The Rangers are at an early crossroad in the season after suffering an overtime defeat to the Penguins on Saturday night; which proved to be more costly than just losing the game (7:00 P.M. ET, MSG).
|Rangers||East Division Ranks /8||Penguins|
After suffering a 5-4 defeat in overtime at the hands of the Penguins, many Rangers fans were feeling deja vu with blowing another third-period lead and thinking about the what-ifs. But at no point did anyone realize just how bad things were behind the scenes. Following the conclusion of the game, at no point had anyone put two and two together and realized that the Rangers post-game media session was delayed roughly 15 minutes, or that players such as Chris Kreider were more fired up than usual, or that there was alleged shouting on the way back to the locker room. Until news broke on Sunday afternoon that would shock the hockey world: the New York Rangers have put Tony DeAngelo on waivers.
It was well known prior to acquiring DeAngelo back in 2017 that the Southern, New Jersey native had potential on the ice, but character issues off the ice. During his tenure as a Ranger, there have been some hiccups off the ice including wanting to fight a fan on social media, launching what some considered a controversial podcast, and more. But it appears the final straw was Saturday night when DeAngelo got into an alleged “physical altercation” with Rangers goalie Alexander Georgiev which was reportedly broken up by rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller. DeAngelo was on the ice for the first three Penguins goals. To make matters worse, DeAngelo and Georgiev had what appeared some miscommunication which led to a turnover that was eventually cashed in on by Sidney Crosby. The details about what exactly happened haven’t been fully disclosed, but Rangers fans are beginning to ask questions.
Who triggered the altercation?
Are both players okay?
How badly do the Rangers miss Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, and Jesper Fast who were leaders in the locker room?
Who is going to step up and lead the next generation of Blueshirts?
Will upper-management release a statement or press conference on the matter?
Has head coach David Quinn lost the locker room?
There are many questions that are being asked. Some of which we may never get the answer to, some of which fans will have answers in the future. DeAngelo has since cleared waivers but more importantly, there is a game to be played on Monday night, and the Rangers aren’t exactly in a situation where they can afford to keep dropping points. They must do their best to put the incident behind them and focus on the task at hand. The Blueshirts are currently 0-1-2 against the Penguins and are five points out of the final East Division spot currently occupied by Pittsburgh with a game in hand. Suffering defeat tonight would put the Rangers in a seven-point hole with things looking very ominous. But a win tonight puts them potentially three points out of the final playoff spot with a game in hand.
The bad news kept rolling in when it was learned that Colin Blackwell, who has been impressive since being given a chance in the Blueshirt lineup, will be out of commission for a week or so. Julien Gauthier is expected to draw back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the past five games. With Blackwell out of the lineup, expect Kreider or Kappo Kakko to move up to the second line.
Another lineup change that is expected is Anthony Bitetto will make his Ranger debut in place of DeAngelo. The 30-year-old is on his fourth team since the start of the 2018-2019 season. Bitetto registered eight points and was a plus-three in 51 games with the Winnipeg Jets last season.
While the Rangers have to make a change to the defensive core, so the Penguins have become quite familiar with defensive changes. Kris Letang suffered an injury on Saturday night’s game and will not be available. Letang joins an injury list that includes Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Michael Matheson, and Jusso Riikola. Kevin Czuczman will likely play in his second game this season with his first coming against the Bruins on January 28th. Prior to that game, Czuczman last played a game in the NHL for the New York Islanders during the 2013-2014 season.
Igor Shesterkin will get the start for the Rangers in goal. Quinn stated prior to the last game that the two goalies will rotate starts for the short-term future. Shesterkin is coming off a 3-2 overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Rangers will need to start seeing more contributions from Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome. Both have struggled mightily this season but now is a time for them both to step up when they need them the most. At the end of the day, it’s only game nine of the regular season but Monday’s game seems like it could foreshadow the rest of the season.