Onus on Gerard Gallant to Get Rangers Going

The New York Rangers have had a rollercoaster start to the 2022-23 NHL season. They sit at 6-4-3 but already have demonstrated their streakiness, losing four in a row before a three-game win streak. Gerard Gallant’s group has been the model of inconsistency, and the bench boss needs to correct their mistakes for the Rangers to string together more victories than defeats.

Not all of the blame should fall on Gallant, though, as his team has not had the same success they had last season. Igor Shesterkin has yet to regain his form, Chris Kreider looks lost, and Alexis Lafreniere has been a non-factor most nights. Not to mention injuries to Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov have rendered the Rangers’ bottom six useless on the offensive side of the puck.

Chris Kreider New York Rangers
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yet, it took Gallant until the third period of the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings to finally try and spark his club. That was the first time he has made significant lineup changes – most notably a Kreider demotion to the fourth line.

When asked about the demotion of last year’s 52-goal scorer, Gallant said, “He deserved to be where he was at. He wasn’t alone.” (from ‘Gerard Gallant already against the clock to find Rangers’ identity,’ NY Post, 11/6/22). And rightfully so, but the delayed response to a lackluster start has been puzzling. Gallant and the Rangers should be better than this, and it starts with the man behind the bench.

Gallant Needs More from His Leaders

Two of the most disappointing players thus far have been Jacob Trouba and Kreider, two veteran leaders on this team. For Trouba, his first 13 games wearing the ‘C’ for the Rangers have been forgettable, and they need him to play much better on the backend if they have any chance of turning this around. His co-leader, Kreider, has also been lackluster in all three zones.

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The onus, of course, is on the players to improve their play. But, as the head coach, Gallant needs to sit down with his leaders and correct their mistakes. This is the leadership group that he installed, one that he fully supported during an off-season press conference.

Gallant has to get more out of his players, and the longer this trend continues, the more the onus switches from the players to the coach. When you look over at the Philadelphia Flyers and see a group of players everyone discounted off to a better start than the Rangers, in large part due to their bench boss John Tortorella, you have to reflect and wonder if Gallant is doing all he can to snap his group out of this slump.

I think Gallant is a great coach, but there comes a time when you have to be willing to mix things up and send messages for the group’s betterment. And despite there finally being signs of change in the third period Sunday, the questionable changes and inconsistent decisions remain.

Questionable Lineup Decisions & the Need for Consistency

The Rangers were already shorthanded against the Red Wings Sunday night with Ryan Lindgren out of the lineup. K’Andre Miller (27:05 TOI) and Adam Fox (29:38 TOI), who comprised a makeshift top pair, played nearly half the game on the blue line. Yet, it was neither Braden Schneider (14:03 TOI) nor Zac Jones (12:39 TOI) who received top-four minutes alongside Trouba.

Related Story: Rangers’ Zibanejad & Panarin Stepping Up Early This Season

Instead, it was Libor Hajek (15:13 TOI) who saw the majority of his ice time down the stretch in the third period. It was not a good look for a team that elected Schneider and Jones over Nils Lundkvist, paving the way for his eventual trade to the Dallas Stars.

But when the game went to overtime and the Rangers were shorthanded, Schneider was sent out in the most crucial of spots to kill the penalty, not Hajek. So Gallant, who trusted Hajek more through 60 minutes of the game, decided he trusted Schneider more in the biggest spot. Now, I am by no means saying I’d rather see Hajek killing a penalty in overtime, but I’d rather see Gallant stick to the Schneider and Jones combo for a full game.

On the offensive side, Kreider was dropped to line four, Panarin was bumped up to line one, and Lafreniere was dropped to line three. Kaapo Kakko, who has looked phenomenal this season despite not racking up the points just yet, remained in his first-line spot.

Kakko, whose puck possession is his strongest attribute and who had already scored in the game, had earned Gallant’s favor and remained in a top-line role. Yet, when overtime came around, there was recently demoted Kreider skating in his usual spot, while the Finnish forward remained on the bench.

Gallant, who was adamant after the game that Kreider was right where he was supposed to be on the fourth line, didn’t play the better player, Kakko when the moment called for it. These decisions are hurting the Rangers, no way around that. Kakko should be on the ice in overtime, especially in a game where he was undoubtedly the Rangers’ best forward.

Questionable decisions like those have contributed to the Rangers’ sluggish start. Sure, the goaltending needs to be better. Sure the players need to be held accountable and perform at higher levels. But it is Gallant’s job to rein that all in, and his decisions, at times, do the opposite.

At 6-4-3, there is no need to panic. But with a date against their rivals in the New York Islanders ahead, there will either be a calming that occurs over Blueshirt Nation or even more outcry for change.

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