The Rangers have a day off on Thursday after play of increasing intensity over the first three days of Phase 3. Wednesday was the first day of a full 40 minute scrimmage, after a shorter one on Tuesday that Head Coach David Quinn described as having “holes in it.” Wednesday’s scrimmage was intense and edifying. As Quinn said in the Zoom presser after the scrimmage, “it was an impressive showing.” He was looking to see whether there was a drop-off in energy as the scrimmage went on, but he said that was not the case.
The lines at the scrimmage were close to what we saw before the regular season was suspended, with Kreider-Mika-Buchnevich on the top line and Panarin on the left side of the second line. The top pairing on defense was Brendan Smith—Trouba, with Lindgren and Fox as the second pair. Igor Shesterkin played the entire 40 minutes in one net, with Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev splitting time in the other.
Going into this qualifier series (“play-in”) against Carolina, the question on everybody’s mind is who will be the starting goalie in Game 1. Shesterkin was the obvious number one to end the regular season; but Lundqvist has done a lot of work to raise his level over the four months away from play. Both have looked very good thus far (so has Georgiev, but it would be a shock to everyone if he got the nod for game 1 of the qualifier), and it still is supposedly either one’s net to win or lose. But can Lundqvist really erase the inconsistency that he showed this season in the minds of his teammates in such a short series? All while Shesterkin still looks like a machine out there (as he did in the scrimmage). The reasonable scenario is to put Shesterkin out there for Game 1 and, if the team wins, he remains. But if Carolina beats the Rangers in Game 1, and Lundqvist continues to look strong in this camp/in the exhibition game against the Islanders, he could get the nod for Game 2. With so much on the line in such a short period, if Shesterkin falters and Lundqvist appears ready, I doubt the Rangers will wait long to make a move.
The three goalie battle is a good thing—not only because each pushes the other. The unspoken is always there—what if one of the netminders tests positive for COVID-19? You need three goalies who are NHL-ready and the Rangers have this. (Although Adam Huska, the other goaltender at the Training Center, may be an NHL goalie in the future, in anything other than an emergency, you do not want to put him in this kind of qualifying series.) Losing a player to the virus could be fatal to any team in the qualifiers, but no one position will be more important than the net. So the Rangers having three netminders who have shown in the past that they can rise to the occasion is a big advantage.
Is it possible that Panarin’s release has gotten even faster? He scored a goal on Lundqvist in the shootout of the scrimmage on Wednesday that was amazing. Looking at it over and over again, I still cannot see the point of release.
Speaking of Panarin, on Tuesday, he was named a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award for the most outstanding player in the regular season (as determined by his fellow players). One of three finalists (the others were Nathan MacKinnon and Leon Draisaitl), the often tongue in cheek Panarin said that he “want to thank all the GMs for not choosing me in the draft,” so he could choose the teams whose style most his style of play. Asked by the press about the keys to his success, Panarin said that “there are no special keys to doing this well. I play my best . . . maybe I am more relaxed and it helped me play better.”
If it is true that there are no special keys to playing hockey that well, I am sure that Panarin’s teammates would like his secret—before the qualifier starts!