There would be plenty of head coaches around the NHL who — when configuring the New York Rangers’ forward lines — would be so overwhelmed by the temptation of having one of the best trios in the league together, they would view a line of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Artemi Panarin as a necessity.
But not Gerard Gallant.
The first-year Rangers boss turned to the star trio during Saturday night’s come-from-behind, 7-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes out of necessity. Kaapo Kakko landed on the injured list and Dryden Hunt — put on the first line alongside Zibanejad and Kreider — wasn’t cutting in in the early portions of Saturday’s game as they trailed 3-1.
They certainly showed their firepower.
Kreider recorded a hat trick and the line combined for four goals and five assists with eight shots on goal. But Gallant tempered expectations that it will be a consistent option moving forward as spreading the wealth remains a priority.
“Is it going to be long-term? Maybe,” Gallant said (h/t Mollie Walker, New York Post). “But probably not.
“We’ll see. Mix and match our lines a little bit. It was obviously real good last time, but it’s about our team. It’s not about one line. Whatever makes us better and it made us better last game, so we’ll see where it goes.”
He went back to the proverbial well on Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings, but it didn’t last long. Julien Gauthier was on the first line with Panarin flexed back down to the second unit.
Gallant admitted that the Rangers didn’t have enough in their 5-on-5 game, which only got 12 shots on Los Angeles’ net. However, the Blueshirts still found a way to win — a Barclay Goodrow goal with 5:45 remaining in regulation to force overtime which the Rangers would eventually win a shootout, 3-2.
“If it started off really good, I would’ve left [the first line] alone,” Gallant said. “When I talked to you [Monday] morning, it sort of left the door open.