Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov hadn’t given up a goal to the Rangers in just over seven periods of play this season, through the first period of Friday night’s matchup at the Coliseum. But that was before Alexis Lafreniere battled around the net in the second period, ultimately burying a bouncing puck to end his team’s scoring drought.
Through the first 39 NHL games of his career, Lafreniere is beginning to find an aggression around the net. It’s a part of his game that didn’t always shine through as he opted for outside shots around the perimeter of the offensive zone, which obviously wasn’t working.
Now, the 19-year-old is becoming more comfortable with getting to the dirtier areas of the ice, and it’s paying off.
“It was a nice play by [Filip Chytil] and [Kaapo Kakko],” Lafreniere said of his goal after the 4-1 win over the Islanders. “The puck just bounced on my stick, so I just had to put it in. They made really good work, and I was in the right spot at the right time. So lucky enough, it went in.”
That’s just the rookie giving credit to his linemates, but it was his positioning that made the play happen. The goal counted as Lafreniere’s sixth of the season and his second in the past three games. His tally in the second period of the 8-4 win over the Penguins on Tuesday was a product of another smart move around the net.
“I think he’s getting a better understanding of how to generate offense at this level. And a lot of times when you get a kid that’s  years old, they get to the National Hockey League and, unfortunately for them, a lot of things that they’ve done that has allowed them to have success are not going to be able to be done at this level,” head coach David Quinn said. “So they have to, I don’t want to say totally relearn how to create offense, but there’s a whole new approach that they’re going to have to learn to create offense.
“The skill is there obviously for him, but he’s learning what he needs to do consistently to generate offense, and I think he’s really made a lot of progress in the last two weeks. I really like the direction of his game.”
The Rangers are coming up on their fourth trade deadline since “The Letter,” which declared the official start of the organization’s rebuilding, and was sent out on Feb. 8, 2018.
By now, the reconstruction has reached a point at which the Blueshirts don’t fall into either of the “buyers” or “sellers” categories commonly used to describe where a franchise stands in its pursuit of the Stanley Cup. They are somewhere in the middle: They have accomplished their goal of stocking up on promising prospects and young players to build around, but are still lacking components that would make them legitimate contenders.
It’s safe to assume that, by Monday’s deadline, the Rangers won’t be making any bombshell deals like the one in February 2018 that sent captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller to the Lightning for a 2018 first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick in 2019, a then-25-year-old Vladislav Namestnikov (now in Detroit) and two prospects, defenseman Libor Hajek and center Brett Howden, who are now part of the team’s active roster.
Unless a deal that’s too good to pass up (in this economy?), in which the Rangers could acquire a 1A or 1B center, arises, don’t expect them to be big spenders, either.