The New York Rangers are certainly not out of the playoff conversation. Winners of two in a row, a victory puts the team potentially one point back of the fourth-place Boston Bruins in the MassMutual East Division — assuming Boston and Philadelphia don’t win their respective games. Their next opponent will be the lowly Buffalo Sabres who are on a one-game win streak after one of the worst winless streaks in modern-day NHL memory. The kicker is, the Rangers almost loss to these lowly Sabres on Thursday.
At what point do the Rangers take a closer look at switching up the lines a little? Head coach David Quinn has noted he’s hesitant to do so but one has to wonder if that’s the best idea. Specifically, Alexis Lafreniere hasn’t been given much of an opportunity this season. Highlighted by one shift in the third period of the team’s most recent game, he played barely over eight minutes total TOI.
Quinn was recently asked about ice time for players like Lafreniere and he said, “We’re in a position where it’s all about winning… We need everybody playing in all three zones if we’re going to have a chance night in and night out.” The hint here is that Lafreniere isn’t necessarily reliable in every zone and that he might be a liability on defense.
Some will agree that Lafreniere hasn’t earned the opportunity to play top line minutes. Others will say that the Rangers are limiting his effectiveness by keeping him on the third line or stapling him to the bench. The thought behind playing him more supports the notion that if he were to break out playing with top-line players, it improves the chances of him going on a streak and helping the Rangers in the process.
There’s some merit to that way of thinking. Imagine what a confident and productive Lafreniere could do for the Rangers?
Using Your Talented Offensive Weapons to Chase a Playoff Spot
In the Rangers previous four games, Lafreniere has played less than 11 minutes in ice time per game. He’s not getting much powerplay time either. When asked if he was concerned about confidence building, Quinn said, “No… I know everybody will look at the minutes and wants to make a big deal out of that, but not everybody is going to get the minutes that everybody wants them to have. There’s just not enough minutes in a game.”
Perhaps Quinn should try to find some minutes. This is a player (Lafreniere) who many thought would have the potential to be a real top-six difference-maker his first year in the NHL. With five goals and 11 points, he’s been anything but. Some of that might be on the coach.
If you look at how young players have stepped up when paired with talented playmakers, there’s a real argument for giving this a try as the Rangers try to leapfrog teams ahead of them, while almost losing to the worst team in professional hockey.
And, if the Rangers lose a couple games in a row and the odds of them making the playoffs decrease, the remainder of the season should be about sparking Lafreniere’s offense. Get him feeling really good about his game as the regular season closes.
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