The Rangers are back for the first time in twelve days when they travel to Florida to take on the Panthers (7:00 P.M. EST, MSG2).

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6thNHL Standing Rank8th

NHL News

               A lot has happened over the course of twelve days since the Rangers last played. The NHL has decided against sending players to China to play in the Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a lot of games around the league being postponed, the league has decided they are going to try to use the month of February to make up most of the postponed games. The Blueshirts only had four games scheduled for the month due to the Olympic break with a 23-day stretch in between the first and second games. Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand was not happy with this development.

               Another change that occurred in the NHL was the addition of taxi squads. Taxi squads were used for the first time during the shortened season in 2021 to give teams roster flexibility in case COVID-19 forces players to miss games. If a team becomes shorthanded due to COVID-19 or injuries, they can use one of six players on the taxi squad to help fill out the lineup. The taxi squad will be in place until the all-star break with a chance of an extension. For salary cap purposes, players on the taxi squad will count as if they were in the minors. Players can only be on the taxi squad for a maximum of 20 days.

Rangers News

               The Rangers lasted play on December 17th in a 3-2 shootout defeat to the Vegas Golden Knights. Alex Georgiev made 28 saves including two breakaway saves in overtime. New York had two total games postponed since the Vegas game. The Blueshirts will have to make up games against the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings.

               But a lot has transpired since the Rangers’ last game and Georgiev will have no role to play in Wednesday night’s contest. The 25-year-old has been put in the COVID protocol and won’t be available. The good news for the Rangers is that starting netminder Igor Shesterkin appears ready to go after suffering a non-contact injury on December 3rd against the San Jose Sharks. Keith Kinkaid from the taxi squad is expected to backup Shesterkin.

               One can say the twelve-day break came at the right time for the Blueshirts as not only will Shesterkin likely make his return to the lineup, but they will also see the return of Artemi Panarin. Panarin has been out of the lineup since suffering a “minor lower-body injury” against the Coyotes on December 15th.

               With Panarin back in the lineup, head coach Gerard Gallant will have an interesting decision to make about his number one power-play unit. In Panarin’s absence, Kaapo Kakko got an opportunity on the top unit and ran with it. The power-play was very crisp and the confidence of Kakko was clearly growing. The former second overall pick recorded the game-winning goal against the Coyotes in the dying minutes. Panarin will have his spot on the top unit but has Kakko earned a spot from someone else?

               On the backend, the Rangers will be without Ryan Lindgren who is also in the COVID protocol. Patrik Nemeth had been in the protocol but has since cleared it and will likely return to the lineup. The final defensive spot with Nemeth will be between Nils Lundkvist and Zac Jones. Lundkvist hasn’t played since December 10th with a non-covid illness and his status is unclear. Jones was called up from the taxi squad on Tuesday. Libor Hajek will remain in the lineup and likely fill the void left by Lindgren.

               Tim Gettinger was also called up from the taxi squad on Tuesday and he could be in the lineup if there is a late scratch. Kevin Rooney was added to the protocol which will likely slot Greg McKegg into the lineup. If someone else isn’t available, expect Gettinger to play. Keep an eye out for head coach Gerard Gallant’s media briefing prior to the game.

Florida Panthers

               While the Rangers are getting key players back to the lineup, so are the Panthers. Florida is expected to see the returns of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Barkov is coming off the IR after missing their previous four games due to an undisclosed reason. Huberdeau has cleared the COVID protocol and he is expected to rejoin Florida’s top-six forwards. The 28-year-old leads the Panthers in points with 33 in 29 games. Barkov is averaging better than a point-per-game pace.

               One player the Blueshirts won’t see is rookie netminder Spencer Knight. Knight had never lost a regular-season game prior to his first game against the Rangers earlier this season. Knight was just called back up from the AHL after being loaned down to help the Panthers with roster flexibility. Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start for the Panthers. The 33-year-old is currently 12-3-2 with a .917 save percentage on the season.  

               On the backend, the Blueshirts will have to do a good job against Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad, the former number one overall pick in 2011, currently has 24 points in 28 games and is a plus 17. The 25-year-old is one of the most complete players in the NHL and has a presence in all phases of the game. The right-handed defenseman currently averages over 25 minutes a game which is the eighth-most in the league.

What to Watch For

               Today’s what to watch for is how well can the Rangers replace Lindgren? In the first meeting earlier this season, the Panthers were relentless and played at an extremely quick pace. They outshot the Blueshirts 45-18 in a 4-3 defeat at Madison Square Garden. Now the Rangers will be missing arguably their best defensive defenseman against a high-tempo offense. How will they adapt? Can they beat one of the league’s best without one of their top defensemen?

               “Play good hockey, be ready to play a 200-foot game every night,” said Gallant on the Rangers’ return to play.

Projected Lineup









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