Yes, Thursday night’s embarrassing no-show loss to the rival Islanders at the Garden in the season opener for both teams was just one game, the first in a compressed 56-game 2020-21 season.
Rangers coach David Quinn, though, was determined to do everything he could to make sure it was just the one bad game.
"We can't let one game turn into two bad ones,’’ Quinn said Saturday, before the Rangers again hosted the Islanders at the Garden in a do-over opportunity presented to them by the NHL’s coronavirus-adjusted schedule. "We've got to make sure tonight that we move past the other night, learn from it, but forget it on the same breath. We can't let it linger. Nobody felt good about the other night.’’
So Quinn made some changes. The most radical of those was the decision to scratch defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who took two penalties in the third period that Quinn decided he couldn’t tolerate. With the Rangers trailing 4-0, DeAngelo was called for a holding penalty against Mathew Barzal at 1:05, and he compounded that by slamming the penalty box door closed, in frustration. That got him an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which left the Rangers shorthanded for four straight minutes.
Quinn benched DeAngelo for a long period after his penalties were over, and he banished the defenseman from practice Friday, assigning him to work with the taxi squad, rather than the main roster. The coach said he spoke at length to DeAngelo, who has had a history of losing his cool at times, going back to his days in junior hockey. He promised the 25-year-old DeAngelo will "be back in the lineup soon.’’
Brendan Smith, who had been a healthy scratch Thursday, took DeAngelo’s spot in the lineup, and there were a bunch of other changes that Quinn said were the result of Smith and Phillip DiGiuseppe coming into the lineup. Quinn was forced to bring in DiGiuseppe because Kevin Rooney, who left Thursday’s game in the third period following a heavy collision with the Islanders’ Ross Johnston, was unavailable to play.
With Smith in, Quinn changed all his defense pairs, including splitting up his most reliable twosome, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren. Lindgren was partnered with Jacob Trouba, while Trouba’s partner on Thursday, rookie K’Andre Miller, was paired with Smith. That left Fox to partner up with Jack Johnson, who had played with DeAngelo on Thursday.
Of course, with a 10-day training camp that featured just seven days of working on ice, the new combinations had only Friday’s practice to work together. Lindgren, who is roommates with Fox, and has been friends with him since they were 16, and on the U.S. National junior team together, didn’t think that would be a big deal.
"I had some time with ‘Troubs’ before,’’ Lindgren said. "We played a couple games last year together and we found ourselves on the penalty kill a little bit together on Thursday. So, we're familiar with each other.’’
Still, Fox and Lindgren, who played together most of last season, were the one pair Quinn had said before camp he did not want to break up. So why break them up now?
"I want to see what these ‘D’ pairings look like,’’ Quinn said. "And if it's not working, the good news is, we can go back to what we had.’’
The coach made some changes up front, too, though. No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere, who started at left wing on the third line Thursday, moved over to the right wing and up to the second line, with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Kaapo Kakko, who played with those two Thursday, dropped down to a line with Filip Chytil and DiGiuseppe. Julien Gauthier moved to the right of center Brett Howden and left wing Brendan Lemieux.