It seemed an obvious question for Rangers coach David Quinn after the Rangers had lost, 4-2, to the rival Islanders Tuesday night, their final game before the NHL All-Star break: How different is your team without Artemi Panarin?
The answer was equally obvious.
“Very,’’ Quinn said, after his team outshot the Islanders, 43-18 and yet lost their second straight game before heading into a nine-day break, with their record at 23-21-4. They have 50 points on the season, and are 10 points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Panarin has been the Rangers’ most dynamic player all season, leading them in scoring, with 26 goals and 42 assists, for 68 points while lifting the play of everyone around him. And, after spurning the Islanders as a free agent over the summer to sign with the Rangers instead, he had scored two goals and had three assists in the Rangers’ 6-2 win over the Isles on Jan. 14.
But the 28-year-old winger had missed practice Monday for “maintenance,’’ and had left practice early on Saturday with what Quinn said was “an upper-body thing.’’
Quinn said Panarin had been a game-time decision Sunday, when the Rangers lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1. He’d played in that game, but was no better than a 50-50 proposition for this one.
“By the end of it, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do [to play him],’’ Quinn said. “We don't think it's long term.’’
Quinn said the injury had been bothering Panarin for “probably five days,’’ and is something he has had before. The coach said he did not know whether Panarin, who is the Rangers’ sole representative to the All-Star Game, will be able to make the trip to St. Louis for this weekend.
“That’s up to Jeff [Gorton, the Rangers’ GM] and JD [team president John Davidson] to deal with now,’’ he said.
Pavel Buchnevich, who’d been playing on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, but who’d been dropped to the fourth line Sunday against Columbus, stepped into Panarin’s spot on the left wing with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. Buchnevich also took Panarin’s spot on the first power-play unit, and he scored the Rangers’ first goal, on a power-play tip-in in the third period.
The Islanders were up, 4-0, by the time Buchnevich scored, though. Two first-period power-play goals -- the first a crazy tip-in by Josh Bailey at 13:35 that went off goalie Alexandar Georgiev, off the skate of Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren, and in, and second a wrist shot from the slot by Anthony Beauvillier at 16:35 – had put the Isles up, 2-0. Anders Lee’s goal at 9:52 of the second period made it 3-0, and Strome’s apparent goal with 2:02 left in the second – which would have made it 3-1 – was disallowed after the Islanders challenged the play for offside and the challenge was upheld. Quinn called it “deflating’’ that the goal came off the board.
Brock Nelson then made it 4-0 at 3:13 of the third period, before the Islanders’ Scott Mayfield was called for spearing Brendan Lemieux and the Rangers got a four-minute power play. They scored twice with the man advantage – Buchnevich first, at 13:45, and Kreider on a rebound at 15:32 – to get within 4-2.
The Rangers outshot the Isles by a huge margin, but Thomas Greiss was good in goal for the Isles.
Still, there’s no telling how the game would have been different had Panarin played.
“Obviously with him in the lineup, our lineup looks a lot different,’’ Quinn said. “The other team has to pay more attention to him and he makes the two linemates he had -- you know, you really, in essence … lose three players, because the two guys he's playing without aren't as good as they would be with him.’’