When Chris Neil took out Brian Boyle with a questionable hit on Saturday night, he took out the Rangers most effective forward. He took out their leading scorer, top defensive forward, and top penalty killer in this series. He took out the only player that has managed to get under the skin of the Senators. It’s a big blow to the Rangers, and not a player easily replaced. The best the Rangers can do is find some sort of lineup option that maximizes the return of Carl Hagelin, and minimizes the departure of Boyle. This is no easy task.
Side note: Is it great for the depth of the team to say that Boyle has been the best forward, or is it a sign of weakness in the top six? Tough call there.
The good news, as mentioned above, is that Hagelin will be returning to the lineup tonight after serving his three game suspension for elbowing and concussing Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. The addition of Hagelin adds some much needed speed and puck possession to the lineup, which also helps minimize the negative effects of having their top defensive forward out of the lineup.
This leaves the Rangers with a few lineup options to consider for the game, and while none are perfect, they give the Rangers much needed flexibility.
Option 1: Dress Hagelin for Boyle, no other changes.
This is the most likely option for John Tortorella. With one top-nine forward out and another top-nine forward coming back, it only makes sense to slide Hagelin into the lineup for Boyle, and then adjust the line combinations accordingly. The downside to this option is that without Boyle, the Rangers are left with a hole in toughness.
Option 2: Dress Hagelin and John Scott, sit John Mitchell.
John Mitchell has been relatively ineffective this series. It’s not that he’s been invisible, he’s just not as good as he was during the regular season. He seems to be missing coverages and not forechecking as hard as he can be. If the Rangers are looking to sacrifice some speed in Mitchell for some toughness in Scott, then this is an option. The biggest downside to this option is that Scott is like a traffic cone on the ice. The Senators will abuse him if he’s on the ice too long. If Scott dresses, it should be to go after one of Neil or Zenon Konopka. Three minutes of ice time tops for the big guy.
Option 3: Dress Hagelin and Steve Eminger, move Bickel to forward, sit Mitchell.
This is another option that would sacrifice some speed and mobility for added toughness, but without having a liability in Scott on the ice. Bickel has shown in the regular season that he can play forward somewhat effectively, which would give the Rangers another option on the fourth line. Dressing Eminger addresses losing Bickel on the blue line, but does so without really sacrificing what Bickel brings to the defense (note: nothing with three minutes of ice time). If the Rangers plan on retribution for Boyle, then this is another option that doesn’t leave them with a 6’7″ hole at forward in John Scott.
Of course the best option would have been dressing both Hagelin and Boyle, and sitting a forward (likely Mitchell), but that clearly can’t be done. Boyle is likely done for the year, and the Rangers will have to make due with the options they have in front of them. The good thing is that they have a bunch of options, which allows Tortorella to keep his choice a secret until game time.
The Rangers are still in this series, and while Boyle’s injury hurts, the return of Hagelin is a big boost to the club. It’s do or die tonight.