After signing with the New York Rangers in free agency, Artemi Panarin will make his return to Columbus as a member of the visiting team (7:00 P.M. ET, MSG2).
Monday night, the Rangers saw their five-game point streak snapped by the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blueshirts found themselves trailing right from the beginning of the contest and they would never recover.
“I thought when the second period started, we just gave them a gift and that really changed the momentum of the game,” said head coach David Quinn.
At the beginning of the second, a miscommunication occurred between Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei. The miscommunication led to Reilly Smith getting a breakaway and beating Henrik Lundqvist. Ultimately, they were outplayed for most of the game and were defeated 4-1. The Rangers lone goal scorer was Brendan Lemieux.
“There’s definitely things we can take from this and we can learn from,” Skjei said. “We’ve got a couple days here, then right back at it. We’ll move past this and go and focus on Columbus.”
The Blueshirts will take on their division rivals in the form of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first time this season. For Panarin, this won’t be an ordinary game. Panarin played for the Blue Jackets for the past two seasons; registering 169 points in 160 games played for Columbus. Panarin holds the record for most assists and points registered in a single season by a Blue Jacket.
“Pretty excited,” Panarin said. “It’s my last team and of course it’s not a regular game for me, a different game. Try to show the best I can.”
“It’s going to be a special game for him obviously,” said Mika Zibanejad. “And you know every guy that returns to his old team wants to win. So, the guys want to win for him. It’s important to us.”
With the Rangers power play going 0-6 against Vegas, Quinn has elected to promote Kaapo Kakko to the first power play unit and move Ryan Strome to the second unit. Moving Kakko up will give the Rangers another lefty on the right boards. Previously, the Rangers had a rotating cast of right-handed players including Panarin and Zibanejad on the right side.
“With Mika coming back, and some more other moving parts, we’re just better off having that lefty up on that half-wall,” Quinn said. “And I think Kakko the last few games has earned that opportunity.”
Alex Georgiev will start the first of a back-to-back as Lundqvist will start Friday night against Montreal. Georgiev is coming off a 33-save shutout against the New Jersey Devils. The Bulgarian Born goaltender is 1-1-1 in his career against the Blue Jackets.
Joonas Korpisalo will make the start for Columbus. Korpisalo has taken the role of starting goaltender after Sergei Bobrovsky left the Blue Jackets in free agency to join the Florida Panthers. Korpisalo is 11-9-1 with a 2.84 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.
Columbus is a team that has struggled to score goals this season. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Gustav Nyquist are tied for the team lead in scoring with 18 points in 27 games played each. Although Columbus is 28th in goals for per game, the Blue Jackets are tied with New Jersey for the second-fewest goals scored in the league with 68. Only the Detroit Red Wings have scored fewer goals with 63.
Quinn appears to have given the forward core a slightly different look. Brendan Lemieux joins the top-six with Zibanejad and Kakko. The Rangers top line is expected to consist of Panarin, Strome and Chris Kreider. Marc Staal was a full participant in Wednesday practice and his return appears to be imminent.