Ryan Strome said his usual linemate Artemi Panarin looks like he hasn’t missed a beat despite a nine-game absence from the Rangers. But the rest of the team sure has, losing their last three straight games and getting outscored 13-3 in the process.
So with all signs pointing to No. 10 rejoining the lineup for Saturday’s matinee in Boston, the hope is that the star winger can be a catalyst and rejuvenate several areas of the Rangers’ game that have seemingly disintegrated.
“He’s certainly in the mix and the conversation to play [Saturday],” head coach David Quinn said after Friday’s practice in Boston. “We won’t know until later.”
Panarin returned to the Rangers on Wednesday for his first team practice since he requested a leave of absence, in the aftermath of a Russian tabloid article that accused him of assaulting an 18-year-old Latvian woman during his KHL days in 2011.
Quinn said the coaching staff wanted the 29-year-old to skate more and get back into game shape before he returned to the lineup, which left him as a scratch for Thursday’s 4-0 beatdown at TD Garden.
With the Rangers now nine points out of a playoff spot in the East, it has become even more imperative to get their best player back on the ice.
Panarin practiced Friday afternoon in Boston and took part in line rushes, Quinn said. The third-year coach added that Panarin was back next to Strome on the second line, but a few different wingers rotated in because “we weren’t sure if he is going to be able to play.”
Should Panarin be available, Quinn said he would definitely slot into the second line next to Strome. The duo has logged 150:16 of ice time together, registering six goals on 24 high-danger chances so far this season, per Natural Stat Trick.
“Just his infectious energy, I think [it gives] a little bit of a jolt to the group,” Strome said of Panarin. “The curls flowing out there and he’s just high stepping on the ice and looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. Obviously, we’re going to see how it goes, if he plays I think you never know what to expect when a guy’s been off for a while like that. It’s a tough league, the NHL, when you do have some time off like that to get the game pace up. If anyone can do it, I think it’s him.
“Hopefully we get him out there and make some plays and hopefully he can provide a spark for our group. Even just having him out there in practice, you see him smiling, you see all the other guys smiling. It feels like we have the band back together and it’s good to have him out there.”
With a lack of offensive production from up and down the lineup and a power play that has given up shorthanded goals in the last two games, the Rangers are in desperate need of the carbs (or energy) the Breadman usually provides.
“Any time you have somebody like him to your team, five on five, or power play, you’re going to be in a better position,” Quinn said. “Not only is he going to improve it, but I think he’s going to improve everybody’s mentality and just feel better about it. Everyone’s going to play with a little bit more confidence.”