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Alexis Lafreniere could become an odd man in Rangers’ third row

PHILADELPHIA — Rangers found a productive third-line link between Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko in a 4-0 win over the exhausted and dreadful Flyers on Wednesday, but Alexis Lafreniere was not with them, serving as a healthy scratch for the first time on his two-year NHL career – although not for the first time in his hockey life.

After the triumph that created a seven-point cushion for second-place finish and home field advantage in the first round while also moving the Rangers to two points from the first-place Hurricanes (who have a game in hand), head coach Gerard Gallant attempted the to defuse the situation immediately.

“Alexis isn’t having a bad game, it has nothing to do with it,” Gallant said of the 20-year-old winger, who went eight straight games without a point while his effectiveness waned. “He’s a young guy and he’s been looking a little tired lately.

“He’s never played an 82-game plan so it’s nothing to get excited about. He’ll be back in the next game.”

That means there will be a sense of musical chairs regarding the alignment of the third line for Saturday’s Rangers match at the Garden against the Red Wings.

Because there’s Chytil, who had a strong match on his return after two games because of an upper body issue. There’s Kakko, who scored twice in his third return leg after 31 games due to a wrist injury and surgery.

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Barclay Goodrow and Kaapo Kakko celebrate Rangers’ win over Flyers on Tuesday.
AP

There’s Barclay Goodrow, who had two assists against the Flyers while patrolling down the left side of the unit and stepping in to win all of his line’s faceoffs and going 8-2 on points for his effort. And there’s Lafreniere, who after his long spin has been in the top right with an unusually quiet Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider in the third row for the last 10 games.

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Gallant might be a bit of a magician, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to get those four players into three third-row spots. This establishes the seven-game playoff runway as a proving ground.

Kakko seemed to prove he’s back, if not stronger and fitter after all the conditioning work and skating he’s put in during his 10-week absence. The Finn was quick and assertive in the attacking zone while working responsibly in his own game in front of goalkeeper Alexandar Georgiev.

“I was out a long time, so I think the first few games are always not that good,” Kakko said. “But it’s getting better.”

Kakko, who hadn’t scored since getting a pair in Arizona on Dec. 15, fired one from high position as the seas parted in front of him to take down new goaltender Felix Sandstrom 10-20 with 1: 0 to beat the first period. He made it 2-0 at 8:22 with the second from the front, converting a skillful center drive from Chytil after the center had won the puck in the corner fight.

“I thought at first I should pass it on to Fil because he was open to a one-timer down the other side but then I saw I had so much time so just shoot it,” Kakko said of the first goal . “[The second] was a great pass. It was a simple tip for me.”

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Alexis Lafreniere
NHLI via Getty Images

Chytil and Kakko played quite a bit last year on the kid line, which had Lafreniere on the left. When they both play their games, there’s a lot of chemistry between them. This is a qualifier.

“He’s a good player and a great skater, and I think that’s good for me,” Kakko said of Chytil, who had three points (1-2) in his last 12 games before this one. “He has a certain speed, so we can get more time in the O-Zone. I try to find him all the time.”

Goodrow’s presence adds veteran balance and a 200ft play that compliments chytils and kakkos. But if Rangers line up like this, where would the place for Lafreniere be? If the strikers stay healthy, it will be difficult for the coach.

“It will be day by day,” Gallant said. “We have additional players.”

https://nypost.com/2022/04/13/alexis-lafreniere-may-become-odd-man-out-on-rangers-third-line/ Alexis Lafreniere could become an odd man in Rangers’ third row

JOE HERNANDEZ

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