Gerard Gallant argued there were several players who didn’t play hard enough in Rangers’ 4-0 loss to the Capitals on Tuesday night at the Garden – where the head coach equated the team’s performance to ‘rubbish’ – but it was Alexis Lafrenière who ended up in the doghouse the next day in training.
Lafrenière skated on the rotating four-man fourth-line unit with Jonny Brodzinski, Jimmy Vesey and Sammy Blais, who was retired in the previous two games. It was one of several changes Gallant made to the forward squad in response to Tuesday night’s misfire. Lafrenière’s demotion, however, came with some motivating overtones.
“I want him to be better,” Gallant said Wednesday after a tougher-than-usual practice at the MSG Training Center, before the Rangers travel to Florida for a pair of games that will end in 2022 and start in 2022. 2023. chance to play with good people and he’s played well at times, but it’s inconsistent. And again, there was a bunch (Tuesday) night.
“So Laffy may be knocked down (Wednesday) in training. I’m not saying he will be there (Thursday). I don’t know where he’s going to be (Thursday). Sometimes it’s a wake-up call for kids.
It’s not the first time Gallant has tried to press the right buttons on Lafrenière, who – despite a handful of assists in recent games – has largely faded of late. The 2020 first overall pick spent a practice and game on the fourth line last season in early November and then served as a healthy retirement on April 13.
Gallant said basically the same thing as Wednesday: Rangers need more Lafrenière. Seventeen points (five goals, 12 assists) in 36 games, it’s not nothing, but the regularity has not been there. The progress made by fellow youngsters Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil in making game-by-game impact this season is simply much greater compared to Lafrenière.
“It frustrates you as a coach, you want to give people opportunities,” said Gallant, who was keen to say the lines could change by the time he arrives in the hallway inside the training center. . “Sometimes they take it, sometimes they drop it a bit. My job is to win games. We are not developing at the moment, we are developing in training, but we want to win games. We are a good hockey team.
The rest of the forward line changes doubled back to some original combinations, such as Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad reuniting with Kaapo Kakko in the top unit. Vincent Trocheck returned in the middle of Artemi Panarin and Barclay Goodrow, while the third line included Chytil, Vitali Kravtsov and Julien Gauthier, who earned promotion to the top nine after being easily one of Rangers’ best strikers in of Tuesday’s loss.
Considering how many times Gallant has tinkered with the lineup this season, making such drastic changes in the wake of a bad loss seems like a bit of an overreaction. Rangers felt good about themselves heading into the holidays, so it seems important to keep their spirits up and not dwell on just one performance. But who could blame Gallant after what he saw unfold on the ice in the shutout loss to Washington?
Maybe Gallant meant it when he said not to put too much emphasis on the lines in practice Wednesday.
Perhaps the only purpose was to ensure that it was universally understood that the last game was unacceptable.
Maybe it was to send a message to a certain player.