Question of the day since then Vitaly Kravtsov Ryan Carpenter was fully involved in practice on Tuesday at the MSG Training Center, and whether Kravtsov had a spot in the Rangers lineup when everyone else is in good shape.
Head coach Gerard Gallant said that as long as the two previously injured players continue to advance, Kravtsov and Carpenter will be available to play Thursday, when his predecessor David Quinn and the Sharks venture to Madison Square Garden. Available is the key term here, as it’s not a guaranteed re-inclusion in the lineup.
There are things to consider, such as the fact that Rangers’ attack was increasing primarily due to the current top-six alignment, which is where Kravtsov – on the second line with Artemi Banarin and Vincent Trochek – began before suffering an upper body injury three bouts in The opening match of the season against the Lightning. Kravtsov never took a look, Gallant pointed out.
“We’ll see how the team plays,” he said Monday night when asked if Kravtsov would return directly to the squad. “I mean, that wasn’t fair to the guy; he played a minute and a half on the first night, and he got hit. We’ll see. We’ll see how we go.”
Kravtsov took the place of Chris Kreider, who with Jacob Troba took on Tuesday’s maintenance day, in the top row with Mika Zibanijad and Kabo Kaku. This could be an indication that the Russian winger could be scratched in Thursday’s game, but he could find himself in another situation when Kreder likely returns to training on Wednesday.
The other option is to put Kravtsov in the third line with Sami Place and Filip Chytil, who will bump Barclay Goodrow back into the fourth line and likely drop Dryden Hunt or Ryan Reaves from the lineup. However, it all comes down to whether Rangers want to risk upsetting the 17-goal squad with a 3-1 start.
One thing is for sure: Galant is pleased with Alexis Lavrinier in that right-wing spot next to Panarin and Troschek. The head coach, without asking, said he was pleased with the selection of the first of 2020, who has three points (one goal, two assists) since taking the role from Kravtsov.
“I don’t see any drastic changes,” Gallant said.
Now that Rangers are near full strength again, it also begs the question of whether they should continue carrying 23 players on the roster or send someone down. Rangers may want to keep 23 as insurance against potential injuries, but they should also consider capping in preparation for the final trading date later in the season.
If Kravtsov is the odd man out of this squad, would Rangers consider trying to pass him through concessions to AHL Hartford? That nearly broke the relationship last season, when Kravtsov turned down his assignment in the Wolf Pack and instead went home to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
In addition, the Rangers still need to know what they have in Kravtsov, so it may be too early to consider such a reduction.
If Kravtsov isn’t scratched, he’s likely between Hunt, Reaves, and Jimmy Vesey. Hunt, who started the season as the 13th striker, entered the squad and did his job effectively in the wake of the Rangers’ injuries. Vesey and Reaves, who rotated on the fourth line during training on Tuesday, also brought their own playing styles affecting the bottom six.
Having options with a healthy assortment is helpful, but Rangers are now tasked with making the right decisions that won’t disrupt the good thing they’re getting.
“We’re at the beginning of the year, we’re 3-1, and we’re playing hockey really well in general,” Gallant said. “I won’t mess with things that work.”