The New York Rangers opened up the second half of their season, and their push to the playoffs, Tuesday night with a 3-2 loss in New Jersey following the All-Star break. But the 2 points wasn’t all that they lost.
Late in the third period, Reid Boucher laid a hit on Kevin Klein that would take him out for the rest of the game.
“All we heard was him screaming a little bit because of the pain,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “The referee said, ‘Listen, he just fell awkwardly. There was no slash, no nothing.’ ”
Klein is a key player in the Rangers defense and he recently missed a game on Jan. 17 with an injury to his right thumb, which happens to be the same thumb he injured this time around. But this absence will be the second significant stretch of games he’ll miss this season, having missed most of December with an oblique injury.
The Rangers are obviously better with Klein on the ice. They were 17-6-2 before the injury, then went 3-6-2 without Klein. I strongly believe Klein’s absence heavily contributed to the inconsistent play of the Rangers throughout January.
“I can’t say enough good things about him, what he means to our team and how steady and solid he’s been in our ‘D’ core,” captain Ryan McDonagh said.
AV says the team won’t have a timetable for Klein’s return for a few days, but also said the Rangers have no plans to call up a seventh defenseman. Even with Klein’s potentially lengthy absence, the injury isn’t expected to have an impact on whether the Rangers (27-18-5) deal impending free agent Keith Yandle before the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
The only good that comes out of Klein’s absence is the opportunity for rookie defensemen Dylan McIlrath to get some solid playing time. He’s only appeared in 20 games (filling in for Klein during his first absence) all season and only 3 since December 22nd. In those 20 games he has scored 2 goals and notched an assist while earning a plus-five rating.
I love McIlrath in the lineup and I feel like he should’ve played in favor of Girardi and Boyle throughout December and January.
Even McDonagh said he has been impressed with how McIlrath’s game has continued progressing, despite spending most of the season in the press box.
“It’s a tough role not knowing if you’re going to be in or not every day, but every time he’s jumped in there he’s played very well,” McDonagh said. “We know about his toughness, his physicality, but it’s great to see him gaining some confidence with the puck, his poise and using his big shot, too.”
Now, with a guaranteed spot in the lineup (at least until Klein is healthy), McIlrath finds himself with what might be the biggest opportunity in his young career.
The Rangers push to the playoffs starts now, and if they play well like back in November, I’m sure we’ll be seeing them skate well into the spring (maybe even June).
Their next opponent is the Philadelphia Flyers on the road. Let’s Go Rangers!