All indications are that after missing nine straight games, Artemi Panarin will be back in the Rangers’ lineup for the finale of their six-game road trip in Boston on Saturday, and it won’t be a moment too soon for David Quinn and his team.
Panarin had taken a leave from the team after the publication of an article in Russia last month in which his former KHL coach accused him of beating a woman in a hotel bar in Riga, Latvia, after a game in 2011.
He rejoined the team for Wednesday’s practice but did not play in Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Bruins. His teammates certainly are looking forward to having him back.
"I think just his infectious energy [gives] a little bit of a jolt to the group,’’ said center Ryan Strome, who Quinn said will be Panarin’s linemate on Saturday. "Just his smile and, you know, the curls flowing out there, and he’s just high-stepping around the ice, and it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat.
"You know, it feels like we got the band back together,’’ Strome said.
The Rangers (10-12-3) went 4-5 without Panarin. They have lost three straight games, two to Pittsburgh and one to Boston, and are in danger of falling too far behind in the playoff chase to realistically remain relevant. They have 23 points and are sixth in the East Division, nine points behind fourth-place Boston (14-6-4). The top four teams will make the playoffs.
But getting Panarin back will provide a lift, both in terms of on-ice production and in morale. And Quinn thinks the team’s recent struggles on the power play will receive a great boost from the return of Panarin, who has 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 14 games. He is second on the team with seven points on the power play (Adam Fox leads with nine).
"Any time you add somebody like him to your team, five-on-five or power play, you’re going to be in a better position,’’ Quinn said. "Not only is he going to improve it, but I think he’s going to improve everybody’s mentality . . . Everyone’s going to play with a little bit more confidence, so we certainly think that will help in curing the power play. But there are certainly other things that we’ve got to address.’’
Shesterkin still out
The Rangers will not get back the last member of their band just yet, though. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who has missed four games with a groin injury, will not play Saturday, Quinn said.
"He is day-to-day,’’ Quinn said. "It’s really a nagging situation. We don’t think it’s anything long term. It’s turned into a little bit longer than we thought. But he could wake up tomorrow and be in a good position and play sooner than later.’’
Keith Kinkaid will start in goal Saturday. Kinkaid relieved Alexandar Georgiev in Thursday’s game and stopped all 13 shots he faced in 34:44. In three games this season (two relief appearances, one start) Kinkaid is 0-1 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. In his lone start, Tuesday’s 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh, he allowed three goals on 26 shots.