It’s the first game of the new year and the Rangers are in Florida where they look to get to a flying start in the new year (5:00 P.M. on MSG)

RangersNHL RankingsPanthers
14thNHL Standing Rank22nd
18th GF/PG13th

Previous Game

The Blueshirts are coming off a tough 2-1 shootout defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers had a 1-0 lead entering the third period on a first period goal by Mika Zibanejad. After some sustained pressure, Tampa Bay found an equalizer after a pass by Steven Stamkos found Brayden Point which would hit off his skate and off Igor Shesterkin’s pad and crawl into the net. It was a goal almost scored by accident, but it counts the same, and ultimately it would be the final goal score until the shootout. The Lightning won the shootout in the sixth-round on a first-career shootout goal by Alex Killorn.

               Both goaltenders were excellent as Shesterkin made 39 saves and looked unbeatable for a long-stretch of the game. Andrei Vasilevskiy made the surprise start as he started his second game in as many nights. Vasilevskiy was very sharp making 45 saves.

               The surprise of the game came prior to the game when head coach Gerard Gallant announced that Alexis Lafreniere would be a healthy scratch. The former-first overall pick has 17 points in 36 games this season. The scratch raised the eyebrows of fans and media alike.

Rangers vs Panthers

               After a one game hiatus, Lafreniere will return to the lineup to form a line with Filip Chytil and Jimmy Vesey. This will be the first time this trio will be on the same line. Lafreniere hasn’t scored a goal since December 7th against Vegas.

               “We want him to be more consistent and play better,” said Gallant. “He wants the same thing. He’s a good kid, we like him — it’s not like we don’t like the kid. There are lessons learned.”

               Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov – two other top ten selections by the Rangers will remain in the top-six. Barclay Goodrow is expected to slot onto the fourth-line. Expect one of Julien Gauthier, Jonny Brodzinski, or Sammy Blais to be a healthy scratch.

               Florida has been arguably the most disappointing team to this point of the season. Last year’s President Trophy’s winner with 122 points is currently under .500 for the season and are eight points back of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. The last time a team missed the playoffs after winning the President’s trophy the previous season was the Boston Bruins during the 2014-2015 season.

               Florida had a very active offseason including the biggest blockbuster trade. The Panthers traded away Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weeger to Calgary to acquire Matthew Tkachuk. Florida immediately signed Tkachuk to an eight-year extension worth 9.5 million per season. Tkachuk currently leads Florida in points with 43 in 34 games played.

               The Panthers pushed hard for the Stanley Cup last season – only to be swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. At last year’s trade deadline, the Panthers traded for Ben Chiarot and Claude Giroux, but neither ended up staying in Florida after the season.

               Anthony Duclair and Patric Hornqvist are currently on the injured-reserved for the Panthers. Duclair is getting closer to returning to the lineup as he is now skating with the team after recovering from an Achilles tear. Hornqvist is also expected to be back in the lineup in the very near future as he is recovering from a concussion. The Panthers will be in salary cap jail very soon once both players are able to return to the lineup. Expect a roster move or two from the Panthers in the next month or so.

               The Panthers also made a head coaching change in the offseason. Andrew Brunette was the interim head coach and led the Panthers to the President’s Trophy, but he wasn’t brought back by the Panthers. Instead, Florida hired former Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice. Maurice stepped down from his job during the beginning of last season as he felt he had taken them as far as he could and that a new voice was needed in the locker room. The highly respected Maurice felt as though his message wasn’t getting across to the team anymore. Maurice hasn’t been able to get Florida out of the gate thus far this season.

The Rangers will look to get their powerplay rolling as they take on Florida’s 20th ranked penalty kill. Fans and media have begun to question whether they should look to mix up some personnel with the power-play not clicking. Gallant previous told the media that he wasn’t considering changing the power-play top unit despite its struggles. Gallant was criticized for his willingness to bench a young player like Lafreniere, but not hold his power-play accountable.

Projected Lineup










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