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Rangers' Ryan Strome revives his game after slow start thanks to line shuffle

Dmitry Kulikov #70 of the New Jersey Devils

Dmitry Kulikov #70 of the New Jersey Devils shoots the puck away from Ryan Strome #16 of the New York Rangers during the first period at Madison Square Garden on January 19, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

Ryan Strome was a topic of conversation among the Rangers’ social media following entering Sunday night’s game in Pittsburgh. The second-line center had failed to score a point through the first four games, and with the Rangers having won only one of those games, his slow start was that much more conspicuous.

"Things are magnified when it’s the start of the season,’’ Strome said after Sunday’s morning skate. "You obviously want to get to a good start, and when you have zeros, I mean, it’s obviously more noticeable.’’

But Strome thought Friday’s shootout loss to the Penguins was his best game this season, and he intends to build off that. Coach David Quinn moved right wing Pavel Buchnevich, the team’s best forward through training camp and the first three games of the season, to Strome’s line, with Artemi Panarin, in an attempt to get that line going. And while the trio didn’t score Friday (Panarin got an assist on Adam Fox’s power-play goal), the line did generate some high-quality scoring chances.

Quinn said he liked what he saw from Strome on Friday. "I thought he held on to the puck a little bit more, I thought he was a little bit more engaged, I thought he was stopping and starting more,’’ he said. "He’s an instinctive player, and when he’s playing off of instincts and doing the basics of the game, shift in and shift out, he’s a very good player. That line had some great chances [Friday], and he was certainly part of the reason.’’

According to the analytics website, the Panarin-Strome-Buchnevich line was on ice together for 11:30 Friday and produced nine shots on goal, compared to three against. They also had three "high-danger’’ chances and allowed none. Strome had four shots, including a first-period breakaway that was saved by Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry.

Strome acknowledged that while he is not scoring, he must do other things to help the team win. Not known as a particularly physical player, he was credited with four hits Friday.

Strome clicked with Panarin last season, registering career highs in assists (41) and points (59). Panarin racked up 95 points and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. That pair has stayed together, but with the departure of Jesper Fast via free agency, the search has been on to find a new right wing for them.

A couple of 19-year-olds, first Kaapo Kakko and then No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, got the first two cracks at it before Quinn moved Buchnevich there. Three different right wings in the first four games was not ideal, Strome said.

"You lose a guy [Fast] in your top six, it’s not the easiest thing,’’ he said. "And there’s no preseason, so . . . it’s kind of learn as we go here.’’

Blue notes

Quinn stayed with Igor Shesterkin in net but made two changes in the lineup from Friday’s game, inserting defenseman Brendan Smith for Jack Johnson and activating right wing Colin Blackwell off the practice squad and putting him in for Brendan Lemieux.

Lemieux committed a tripping penalty in Friday’s game, Quinn said, and the coach wanted to get a look at Blackwell, a 5-9, 190-pound right wing signed as a free agent in October. Smith played the two games Tony DeAngelo sat out after his bad penalty in the season opener, and Johnson’s play slipped Friday.

"We have faith in all seven of our guys, and it is going to be that,’’ Quinn said. "Guys have to play well to stay in.’’

New York Sports