EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Vitali Kravtsov last played in a game on Nov. 10, when the Rangers beat the Red Wings in Detroit, 8-2. A lot of Rangers looked good in that game, including Kravtsov, who got his first point of the season in the game, an assist on the Barclay Goodrow goal that made it 4-2, before the game became a rout.
For what was really the first time all season, Kravtsov looked relaxed in that game. He skated fast, and he was making plays.
And then, his tooth started to hurt.
Actually, his tooth had been a problem for a long time, going back to an issue he’d had while he was playing in Russia. He’d been managing the situation and playing through the discomfort, but at some point it got too much. He was forced out of the lineup for a couple games and ultimately needed surgery to correct the problem.
The timing was awful for a rookie winger had already missed nine games with three separate upper-body injuries. It came just seemed like he was finally healthy and about to get a chance to play a string of games. Instead, he’s now missed the last four games in a row.
“For sure, it's bad luck,’’ Kravtsov said after the Rangers skated Monday at the L.A. Kings practice facility, prepping for Tuesday’s game against the Kings in the third game of their four-game West Coast trip. “No one wants to be injured, and… three times in a season – it's a lot. It’s just hard to go through that, but after that, I feel it's going to be much better.’’
Kravtsov has been practicing for the last week and says he’s ready to play. But coach Gerard Gallant hasn’t seen fit to put him back in the lineup just yet. And he might not put him back in Tuesday, either.
“He's been ready the last couple [games], but… I don't know when [he’ll get back in],’’ Gallant said. “I like the way our team played last game [Saturday’s 2-1 win in San Jose], so… if everybody stays healthy through the night and we're ready, it might be the same lineup.’’
Gallant praised Kravtsov for his positive attitude and his work ethic, and admitted the 22-year-old has had some rotten luck this season. He insisted Kravtsov will get back in the lineup, eventually. He just couldn’t say when.
“Right now it's about our team, and I liked the way our team has played,’’ Gallant said. “I mean, we want to give him every opportunity, and so far, he's worked hard and he's been a good character person. He's done everything we asked. It’s just a matter of getting in some games, and getting his rhythm. We were hoping for that chance to happen the first 10 [games], and he got hurt a couple of times. It'll happen sooner than later.’’
Forward Artemi Panarin, who has served as a mentor to Kravtsov this season, said his message to the rookie is, “problems make you stronger.’’
Panarin said Kravtsov had played well the last game he played, and he said Kravtsov’s talent will eventually show through, once he can get back in the lineup and stay healthy.
“If he starts feeling his confidence, we'll see a different player for sure,’’ Panarin said. “I know his [potential], what he can do.’’