There is a results-oriented bias in sports that makes it challenging to address problems after wins. It’s especially easy to see this season with Gallant’s aversion to changing a lineup after a win. It doesn’t matter if it was a lucky win or an uneven performance masked by late-game heroics—to Gallant and many fans, a win means we’re on the right track.
And to a point, that’s true. The kids (Chytil, Laffy, Kakko) have scored 8 points in the last four games between them, including the game-winning goals against the Blues and Devils. But while the Rangers have rattled off four straight wins, questions remain about their struggling 5v5 offensive production and mental lapses of disinterested play.
The culprit, in my view, is Gallant’s refusal to let fourth-line players like Goodrow and Vesey play where they belong. With Kravtsov being an inexcusable healthy scratch, Goodrow has been put in the second line, and the results have been predictable. Whether you’re looking at basic stats, advanced analytics, or the eye test, play in the offensive zone frequently dies on Goodrow’s stick. As a fourth-liner, he’s perfect. He can play the shutdown role and focus on where his strengths are—responsible defensive play. As a player in the top six, he’s completely lost.
A similar story can be told about Jimmy Vesey. As a depth forward in the bottom of the lineup, he provides stout defense, an active stick good at breaking up plays, and an Energizer Bunny intensity that’s perfect for the fourth line. His hands, IQ, and creativity all get exposed when he gets dropped in with real offensive talents.
This all brings me back to Kravtsov being a healthy scratch. Gallant has defended the decision by calling it a “coaching decision” and that he likes how Goodrow plays. Yet, with an offense still struggling to generate and capitalize on high-danger chances 5v5, it’s indefensible to keep a far more talented offensive player in the press box. If Kravtsov had shown himself to be a defensive liability in his limited minutes this year, I could at least understand the rationale, but that’s not the case either. Just check out the charts this year for Goodrow vs. Kravtsov–
This recent series of wins is masking horrific coaching decisions and keeping a long-mired top-ten draft pick from not only being able to develop, not only being able to raise his trade value but, most importantly, from being able to help his team.
While I may not love Goodrow’s contract, I respect him and Vesey as players—when they’re playing where they belong. I don’t want to get annoyed every time a lousy pass ends a promising offensive zone possession. I don’t want to scream that Kravtsov needs to play for every reason possible. I don’t want to hate when I see Goodrow and Vesey on the ice. So please, Gallant, if you need the help, use these lines for a few games and see what happens:
Laffy – Zib – Kakko
Panarin – Chytil – Kravtsov
Kreider – Trocheck – Gauthier
Blais – Goodrow – Vesey