Alexis Lafreniere dropped to the fourth line after a Rangers no-show

Gerard Gallant claimed several players didn’t play hard enough in Rangers’ 4-0 loss to the Capitals at the Garden on Tuesday night, with the manager likening the team’s performance to “rubbish”, but it was Alexis Lafreniere. who ended up in the doghouse the next day during practice.

Lafreniere skated a four-man rotation on the fourth line along with Johnny Brodzinski, Jimmy Vesey and Sammy Bless, who was scratched the previous two games. It was one of several changes Gallant made to the promotion group in response to Tuesday night’s drubbing. Lafreniere’s demotion, however, prompted some motivational nuances.

“I want him to be better,” Gallant said Wednesday after a tougher-than-usual practice at MSG Training Center before the Rangers travel to Florida for a pair of games that will end 2022 and begin 2023. “Luffy got some things. opportunities to play with good people, and he has played well at times, but it has been inconsistent. And again there were a bunch of them (Tuesday) night.

“So Luffy could practically be knocked down (Wednesday). Not saying he’s going to be there (Thursday). I don’t know where he will be (Thursday). Sometimes it’s a wake-up call for kids.”

Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere (13) during a loss against the Capitals on December 27, 2022.
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This isn’t the first time Gallant has tried to push the right buttons on Lafreniere, who, despite a few assists in recent games, has largely taken a backseat of late. The 2020 first overall pick spent last season practicing and playing on the fourth line in early November before serving as a healthy scratch on April 13.

Gallant said essentially the same thing then that he did Wednesday. The Rangers need more from Lafreniere. Seventeen points (five goals, 12 assists) in 36 games is nothing, but the consistency was lacking. The strides that youngsters Kaapo Kakko and Philippe Chytil have taken to make a game-to-game impact this season are simply that much bigger compared to Lafreniere.

“It frustrates you as a coach, you want to give people opportunities,” said Gallant, who noted the lines could change when he walks down the hall at the training center. “They take one, and once in a while they let it fall a little. My job is to win games. We’re not developing now, we’re developing in practice, but we want to win games. We’re a good hockey team.”

Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant during a game against the Penguins on December 20, 2022.
Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant during a game against the Penguins on December 20, 2022.
NHLI via Getty Images

The rest of the top lane changes doubled down to some original combinations, such as Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad reuniting with Kaapo Kakko in the top unit. Vincent Trochek returned to the midfield of Artemi Panarin and Barclay Goodrow, while the third line featured Chytil, Vitaly Kravtsov and Julien Gauthier, who stepped up to the back nine after being easily one of Rangers’ best forwards in Tuesday’s loss.

Considering how many times Gallant has tweaked the lineup this season, such drastic changes after a bad loss seems like a bit of an overreaction. Rangers were feeling good heading into the holiday, so it seems important to keep morale high and not dwell on one performance. But who could blame Gallant after what he saw on the ice in the loss to Washington?

Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere during a game against the Blackhawks on Dec. 18, 2022.
Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere during a game against the Blackhawks on Dec. 18, 2022.
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Maybe that’s what Gallant meant when he said not to invest too much in Wednesday’s practice.

Maybe the intent was just to make it universally understood that the last game was unacceptable.

Maybe it all had to do with a certain player sending a message.


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