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Rangers face Islanders, Hunt on 1st line, Kakko with strong words, Nils in

November 24, 2021, 9:36 AM ET [206 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Rangers and Islanders face off twice in the next five days. Tonight, the two squads meet at UBS Arena while on Sunday, the game will be at MSG. The depleted Islanders could be missing up to nine players tonight, driving some calls to postpone the game, which to me would be the right call, presuming the majority or all those nine are unable to suit up today. The Bueshirts take on Boston on the road on ESPN at 1PM on Friday.

For the Rangers tonight, Dryden Hunt, celebrating his brithday, gets another whirl at the top line. Moved up to play with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, Hunt did not look out of place, though long-term, he is not really a first liner. But the team is in the exploration and examination mode, trying several options. First, it was Alexis Lafreniere, then Barclay Goodrow. Sammy Blais got his turn before he was injured and then it was back to Goodrow, now centering the fourth line. Hunt is next up with Laf the potential next option or maybe Lauri Pajuniemi gets a chance. One possible option to pursue and who could stick there is Filip Chytil, if he is moved from center. At the end of the day, I do expect the Rangers to make a trade for more of a first-line right winger rather than "middle-six" player that GM Chris Drury is being pursued.

Vince Mercogliano summarized why the team signed Hunt, a move we seemingly all liked. In addition, he noted how the trio have fared while together, albeit in a small sample size. Hunt's willingness to hit could create space for Zib and Kreider, the key will be whether he can create and finish at times off the rush and/or in the offensive zone.

The Rangers were drawn to him because of his hustle, physicality and defense, believing he would bring the grit that team president and general manager Chris Drury sought to add this offseason. He's done that, with 33 hits in 18 games played while leading the team with 2.09 expected-goals against per 60 minutes, according to Evolving Hockey.

Hunt may not be the long-term answer — that's a question that lingers for Drury and Gallant — but the very small sample size has been intriguing. In 8:19 time on ice together at even strength, they've produced positive puck possession (61.54% Corsi) and defensive numbers (zero scoring chances allowed).

Some pretty strong words by Kaako Kappo about former coach David Quinn. Kakko's implication is that his production was impacted by "playing scared" to make a mistake while Gerard Gallant has been more forgiving, allowing players to play through mistakes. As we have discussed, confidence breeds confidence, which has been the case here. Ryan Strome added his view as to what he has seen from Kakko, which is driven also by confidence, because he is seeking the puck and holding it to make a play, rather than just giving it up when received.

Five points (three goals and two assists) in the past four games inspires confidence, with Strome noting the subtleties that have been showing up in Kakko's game as encouraging signs.

"The key for him is just wanting the puck and holding on to it," he said. "Down low, when he's got time and space, he can make a play. He's world class. He's done it at every level. ... It's making those plays with not as much space and not as much time. He's learning how to read off of us on the cycle, where, sometimes you don't have to beat the guy one-on-one. You can give it to me or give it to (Artemi Panarin) and you're going to get it back. It's about using each other and trying to work in those little areas."

Nils Lundkvist, a healthy scratch Sunday for the fifth time this season, was back with Patrik Nemeth on the bottom pair for Tuesday's practice, which indicates he'll likely return to the lineup Wednesday. Gallant commented on why Lundkvist was scratched and made it pretty clear not to expect him in every game moving forward. But he  also made sure to note that he is satisfied with what the coaching staff has seen from Lundkvist, who is steadily improving.

"He doesn't have to play 82 games," Gallant said. "If he's playing really well, he's going to play every game. If he's playing okay, well, maybe we'll switch guys in and out. But we like the kid. He's doing a good job.".

"Just continue to build confidence," Gallant said when asked where he needs to see improvement from the 5-foot-11 rookie. "He’s played a solid game. He’s moving the puck. He’s a skilled guy that’s got some talent. It depends who we’re playing certain nights. We’ll look at it and see. But he’s a kid that we don’t want to wear out, either. He’s not a 215-pound kid, fully grown. He's still a small kid and we want him moving his feet and moving the puck. (Assistant coach) Gord Murphy works with him every day, whether it's in video or drills at the end of the practice. He’s getting better."

Andrew Gross in Newsday listed all the Islanders' absences. I get the league is reluctant to postpone games, though they just shut Ottawa down for a week. Plus it is a rival game and the Isles just played 13 contests straight on the road. But what is the threshold when a team has too many out for a game to be postponed? There is none, which is a problem. it's possible a few of those players are able to suit up, we shall see. On paper, the Rangers should win, but as we know, throw out standings, records etc. when these two teams meet.

Zdeno Chara joins defensemen Andy Greene and Adam Pelech, captain Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Kieffer Bellows and Ross Johnston in COVID-19 protocol. GM Lou Lamoriello said none of those players had tested negative yet, meaning there was no chance any of them would be available against the Rangers.

Bailey has remained quarantined in Florida since testing positive on Nov. 16 but Lamoriello said he would return to New York this weekend.

Brock Nelson, out 2--4 weeks, joins top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock, out four-to-six weeks with a lower-body issue, on injured reserve.

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