LAS VEGAS – Gerard Gallant changed up his top forward line in the Rangers’ last game, the come-from-behind win Monday against the St. Louis Blues, and so he kept the new look – center Mika Zibanejad between wingers Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko – together for Wednesday’s game in Vegas against the Golden Knights.
But center Filip Chytil returned Wednesday after he had missed the last two games with a lower-body injury. And so, with a new piece at his disposal, Gallant tinkered some more with his lines, creating a new second line that featured Chytil with Artemi Panarin and Barclay Goodrow, and a third line that had Vincent Trocheck between wingers Chris Kreider and Jimmy Vesey.
Chytil, who had played two games on Panarin’s line before getting hurt, was happy to be back with Panarin on his return to the lineup.
“We had a lot of chances (in the two games),’’ he said at the Rangers’ morning skate Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. “We need to show that on the scoresheet, but we had a lot of good chances. We had a lot of possession in offensive zone and we just need to keep playing the same way.’’
It was a dramatically different-looking lineup with Kreider, the team’s co-leading goal-scorer (tied with Zibanejad, with 13) playing on a third line with Trocheck, the big summer free agent signing who was supposed to be the center for Panarin’s line. In theory, though, having Kreider and Trocheck on a third line makes the lineup look a lot deeper than it had been.
“It's just a different spot in the lineup,’’ said Vesey, who had been on Zibanejad’s flanks, along with Kreider, for 12 of the previous 13 games. “On paper, it’s the third line, so it might be a little more defensive minded. (But) I think we can be a good third line and provide tough matchups for teams.’’
The biggest surprise was that the new lineup didn’t have a spot in it for rookie Vitali Kravtsov, who had played a season-high four straight games after sitting out eight in a row because of oral surgery and coaches’ decisions. Kravtsov had played the last three games as the right wing on Panarin’s line.
Gallant didn’t offer much in the way of an explanation for leaving Kravtsov out.
“No reason,’’ he said. “Coach’s decision.’’
Asked why he had Goodrow playing with Panarin, he said: “Because I like him. I think he fits there.’’
Ultimately, Gallant may not have been comfortable having so many young players (Chytil is 23, Kravtsov 22, and Lafrenière and Kakko both 21) among his top six forwards. Or, perhaps he felt the need to have a reliable defensive presence in Goodrow playing with Panarin and Chytil.
Goodrow, who had six goals and 11 assists entering Wednesday, said while he takes pride in being strong defensively, he didn’t see his role on the line to be purely to provide defensive cover for his linemates. He also admitted that he hasn’t exactly been a Selke Trophy candidate this season.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Goodrow had been on-ice for eight goals for and 13 against in five-on-five situations entering Wednesday. The shots for/against for the Rangers had been 78 vs. 109 while Goodrow was on the ice and the scoring chances had been 85 for and 101 against.
“I think, when you’re a guy like me (and) you don't put up a ton of points … you can't go on the ice and be scored against,’’ he said. “We've been on the ice – whatever line I've been on – for too many goals against so far this year.’’
Notes & quotes: Forward Ryan Carpenter, who played for Vegas in the team’s first two seasons, was scratched, along with D Ben Harpur . . . Igor Shesterskin got the start in net. He entered 11-4-4 with a .910 save percentage, tied for 22nd in the league. Vegas rookie goalie Logan Thompson, the Knights' expected starter, is 13-5-0 with a .921 save percentage, tied for eighth best.