It appears as if Vitali Kravtsov will be a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game on Monday, when the rampaging, division-leading, 18-4-0 Devils come to the Garden in an attempt to widen the gap between themselves and the 10-8-4 Rangers to what could be a staggering 14 points.
“I like my lineup, to be honest with you,” head coach Gerard Gallant said when asked why Kravtsov would not play. “I like the kid, [but] right now, he’s our extra forward.
“I’m happy with our lineup. The fourth line has played really well for us. So who am I going to take out to put him in when he’s played six games this year and he’s been hurt and he’s had [oral] surgery?
“He’s going to get in; we like him, but it’s got to be the right time and the right place. We’ll see what happens.”
Gallant’s reticence to go with Kravtsov in games with outsized November importance with the winger having played just two games this month and just 52:28 of ice time on the season is understandable. But that is why the Rangers need to get him into games and, essentially, into the season.
To that end, it is believed that there have been constructive discussions between Blueshirts management and Kravtsov’s camp regarding a 14-day conditioning assignment to AHL Wolf Pack. If the 23-year-old does indeed sit out Monday’s contest, it is entirely possible that assignment could come before the Rangers travel to Ottawa for a match on Wednesday.
Under that scenario, Kravtsov would be in line to play five games in eight days for Hartford beginning on Dec. 3. That would give the winger — who has one assist in six games of limited action in which he sustained three different injuries — his best chance of success on Broadway. It would also provide Gallant with more confidence with which to use Kravtsov.
“It’s always bad not to play, so after these injuries I am trying to prepare my body for games,” Kravtsov told The Post following Sunday’s practice. “Maybe I am still not in the best condition to play, I don’t know.
“I try not to think about how many games I’ve played or [missed]. I use practice as a way to get better and stronger and more confident every day. I focus on that. The team is helping me. And I am stronger, faster and more confident.
“I’m getting good experience on the ice,” said the ninth-overall selection of the 2018 draft who has recorded five points (2-3) in 26 NHL games. “My teammates, the trainers, the coaches are all working hard to get me bigger and more ready.”
Vincent Trocheck took a maintenance day on Sunday, so Kravtsov skated at right wing on the third line with Alexis Lafreniere on the left and Barclay Goodrow at center. But that was a makeshift unit. If, as expected, Trocheck is in against the Devils, he will take the middle while Goodrow slides to the right and Kravtsov steps out.
That would represent a new combination. So, too, would a projected second line featuring Filip Chytil skating between Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko. Clearly, this represents another effort to unlock Panarin, who has copped to diminishing confidence through a current 12-game goal-scoring drought that is tied for the longest of his career.
Chytil has centered Panarin a total of four times, twice in 2019-20 and twice early last season. That included the Oct. 16, 2021, contest in Montreal in which Kakko was on the right before leaving after the first period with a suspected concussion.
“I always want to play with and against the best players, so it’s exciting for me to play with Bread,” No. 72 told The Post. “We’ve been changing [lines] so much, but that gives me the opportunity to learn from the best.
“I’ve played some games on the wing with him and I know if I can create space, he will find me every time so I can look for shots. He’s so creative and so great and creating space for himself.”
As Panarin and Chytil look to create space on the ice, though, the Rangers need to carve out space for Kravtsov in the lineup.
“He’s a young player, he’s trying to be a pro, he’s in all our meetings,” Gallant said. “Again, I like him, I think he had a good camp, he’s a complete different kid than he was early last year.
“But he’s a young player and will have to wait for his turn. I’m trying to win games every night, and with the makeup of our lineup, that’s where it is with that. He’s done nothing wrong, but with the chances he’s had, he seemed to get hurt at every opportunity and that’s too bad.
“It’s not that I don’t like the kid and I’m sitting him out because of that,” said the coach. “I like our other players.”
Chances are that Gallant will have more reason to like Kravtsov after the winger gets in some games for the Wolf Pack.