The problem with the cryptic nature NHL teams adopt when addressing injuries is it becomes nearly impossible to gauge how any single injury will affect a team.
The timeline for the Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko, who has been on injured reserve and hasn’t played since Jan. 21 because of an upper-body injury, has gone from “nothing serious,” to “day-to-day,” to “week-to-week,” to another month and then to the hope he would return in early April. It’s seven days into the target month and Kakko will not be in the lineup again Thursday, for the Rangers’ final regular-season matchup against the Penguins.
A similar uncertainty exists for Kevin Rooney, who is also on injured reserve with an upper-body injury and hasn’t played since March 2. Head coach Gerard Gallant has said the two forwards are skating on their own, but evidently they’re not ready to be full participants in team practice.
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“They were out there, you just weren’t out there early enough,” Gallant quipped following practice on Wednesday. “No, they’re coming along, they’re coming. When the doctor clears them 100 percent, they’ll be with us and that’s hopefully going to be soon.”
Injuries can be unpredictable, and Gallant also clarified that there haven’t been any setbacks.
But the Rangers have had to shift from figuring out how to fill the holes left by Kakko and Rooney, to suddenly navigating how to integrate the two forwards back into the lineup before the playoffs should they become available. The window for line experimentation is limited, and ideally, the Rangers, who will have 10 regular-season games left after Thursday, would like to play as many as possible with a full lineup.
Gallant has said he’s hopeful Kakko and Rooney will get to play before the first round of the playoffs begin in May, but that doesn’t mean it will happen.
“They might play one, who knows?” he said. “I’m not worried about that. They’ve skated hard, they’ve worked hard for a while. Not an issue. When they’re ready, they’re ready.”
Ryan Lindgren and Mika Zibanejad both had maintenance days and did not participate in practice.
The Rangers’ lineup in practice looked the same as it did in their win over the Devils on Tuesday, aside from Greg McKegg standing in for Zibanejad in the middle of the first line.
Julien Gauthier rotated in the bottom six, indicating he’ll be scratched for a second game in a row and the 11th time in the last 12 matchups.
Thursday will be the first of three straight home games for the Rangers, who then will venture to Philadelphia on April 13 for the second night of a back-to-back.
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