Conventional wisdom says you don’t fix what isn’t broken. So when David Quinn shook things up after the Rangers’ embarrassing loss to the Boston Bruins last week, and the team responded with two straight impressive wins, the second-year coach kept things the same for a little while. That meant no lineup changes, no line changes, and three straight starts for goaltender Alexandar Georgiev.
But Quinn was going to have to tweak some stuff eventually. His No. 1 center, Mika Zibanejad, missed three games with what the team called an upper body injury, and he is going to return sooner or later. No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist had to get back in the nets at some point. The coach also promised at Monday’s morning skate that veteran defenseman Marc Staal, benched for three straight games, was going to return to the lineup soon.
So Monday’s 6-2 loss to the lowly Ottawa Senators actually made things a little easier for Quinn, in a way, because it gave him the license to go ahead and make changes without having to second-guess himself. The coach already had declared that Lundqvist would start Wednesday’s home game against the Detroit Red Wings, which is the front end of a back-to-back that continues Thursday in Carolina against the Hurricanes. And now Staal would seem a near-certainty to come back into the lineup, as well, which will be easier to justify after the defense was awful against Ottawa.
There are a few candidates who might come out if Staal re-enters the lineup. Rookie Ryan Lindgren, who took Staal’s place the last three games, was one of only two players (rookie Kaapo Kakko was the other) with a plus rating (+1) against Ottawa. Lindgren was only on for one goal against, and that was on a 5-on-3 Ottawa power play. Jacob Trouba (-2) had an off night, and so did Tony DeAngelo (-2). Brady Skjei (-2) and Libor Hajek (-1) had minus ratings as well.
Trouba, who signed a seven-year, $56 million deal in the summer, won’t be the one to come out, but the others should all be looking over their shoulder.
There could be changes within the lineup, too. Kakko, who had his first multipoint NHL game Monday with a goal and an assist on Artemi Panarin’s power-play goal, “might have been the only guy that had a good night for us,’’ Quinn said. After playing most of the last three games on the third line, with center Brett Howden and left wing Brendan Lemieux, Kakko got some time on the first line, with Panarin and Ryan Strome. According to Quinn, Kakko is playing “with a different level of confidence right now,’’ so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the 18-year-old gets a promotion to one of the top two lines.
Of course, the biggest change of all would be if Zibanejad were ready to return to action. The 26-year-old skated on his own Sunday and Monday, and likely did again on Tuesday, when the rest of the team had off. If he’s good to go after Wednesday’s morning skate, Quinn would be happy to put him back in.