Rangers’ Injury Woes Should Lead to Player Rest Down the Stretch

After a thrilling 6-3 win over their arch-rival New York Islanders, the celebration didn’t last long for the New York Rangers on Thursday (April 21). The costly victory saw Filip Chytil and Andrew Copp join Kaapo Kakko and Tyler Motte on the injured list, as both forwards departed in the third period. The Rangers were on a four-game winning streak (7-2-1 in their last 10) but had now seen four forwards go down with what they called minor injuries.

The trade deadline has brought immense success for the Rangers, who have catapulted from a battle for second into a heated race atop the Metropolitan Division. Copp has been the most impressive acquisition, improving on an impressive start to his Rangers’ tenure with a first-period natural hat trick against the Islanders.

On Friday (April 22), head coach Gerard Gallant gave a semi-optimistic answer when asked about the two latest injuries, per the New York Post.

I’m no doctor, he said. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and put pressure on players. But I was told day-to-day, not serious. So we’ll see what that means.

(from ‘Andrew Copp, Filip Chytil injuries ‘not serious’ but won’t play Saturday,’ by Mollie Walker of the New York Post – 04/22/2022)

Neither injury being severe is a positive report from Gallant. Still, his track record of calling injuries ‘Not serious,’ just for the player to be out for an extended period, has an uneasy feeling settling in over Rangers town.

Rangers Need Health for Postseason Success

Even the best team in the NHL is at the mercy of player health when determining their postseason success. Critical injuries at inopportune times will disrupt any momentum and chemistry developed throughout an 82-game campaign. Chytil and Kakko have battled injuries all season. And despite not performing to the level that is always expected of them, just being in the lineup gives Gallant much-needed depth and a threatening three lines.

On the other hand, Copp was acquired at the deadline and completely taken off on a line with Artemi Panarin. He played 56 games for the Winnipeg Jets, tallying 13 goals and 35 points. In just 15 games with the Rangers, Copp already has half as many points (18), registering eight goals and 10 helpers. He has been the best trade deadline acquisition in the NHL, helping the Rangers take that next step as a team.

With all three of those players joining Tyler Motte (who is out long-term) in the press box, Saturday’s matinee against the Boston Bruins was fruitless. The Rangers’ didn’t look the same on either side of the puck. Their depth was tested, with Dryden Hunt moving up to the second-line (Alexis Lafreniere eventually replaced him) and Greg McKegg and Julien Gauthier drawing into the lineup.

Alexis Lafreniere New York Rangers
Alexis Lafreniere, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It looked as if they were back to the team that many criticized throughout the early portion of this season as, “Not good, but they have a good goaltender.” One game is not the end of the world, but one without these key players was eye-opening against a playoff team.

Related Story: New York Rangers’ Playoff Fate Might Hinge on Lafreniere Breakout

At five-on-five, the Bruins had the better of the play with a Corsi-for percentage of 57.53 and 72.73 percent of the high-danger chances, per Natural Stat Trick. Since the trade deadline, the Rangers, a top-10 team in all five-on-five metrics, didn’t have the same tenacity we saw last month. It was painfully obvious how important Copp, Kakko, and Chytil are to this team.

Rangers Need to Consider Resting Stars in Final Three Games

The Rangers have depth up front, but their depth is primarily suited for fourth-line roles. Players like Johnny Brodzinski, Gauthier, and McKegg are suitable replacements on the bottom line, but the Blueshirts are a much weaker group when utilized to replace top-nine forwards.

The collective gasp of Rangers’ fans, management, and coaches is almost audible every time a player like Panarin goes into a corner, or Igor Shesterkin attempts a split save. It would be wise to remove these players from the lineup to preserve their health with just three games left.

Yes, first place is still within reach, and yes, there is a rest vs. rust factor to consider. But, the truth is, a blow to one of the Rangers’ big names would be catastrophic to their season. Clinching first is a long shot, and even then, they have to like the matchup better with Pittsburgh or Washington as the second seed.

Currently, the Rangers’ 25 road wins are tops in the NHL. They are not phased by playing on the road, and their style of play, coupled with great goaltending, allows them to frustrate opponents on their home ice. As amazing as a home-ice advantage would be, health should be the main priority.

Gerard Gallant, New York Rangers
Gerard Gallant, head coach of the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Gallant has been on these runs before, and Rangers’ brass trusts that he will make the correct lineup decisions. But, when does regular-season success start to become secondary to the postseason, especially after already clinching home ice in the first round? Shesterkin has already surpassed his previous benchmark of 39 games played in one season. Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Adam Fox have already set career marks in what has been a phenomenal season.

The effects of losing Copp, Chytil, and Kakko have had on this team were evident Saturday. The product of losing any of the players mentioned above long-term would be astronomical. For the Rangers, winning in the playoffs has been the priority all along. Now that they have ensured a berth, health should be paramount over the final three games.