It’s time for Gerard Gallant to move Filip Chytil to Rangers second line
If the Rangers close their eyes, tap their heels together three times and say, “We can beat Boston,” well, there is a chance that, yes indeed, the Blueshirts might come out on top of the mighty B’s, who extended their start to 36-5-4 on Thursday with a 3-1 victory at the Garden.
But wishing won’t make it so and neither will believing — even if the Rangers clung to the thought that, other than for a few mistakes, they could have toppled the Bruins right then and there.
But it is a leap of faith to believe that this team, as currently constituted, could take the Bruins in a best-of-seven playoff series in April or May. That, after all is what they’re all here for. It is not solely to make the playoffs. That is the minimum requirement this season.
The objective is to win six more playoff games than they did last year. It is to win the Stanley Cup. Or, as Barclay Goodrow said following the Rangers’ fourth regulation defeat in the last 20 games (14-4-2): “We’ve seen what the best is. It’s up to us to build our game. It’s up to us to get up to their level.
“We have big aspirations and big goals.”
To fulfill them, there will need to be a big improvement.
It is becoming more and more difficult to understand how, in a game like this, Filip Chytil could get more than five fewer minutes of ice time than Vincent Trocheck: 15:34 to 20:54.
It is becoming more and more difficult to understand why head coach Gerard Gallant will not move Chytil into that second-line spot with Artemi Panarin and a right wing to be named later (cough, cough, Goodrow).
It is becoming impossible to understand why Gallant is sticking with the same personnel on the first power-play unit, which has scored one goal in the last eight games. It is becoming impossible to understand why the first power-play unit gets every start, even when the Rangers have gone 1-for-19 over the last six games after an 0-for-3 Thursday.
Gallant lambasted the second line with withering postgame comments that focused on defensive lapses. He wasn’t talking about the right wing, either, on a night when Vitali Kravtsov was replaced by Jimmy Vesey midway through the second period.
“I’ve talked about the second line all year long, about playing better, harder defensively, not giving up odd-man rushes,” Gallant said. “And it continues to happen.”
But it is more than that. Or, more pointedly, less. When asked if Panarin and Trocheck have developed suitable chemistry, the coach responded: “They better get better.”
Trocheck is a good player. But he and Panarin have demonstrated zero affinity for one another in 32 games as linemates. Yet, with an obvious alternative in Chytil, Gallant continues to try pounding those square pegs into a round hole.
That is, as the coach pointed out, the second line. It is meant to be a scoring line. Actually, the Rangers have tried to construct three scoring lines, which is a basic flaw in their construction. They need a checking line. They need a matchup line. But that is not how the team was built.
Ideally, you’d like Goodrow to anchor a matchup line. You’d build around him. But that’s not an option unless general manager Chris Drury tears the team apart and does a massive reconstruction leading into the March 3 trade deadline.
There are 201 forwards who have played at least 500 minutes at five-on-five this season. Trocheck ranks 194th in goals per 60:00 at 0.28. Chytil has played 451 minutes, but his 1.07 G/60 leads the Rangers.
Here’s a larger issue. If Trocheck is blocking Chytil now, then what about the future? We have touched on this before, but if the 23-year-old Czech’s ceiling is the third line, then his long-term future will be elsewhere. Remember, Trocheck has a full no-move clause through 2024-25. And Chytil is a pending restricted free agent whose cap hit is expected to increase from $2.3 million to the $4 million neighborhood.
After nurturing Chytil for five years, losing him, whether at this deadline or over the summer, would be more than a shame. It would be a crime.
The Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Kaapo Kakko unit seemed disjointed throughout. The Trocheck line did create chances, probably a hat trick of Grade-A ones for Panarin, who seemed tentative and could not finish. Alexis Lafreniere, reunited with Chytil on the third line that included Goodrow, had one of his most engaged nights of the year. The line demanded more time.
This was not a doom-and-gloom night, but it was instructive. Even if the line of demarcation wasn’t necessarily stark, it was evident. Details, details, details. The B’s put on a clinic of mastering them while the Blueshirts forgot to cross the occasional “T” and dot the occasional “I.”
The bar has been set. The Rangers need to be better. The Rangers need to be different. Same old won’t be good enough.
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