December 7, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; The New York Rangers celebrate their victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
There will be no shortage of questions when the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers – two of the top six teams in the NHL in points percentage – meet on Wednesday night in Sunrise, Fla.
How will the teams handle long layoffs? Who is fast and able? Who will move up if given the opportunity?
“I do not know what the first period is going to be like,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant admitted yesterday. “It will be interesting to see because (Panthers) is in the same boat. There may be some mistakes both ways, or it may be a really good period. I do not know what to expect to be honest.”
New York Rangers back in action
Rangers expect defender Patrik Nemeth back from the COVID-19 list, where he has been since Dec. 17. Then again, it was also the most recent Rangers game before the entire league went on hiatus.
“I feel better,” Nemeth said. “I should be good at walking (but) a little rusty after sitting at home for 10 days.”
However, Rangers defender Ryan Lindgren is on the COVID-19 list. Still, six of New York’s top seven defenders are expected to be available.
With the goalkeeper, Rangers backup placed Alexandar Georgiev on the COVID-19 list. Rangers are expected to return to starting goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin, who has not played since December 3 due to an injury.
“I just think I need to stretch more, maybe because I’m not young right now,” Shesterkin said via the NY Post. “I do not know how [to say it in] English, but usually in Russia, we [say], if you have something, it means it should happen and you need to be stronger. ”
Shesterkin has been brilliant this season with 13-3-2 with 2.05 goals against the average and a save percentage of 0.937. He is on a five-game winning streak and he beat the Panthers in New York, the only time he has met them this season.
Star winger Artemi Panarin tops Rangers in points (33), and reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox leads New York in assists (26) as he continues to build his case as the NHL’s best defender.
Other Rangers to see include Chris Kreider, who leads the team in overall goals (18) and power-play goals (11), striped center Mika Zibanejad and hard-hitting defender Jacob Trouba.
“There’s almost that energy at the beginning of the season where the guys are fighting too little,” Chris Kreider said Tuesday. “We’ve reached the point where we just want to play.”
The New York Rangers also promoted defender Zac Jones and striker Tim Gettinger from the taxi team last night. The move now gives Rangers 7 healthy defenders and 13 healthy strikers.
Greg McKegg is expected to replace Kevin Rooney on the 4th line when he entered the COVID-19 protocol today.
A more interesting option is that Zac Jones gets his season debut.
Jones, 21, was selected by Blueshirts in the third round (68th overall) during the 2019 NHL Draft. After an excellent college career, he made his Blueshirts debut late last season and picked up 4 assists in 10 games. This season for Wolf Pack, he leads all defenders in scoring with 17 points in 21 games.
Panthers will also be rusty
The Panthers have announced that their star goalkeeper, Sergei Bobrovsky, will start on Wednesday. He has had a great season 12-3-2 with a 2.47 GAA and a .917 SP. He has not met the Rangers for over two years and beat them on November 16, 2019.
Rookie backup Spencer Knight was on target as the Rangers advanced to a 4-0 lead and held on to a 4-3 victory on Nov. 8.
The Panthers, who have not played since Dec. 16, come in on Wednesday in a three-game losing streak. They have not won a match since December 10, and they have not won a home game since December 4.
Overall, though, the Panthers lead the NHL in home wins (14-3-0). But the Rangers are in second place in the league for most road wins (11-4-2).
On Wednesday, the Panthers are expected to get more players back from injuries or the COVID-19 protocol, including star center Aleksander Barkov, who has been out since December 7 (lower body).
Also left are strikers Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe and Ryan Lomberg.
“It’s almost like the first day of school,” said Lomberg, who has been out since Dec. 12 because of COVID-19. “We have a close-knit team. Every time you go away, you miss the boys.”
Florida’s biggest absence is winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who was added to the COVID-19 list on Sunday. He leads the team in assists (23) and points (33).
The Panthers have their top five defenders, including Aaron Ekblad, who is number two on the team with 24 points.
Check out the latest NHL rumors about the Oilers, Rangers, Penguins and Maple Leafs. Read here.
– Field Level Media contributed to this article