can be here. So, it doesn't matter what position I play. I want to play, and play my best.’’
Chytil, who turned 20 just before training camp started, started at center last season, but played more on the wing than in the middle. If he starts out as the second center, there is a chance that Howden, 21, and Lias Andersson, 20, could line up behind him on the third and fourth lines. That would make the Rangers very young down the middle, though, and Quinn always knew he had the option of playing Strome or Namestnikov at center and moving one of the youngsters to the wing.
Chytil admitted that in the two preseason games he played – he played in back-to-back games Friday in Newark and Saturday in Philadelphia – he tried to focus on taking care of his defensive responsibilities first. Perhaps as a result, he failed to impress offensively in two lackluster Rangers losses. Meanwhile, according to Quinn, Strome had his best game of the preseason in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Islanders, when he centered the third line.
“When you're dealing with youth, there's a lot of inconsistencies,’’ Quinn said. “And if you asked me yesterday, I might have the centers ranked in one order, and then the next day it's a different order. So that's the challenge that we face. And how all the guys are playing, and how Strome looked in the middle… there's a lot that goes into this decision-making process.’’
Notes & quotes: Quinn said DeAngelo, who reported to camp late after agreeing to a contract last week, will play in Thursday’s game at the Garden against the Flyers… Lundqvist is expected to play the entire game Thursday and Georgiev the whole game Saturday, when the Rangers travel to Bridgeport, Conn., to face the Islanders in the preseason finale… G Adam Huska, D Tarmo Reunanen and C Phillip DiGiuseppe were assigned to AHL Hartford and D Matthew Robertson was returned to his junior team.