Filip Chytil may return to the Rangers lineup Tuesday against the Sabres following a 14-game absence.
“There’s a good chance he’ll play [Tuesday],” head coach David Quinn said following practice Monday afternoon, adding that the 21-year-old center is considered a “game-time decision.”
The Rangers’ depth took a blow when Chytil sustained a hand injury on Jan. 24 and was given an initial recovery timeline of four to six weeks. He practiced with the team for the first time last week but has been kept out of the last two games as the coaching staff continued to evaluate him.
While recovering from his injury, Chytil was placed on the COVID-19 Protocol list Feb. 11. He was removed 10 days later. Chytil said last week that he did contract the coronavirus.
With Chytil set to return, the Rangers may be losing another player for a prolonged period of time. Quinn said Monday that defenseman Anthony Bitetto is considered “day to day” with a lower-body injury.
The Rangers said there is no timetable for the return of Artemi Panarin, who has missed the last three games while on a leave of absence following uncorroborated assault allegations.
It’s not lost on Alexis Lafreniere that he’s had a slower start to his first pro season than many would’ve hoped to see from the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
But after recording an assist in each of the last two games against the Bruins, Lafreniere said he’s liked the way he’s played recently and that he’s starting to get comfortable.
“There’s always pressure, but I try to focus on myself a lot and not think about it too much,” Lafreniere said. “My last game before the season was maybe 10 months ago. I had to get my game shape back and try to get a little bit of a rhythm but the last couple games I think I’m playing better and just try to focus on myself. There’s always pressure but you focus on getting better every day, I think it’s going to be good.”
The 19-year-old has skated on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich as of late. He mentioned that he believed their line is beginning to build chemistry and will only get better with time. Asked what the difference has been in his game now compared to the start of the season, Lafreniere pointed to how he’s been more active on the ice.
“Just making a lot more plays I would say, skating more with the puck,” he said. “The first couple of games I wasn’t making that much plays and I think I’m getting better right now like I said. I think [I’m] more confident with the puck on my stick and I think as an offensive player that’s what you’re looking for.”
The Rangers’ next three games will be against the only two teams who sit lower than them in the East division standings: the Sabres and Devils.
While they’ve split two games against Buffalo, including an overtime win that gave the Sabres a point, the Rangers are 0-2 against the Devils so far. Considering the Rangers have been able to pull out wins against the top of the division – the Capitals, Bruins, Islanders and Flyers – they understand they can’t play down to their competition.
“Well we are certainly in no position to look at anybody as lesser competition,” Quinn said. “Because we’re certainly a lot closer to the bottom of the division right now than we are to the top. That being said, I think we need to continue to approach every game regardless of the opponent… That’s certainly going to be a test over these next three games.”