We’ve been talking about practice … and talking about practice … and talking about practice every time the Rangers have taken to the ice since Dec. 17.
That, finally, is about to change with the Blueshirts set to play for real Wednesday in Florida against a Panthers team that has not played since Dec. 16 and was shut down prior to the holiday recess by a COVID-19 outbreak.
“There’s almost the energy that guys have at the beginning of the season, where you’re kind of chomping on the bit,” Chris Kreider said before the Rangers flew south. “Obviously there is not a lot of practice time during the year, but we’ve gotten to the point where it’s, ‘Like all right, we just want to play.’
“We just want to get back to playing hockey games.”
The Rangers (19-7-4) have Ryan Lindgren, Kevin Rooney, Alex Georgiev and Jarred Tinordi on the COVID list. The Panthers (18-7-4), who brought seven players including Sam Bennett, Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour off protocol on Monday, added four, including Jonathan Huberdeau on Tuesday.
“Enough of practice,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. “Actually the boys were great for the last three days. They worked hard and are ready to get back to playing games.”
First periods — at least — of games following substantial layoffs often offer a potpourri of blunders and raggedy play. There is no telling what this one will bring.
“If it were just our team it would be different, but it’s the whole league, plus the team we’re playing is in the same boat,” Gallant said. “I don’t know what the first period is going to bring, there could be some mistakes both ways or it could be a real good period.
“I don’t know what to expect.”
The Rangers defeated the Panthers 4-3 at the Garden on Nov. 8 though they were overwhelmed at five-on-five and survived only because of the brilliance in net of Igor Shesterkin, who will get the call Wednesday for the first time since he suffered a groin injury on Dec. 3.
It was following that Nov. 8 match — in which several Panthers took liberties with the netminder — that the Rangers had three straight days of practice leading up to their next match, at Columbus. The Rangers used that week as a reset and went 10-1 in their subsequent 11 contests.
This was a little different.
“The first day back was more about getting our legs under us and feeling the puck after a few days off and the last couple of days we definitely worked on some areas, neutral-zone stuff, dialing in on specialty teams,” Kreider said. “It’s been a good opportunity for us to work on some things, but we’re excited to get back to playing hockey games.”
The Rangers promoted Zac Jones and Tim Gettinger from the taxi squad to the active roster.
Jones, who skated with the varsity at practice Tuesday, was originally assigned to the taxi squad from Hartford, in addition to fellow defenseman Matthew Robertson, forwards Gettinger, Morgan Barron and Jonny Brodzinski and goaltender Adam Huska.
All are on the trip.
The Rangers, 46-30-10 for the calendar year, are scheduled to complete 2021 with a New Year’s Eve match at Tampa Bay.