It has certainly been a tumultuous two-plus weeks for the New York Rangers. The chaos of the trade deadline led directly into a three-game stretch which has seen the Blueshirts take five of a possible six points without holding the lead in any of the games. Despite the lackluster play in all three zones, we must take the small sample size with a grain of salt, as there have been several moving parts since the deadline.
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Head coach Gerard Gallant has continuously shuffled around line combinations, hoping to generate a spark and some chemistry with his forward groupings. The third period of Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was the best the Rangers’ forwards have looked in quite some time. Gallant rolled out:
Artemi Panarin – Mika Zibanejad – Vladimir Tarasenko
Chris Kreider – Vincent Trocheck – Patrick Kane
Alexis Lafreniere – Filip Chytil – Kaapo Kakko
Tyler Motte – Barclay Goodrow – Jimmy Vesey
For the new guys, this lineup seemed to click beautifully. But, as much as the Rangers need the top-six to get going, the Rangers’ third line, the “Kids Line”, has to get back on the scoresheet. Filip Chytil, who was hotter than any goal scorer in the NHL not too long ago, has been silent. And for the Rangers to be the deep forward group we have heralded them to be, he has to regain that scoring touch.
Chytil’s Gone From Fire to Ice
Miraculously, it has been over a month since Chytil’s last goal, which came on Feb. 8 against the Vancouver Canucks. That goal was his 19th of the season, and at the time, his seventh over a five-game span. Now, he is mired in a 15-game goal drought, registering five points over that time frame.
The Rangers are a much more dangerous team when the kids are playing well. Yet, they all seem to go cold at the exact same time. Alexis Lafreniere has played some of his best hockey lately, but his two counterparts on that line have been struggling. Kaapo Kakko is caught up in a seven-game goal drought and has just one goal over the past 13 games.
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Chytil is the catalyst of the Kids Line. His speed off the rush and on the forecheck create chances, and when he has the space, his release and shot are lethal. He has had glorious chances to score over this stretch but has been severely snakebitten.
With Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko adjusting to the top-six, and the Rangers’ other stars attempting to develop chemistry with their new linemates, the importance of the Kids Line getting points cannot be overstated. It is no coincidence that when Chytil is playing his best, the Rangers look like a serious contender. Yet, when his play is flat, they start to look mediocre.
He is truly that important of a piece on this team. Sure, you can make the case that the Rangers are staying afloat in the playoff race despite his play, and in the long run, this may benefit the team as general manager Chris Drury has better odds of a team-friendly deal now than when he was on that heater.
But the Rangers have their eyes on a Stanley Cup, which won’t be won without production from Chytil.
Chytil Needs to Regain Form Heading Into Playoffs
During the Rangers’ improbable run to the Eastern Conference Final last season, Chytil was the only player on the team with a Corsi For (CF%) over 50% (52.54%) at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick. He had seven goals in 20 games during the postseason but was consistently a beast at five-on-five.
That version of Chytil is who the Rangers need back in their lineup to give them the best chance at repeating that kind of run. Over his 15-game drought, he has a CF% of just 46.78. He has not been his usual electric self, and the Rangers have been outscored 15-5 when he has been on the ice.
Individually, over his goalless stretch, Chytil ranks third on the team in individual expected goals, with 2.94 at five-on-five. Miraculously, he hasn’t scored, but the red-hot touch he had back in early February has evaporated before our eyes. Now, he is the most snakebitten forward on the team amid a giant personal slump that directly correlates with the Rangers’ poor play.
We know he can get back to that playoff Chytil form. Heck, even right now, he is still one of the better play drivers at five-on-five, and his increased power play time will give him an even greater opportunity to generate offense than he had last season. Yet, the longer this drought goes on, the more it affects the mind of the 23-year-old Czech forward.
Eleven of Chytil’s 19 goals have come on home ice this season, while the Washington Capitals, the Rangers’ next opponent, have yielded 3.03 goals per game on the road. Look for him to break out of his slump at Madison Square Garden, and when he does, the Rangers will get back on track in a hurry.