Rangers scratch Julien Gauthier in favor of Phil Di Giuseppe


No, Julien Gauthier was not able to extend his consecutive games-played streak to… eight.

Instead, the 23-year-old winger was designated as a healthy scratch for the 11th time this season, bumped from Tuesday’s lineup against the Penguins when David Quinn opted to go with role-playing Phil Di Giuseppe in his stead on the fourth line that included Vitali Kravtsov and Kevin Rooney.

Gauthier had played five straight games on the line with Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil before being dropped to the fourth line Saturday in Buffalo to accommodate Kravtsov’s NHL debut. Di Giuseppe was scratched for that one.

But the furniture was rearranged for this one. Colin Blackwell moved from the fourth line to the second, Kaapo Kakko from the second to the third, Kravtsov from the third to the fourth, and when the music stopped, there was no chair for Gauthier.

There was no room for Brett Howden, either, the 23-year-old a healthy scratch himself after having missed the previous seven games due to contracting the coronavirus. Howden practiced with the team on Monday for the first time since going on the COVID-protocol list on March 22.

Rangers Julien Gauthier, Phil Di Giuseppe
Julien Gauthier, Phil Di Giuseppe
NHLI via Getty Images (2)

“You just be honest with the player and tell him what the situation is,” Quinn said of Gauthier, who has two points (0-2) in his last seven games and eight points (2-6) in 27 games overall. “We think Di Giuseppe gives us a little more simplicity in what we need against Pittsburgh. Sometimes it’s just matchup driven.

“Julien has done some good things and he continues to improve, but right now and especially with Howden back and Kravtsov here, there’s more competition. The landscape of our forward group has changed with 14 forwards — we haven’t had that very much, if at all, since I’ve been here — and it does give us depth.

“Sometimes a guy who might be doing some good things and might be playing well might be out of the lineup,” the coach said. “There’s nothing wrong with competition. I think that can help elevate everybody’s game where you have that setup where you’ve got people who can come in and out of the lineup.”

Blackwell, who has recorded nine goals in 28 games after having scored three in 33 games the previous two seasons for Nashville, said that he was not surprised by his rate of production.

“I’ve always believed in myself and always thought I could kind of perform at this level,” said the 28-year-old Harvard product who was a senior in 2015-16, a year before Adam Fox arrived in Cambridge. “I mean, I’ve done it in the American League on many different occasions and I’ve been just kind of waiting for my chance.

“That chance doesn’t always come, and a lot of good players do get their chance and then don’t necessarily make the most out of it, so I just recognize how precious every opportunity is and I’m trying not to let them go to waste.”

Blackwell, originally a seventh-round selection by San Jose in 2011 before landing with the Nashville organization in 2017-18, has played 174 games in the AHL, scoring 35 goals. That does not quite equate to this.

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