The Rangers’ ever-changing lineup has been tweaked once again, this time with Dryden Hunt getting the call to slot into the right-wing spot on the second line next to Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.
Hunt, who has skated on every line at some point this season, returns to the top six for the first time since a stretch of games from late November into December. The 26-year-old winger has primarily been a third-line player since then, but he has also logged significant minutes on the second and fourth units.
“A little more balance,” Gallant said of his lineup changes. “That’s basically what we do. It might change tomorrow morning if we sit in the coaches’ room too long and look at our board. But it’s a work in progress. With Kaapo [Kakko] being out a little bit here [on injured reserve with an upper-body injury], you move things around, and I just wanted to make a change for [Thursday’s game against Washington].”
Panarin, Strome and Hunt have skated 157:49 together this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, producing seven goals and 31 high-danger chances. Since the Rangers’ offense has cooled off since returning from the two-week recess, Gallant evidently wanted to switch things up to see if it could provide a spark.
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In moving Hunt to the second line, Barclay Goodrow was then shifted to the left wing of the fourth line alongside Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves.
Goodrow, who has been the ultimate utility player for the Rangers, was signed this offseason to primarily serve as a bottom-six skater. With Sammy Blais’ season-ending injury and now Kaapo Kakko’s extended stint on injured reserve, however, Goodrow has found himself in a top-six role more than expected.
“I don’t think anything different,” Rooney said of playing with Goodrow. “We’ve obviously had a stretch where me and Reavo played with Goodie and we felt really good about our game. We felt like with [Greg McKegg] we were playing well, too. I mean, it’d be nice to see the puck go in more for us. But these things we can’t really control, we’re just kind of controlling what we can control and that’s our work ethic every night. No matter who we’re playing with, me and Reavo are still going to play the same way.
“We’re looking forward to playing with Goodie. He’s a guy that’s won at mostly every level and won the past few years, and he’s a great example for everyone on our team.”
With Goodrow on the fourth line, McKegg was bumped to the left wing of the third line next to Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier. The top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Alexis Lafreniere remained intact.
The Rangers assigned rookie defenseman Zac Jones back to AHL Hartford.