The Rangers have lost six of their last seven games, and, coincidentally or not, Kevin Hayes has missed the last six of those.
But if the absence of Hayes, the team’s No. 2 center, is catching up to David Quinn’s crew – and if missing defensemen Freddie Claesson and Adam McQuaid contributed to the Rangers’ allowing seven goals in Sunday’s loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets – that is not something Chris Kreider wants to consider.
“Everyone has injuries,’’ Kreider said when asked if Hayes’ absence has had anything to do with the Rangers’ recent results. “There needs to be a next-man-up mentality. I mean, that’s an opportunity for other guys who might not necessarily get those minutes. So they should be chomping at the bit to go out there and to impress.
“I mean, we’re in a position where – you think back to the end of last year – guys are competing for jobs,’’ he continued. “No, it’s not an excuse. Any time you have a player like Kevin Hayes, the caliber player he is, Freddie, Adam – Neal [Pionk, who missed Saturday’s win over the Islanders with a lower-body injury], obviously, is going through some stuff – yeah, that hurts. But every team goes through it, so you’ve got to find a way.
“We’re a much better team with Kevin Hayes in the lineup,’’ Kreider admitted. “Every team in the league is a better team with Kevin Hayes in the lineup; he’s an unbelievable player. But you’ve got to find a way. We’re right there."
Over the first 39 games of the season, Hayes had been, arguably, the Rangers’ best player overall. And his 33 points – 10 goals, 23 assists – were good for second on the team at the time. But the 6-5, 216-pounder suffered what the team described as an upper-body injury when he slid awkwardly and crashed heavily into the boards near the end of a game against the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 14. He played the next eight games – though he skipped a few practices along the way – before finally sitting out against the Colorado Avalanche in the opener of a three-game Western road trip Jan. 4.
At the time he first sat out, the Rangers listed Hayes as day-to-day, and the team has been playing with no extra healthy forwards on the roster. That meant Quinn, who has shown quite the appetite for sitting players out who have underperformed, had no options to alter his lineup except on defense. Before Sunday’s game, Quinn said Hayes – whose participation in the morning skate last Thursday was his first practice in 2019 – remained day-to-day, and the Rangers would reconsider making a roster move, to call up a player from AHL Hartford if Hayes isn’t definitely able to return soon.
Claesson was scheduled to undergo an MRI Monday after he left Saturday’s game with an apparent shoulder injury after being checked by the Islanders’ Matt Martin. The Rangers did not practice Monday and did not announce the results of the MRI.