GREENBURGH — It’s been more than a week since the Rangers were hit with significant injuries to some of their biggest-name players. The absence of their top defenseman, their top two goaltenders and their second-line center hasn’t seemed to slow the Blueshirts at all, though.
Playing without Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin, Filip Chytil and, on Thursday, backup goalie Jonathan Quick, the Rangers still won two of their last three games (2-0-1) and stretched their point streak to nine games (8-0-1) entering Sunday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden.
How have they done it?
“I think it’s a testament to the depth of the team,’’ Jacob Trouba said Saturday after the team’s short, up-tempo practice. “I think, just the structure — you kind of put someone in there [in place of the injured players] and guys know their role and what they’re supposed to do. And, obviously, we’re missing big pieces, but there’s guys that can fill in and do the job. I think a lot of guys stepped up.’’
One guy who’s stepped up is defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who’s moved up from the third defense pair to play alongside Fox’s usual partner, Ryan Lindgren, in even-strength situations. He also moved up from the second power play to fill Fox’s spot on the point of the No. 1 power-play unit.
“It’s been really good,’’ Lindgren said of playing with Gustafsson. “We’re getting more comfortable with each other and better each game . . . He’s obviously a heck of a player and an easy guy to play with. He thinks the game really well.’’
Gustafsson, 31, signed a one-year, $825,000 contract with the Rangers as a free agent over the summer, and he’s been a steal. He is tied for sixth on the team in scoring (and second among defensemen behind Fox) with nine points (three goals, six assists). He’s also second, behind K’Andre Miller, in plus/minus with a plus-6.
After going scoreless in its first four opportunities after Fox went down following a knee-to-knee hit by Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, the power play has scored three times in its last four tries.
“Both [Fox and Gustafsson] are really skilled with the puck and [Gustafsson] might be a little bit more of a shooter than Foxy is,’’ said center Mika Zibanejad, who played junior hockey with Gustafsson in Sweden. “Foxy’s so good at manipulating and getting other guys time. And so is [Gustafsson] . . . He’s played that [No. 1 point man] role in Chicago as well and had some good success even in Washington. So it’s not as if he’s getting thrown into something that he doesn’t know. He has that offensive talent.’’
The most noticeable difference between the 6-foot, 197-pound Gustafsson and the 5-11, 182-pound Fox is that Gustafsson is a lefthanded shot and Fox is righthanded. That might make a difference in how the puck moves with Gustafsson at the point.
“Yeah, I think that’s the biggest issue — not issue, but I think it’s the biggest change,’’ Gustafsson said. “I’m a lefty on top instead of a righty. But at the same time, it works pretty good. Breadman [Artemi Panarin] comes up, I can walk the [blue] line and either shoot it or pass it over to Mika for the one-timer or I can give it back to Breadman. So it’s good options.’’
Domingue, Quick practice
Louis Domingue, who made 26 saves and got the win Thursday against Minnesota, and Quick, who missed Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury, were the goalies in practice. Shesterkin (out with soreness) skated on his own before practice. Coach Peter Laviolette danced around the question of whether Quick might be available to play Sunday against Columbus.
“He looks good to me,’’ Laviolette said. “And I think we’ll make decisions . . . with everybody’s best interest in mind.’’
After Sunday’s game, the Rangers do not play again until Saturday, which will afford the team a few days to allow some of the less severe injuries to heal.
Chytil hasn’t skated yet
Chytil has been on injured reserve more than the required seven days and is eligible to play Sunday if ready. However, Laviolette said Chytil has not skated since leaving the Nov. 2 game against Carolina after a heavy center-ice collision with Hurricanes forward Jesper Fast.