Alexis Lafreniere could become an odd man out on Rangers’ third line

PHILADELPHIA – Rangers found a productive third-line connection between Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko on Wednesday in a 4-0 win over the exhausted and terrible Flyers, but Alexis Lafreniere was not with them and served as a healthy scratch for the first time in his two seasons NHL career – if not for the first time in his hockey life.

After the triumph, which created a seven-point cushion for second place and home ice advantage in the first round, while the Rangers moved to within two points of first-place Hurricanes (who hold a game in hand), head coach. Gerard Gallant immediately tried to neutralize the situation.

“Alexis is not out of bad play, it has nothing to do with it,” Gallant said of the 20-year-old winger, who had played eight games in a row without a point while his efficiency has dropped. “He’s a young guy and he’s looking a little tired lately.

“He hasn’t played an 82-game program before, so it’s nothing to jump on. He’s back in the next game. “

That means there will be a musical-chairs feeling associated with the adjustment of the third line to Rangers’ game on Saturday in the Garden against the Red Wings.

For there is Chytil, who had a robust match in his return from a two-match absence due to a problem with his upper body. There is Kakko, who scored twice in an impressive show in his third game back after 31 games of absence due to a wrist injury and surgery.

Rangers
Barclay Goodrow and Kaapo Kakko, celebrate during Rangers’ victory over the Flyers on Tuesday.
AP

There’s Barclay Goodrow, who had a couple of assists against the Flyers as he patrolled the left side of the unit and stepped in to take all his line faceoffs, getting 8-2 on the dots for his problems. And there is Lafreniere, who had been on the third line in the previous 10 games after his long spin at the top right with an uncharacteristically quiet Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

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Gallant may be a bit of a magician, but it is highly unlikely that he will be able to fit these four players into three third-line spots. It sets up the seven-match runway for the playoffs as a test track.

Kakko seemed to prove he’s back, if not even stronger and fitter after all the fitness work and skating he did through his 10-week absence. The Finn was quick out of goal and assertive in the offensive zone while working responsibly at his own end in front of goalkeeper Alexandar Georgiev.

“I was out for a long time, so I always think the first few games are not that good,” Kakko said. “But it’s getting better.”

Kakko, who had not scored since getting a pair in Arizona on Dec. 15, hit one from the high slot while the seas parted in front of him, to beat newborn net keeper Felix Sandstrom to a 1-0 lead at. 10:20 of the first period. He scored the 2-0 goal 8:22 of the second from the front by converting a smart centering feed from Chytil after the center had won the puck in a corner match.

“I first thought I should give it to Fil because he was open on the other side for a one-time period, but then I saw I had so much time, so just shoot it,” Kakko said of the first goal. “[The second] was a good pass. It was a light touch for me. “

Rangers
Alexis Lafreniere
NHLI via Getty Images

Chytil and Kakko played quite a bit last year on Kid Line, which had Lafreniere on the left. When both are at their game, there is a lot of chemistry between them. It’s a qualification.

“He’s a good player and great skater and I think that’s good for me,” said Kakko of Chytil, who had three points (1-2) in his last 12 matches before this one. “He has some speed, so that’s how we can get more time in the O-zone. I’m trying to find him all the time. “

Goodrow’s presence adds veteran balance and a 200-foot play that complements Chytils and Kakko’s. But if that’s the way Rangers line up, then where would Lafreniere be? If the strikers stay healthy, it will be difficult for the coach.

“It’s going to be day by day,” Gallant said. “We’ve got extra players.”

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