Welcome to New York Rangers Weekly! The Rangers resumed play on Wednesday night after the league postponed games for a week due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 omicron variant throughout the NHL. The Rangers lost to the Florida Panthers, 4-3, after allowing three goals in the third period. Let’s take a look at some current storylines that are going on with the Blueshirts.
Multiple Players in COVID Health and Safety Protocols
Patrik Nemeth returned to the team for last night’s game after entering health and safety protocols on Dec. 18. Due to the league postponing their schedule, the Rangers defenseman did not miss any games due to testing positive for COVID-19. The Blueshirts had some players entering protocol within the last few days.
Ryan Lindgren and Alexandar Georgiev tested positive for COVID-19 and entered protocol on Dec. 26, Jarred Tinordi entered on Dec. 27 and Kevin Rooney was placed into protocol on Dec. 28. Libor Hajek filled in for Lindgren during the game against the Panthers. Kevin Kinkaid will serve as the backup goaltender with Georgiev in the protocol.
The NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) agreed to a change to their COVID-19 protocol. Fully vaccinated players who meet required conditions will have their isolation time reduced from ten days to five. The change to the protocol was in response to the new guidelines for people who test positive for COVID-19 that were issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Dec. 27.
Shesterkin Played in First Game Since Dec. 3
Igor Shesterkin, who suffered a lower-body injury during a game versus the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 3, was back in net for the Rangers in Wednesday night’s game against the Panthers. The 26-year-old goaltender made 28 saves on 32 shots faced and he struggled during the third period as he allowed three goals.
Shesterkin admitted needing to make more time for himself to stretch as he does not think his injury resulted from playing too many games, “No. I think just I need to stretch more maybe because I’m not young right now. I will work on this. I don’t know how [to say it in] English, but usually in Russia, we [say], if you’ve got something, it means it should happen and you need to be stronger. It was a hard time [being out] because the same problem is [my] leg. But I’m so happy that we got good games and lots of points. We’re still top three in our [division] right now” (from ‘Igor Shesterkin thinks he has answers after ‘f-ked again’ injury fears,’ New York Post, 12/27/21).
The Blueshirts starting goaltender has arguably been the Rangers’ most valuable player specifically before his injury. Shesterkin had to carry a heavy load for the team in net during October and November. Georgiev struggled in net before he began to play better during December when he became the starting netminder.
The Rangers will need their starting goaltender to be at his best with games against tough opponents including back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blueshirts will play the Edmonton Oilers, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Anaheim Ducks next week as well. The Lightning are first in the Atlantic Division while the Golden Knights and Ducks are first and second, respectively, in the Pacific Division. The Oilers, while struggling, are tied for third in the Pacific with the Calgary Flames. The Lightning and Golden Knights have been exceptional in their last ten games as the former has gone 9-1-0 while the latter has gone 8-2-0.
Is a Rangers Trade on the Horizon?
After Sammy Blais suffered a torn ACL during a game against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 14, the Rangers have had a hole in the lineup without a reliable right wing. Pavel Buchnevich was traded to the St. Louis Blues for Blais during the offseason and the former Rangers forward was viewed as a player on the top six. However, salary was an issue with Buchnevich as he received a new contract after being traded to the Blues.
Reilly Smith, of the Golden Knights, has been a player who has been rumored to be targeted in a trade by Rangers president/general manager Chris Drury. The 30-year-old forward has 11 goals and 15 assists in 33 games played this season and would be a good option for the Blueshirts to put on the first or second line. If Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers were to lift his no-movement clause (NMC) to be traded to the Rangers, he is another player for the Rangers president/general manager to consider trading for. Smith would be a more likely option of the two players to be acquired by the Blueshirts due to the Rangers and Flyers both playing in the Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers have a challenging schedule next week and need to regroup after their loss last night to the Panthers. Having two games against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, the Lightning, who are one of the hottest teams in the NHL currently, will be another tough test for the Blueshirts. The Rangers did not fare well in their last trip out west in early November when they played games in western Canada. After the two games against the Lightning, the Blueshirts will play five consecutive games – four on the road – against teams in the Pacific Division.