The news that mattered most out of Wednesday’s Rangers practice came after it was over, when coach David Quinn offered the best possible update on the fact that Mika Zibanejad did not participate.
Quinn said Zibanejad and Brendan Lemieux both merely were taking a "maintenance day" after bruising outings against the Devils on Tuesday, but that he expected both to be available against the Penguins on Friday.
Zibanejad was shaken up after losing his balance and crashing into the boards late in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss.
The absences from practice prompted what Quinn characterized as mixing and matching of lines as he and his staff "wanted to take a look at a few things."
One of those things was particularly intriguing: Artemi Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich played alongside center Ryan Strome on a new-look line.
Panarin was teamed with Buchnevich early in his first season as a Ranger in the autumn of 2019, but the two Russians mostly have gone their separate ways since then.
What might that pair look like under game conditions?
Buchnevich said for one thing, their communication has a built-in advantage. "We talk a lot, especially because we can speak Russian," he said. "It’s much easier when you speak the same language."
But most important is the fact that Panarin is very good at hockey. He finished third last season in voting for the Hart Trophy, the league’s MVP award.
"People stay close to him, I get more space," Buchnevich said. Then he added a hint about what might be coming Friday: "We’ll see in the game against Pittsburgh."
Speaking through an interpreter, Panarin said, "Obviously, Buchie is really good in all three zones. He’s a really good passer, he can score, he can check, he can do it all. So we have very similar understanding of hockey, he and I. But I think we’ll get Stromer a Russian passport, and we’ll be fine."
Panarin has a bi-lingual sense of humor.
When he and Buchnevich appeared together on a video news conference after Saturday’s victory over the Islanders, he giggled as Buchnevich struggled with his English in trying to answer a question about what he worked on in the offseason.
Then Panarin chimed in in English, saying, "Just pass to me. I told him before summer, just pass to me. Practice that."
Strome is off to a slow, scoreless start. "Stromer, I think, obviously is still trying to find his game," Quinn said. "I know he’s not happy with the way things have gone in his three games. Obviously, we need him to be on the top of his game."
Friday will be the start of a four-game swing to Pittsburgh and Buffalo for the Rangers, who have not played a true road game since losing to the Avalanche in Denver last March 11.
Quinn and players who spoke to reporters on Wednesday mostly downplayed the notion that road games in fan-free arenas might mean less of a road disadvantage than normal.
"Obviously, when you get a crowd in the building it changes the whole dynamic of the game," Quinn said. "The second half of the year we were a pretty good road team, so hopefully we continue that trend."
Said Panarin, "Either way, we understood during these conditions how important and vital the fans are and how much energy they give us every game. It’s obviously very different, and even on the road with opposing fans their cheers can give us energy, too. So it definitely is a challenge."
Notes & quotes: D Tony DeAngelo worked with Jack Johnson in practice. Asked whether DeAngelo will return to action after not dressing the past two games, Quinn said he had not made a final decision . . . The Hurricanes’ schedule has been disrupted by COVID-19 protocols. Is that a potential wakeup call for players? "Guys understand that if this virus hits you," Panarin said, "not only do you individually lose your shape during the height of the season when you have to be on, but you can harm the team and the other guys if you’re not careful. So obviously, we’re very appreciative of the situation without needing the example of Carolina." . . . Filip Chytil on working to improve on faceoffs: "I get the strength in the gym, but also I have to work on my technique on the faceoff, because technique is important. Playing against older, more experienced guys, it’s hard, really."