It’s important to recognize that referring to the “bottom-six” is not meant as a pejorative. The narrative approaching the March 8 trade deadline is that the Rangers must improve their bottom-six that has been shy a bona fide third-line center since Filip Chytil went down for the count on Nov. 2.
Jimmy Vesey has been a charter member of the Blueshirts’ bottom-six. He’s generally skated on the fourth line that has often been utilized by head coach Peter Laviolette as a matchup checking line as it was at the Garden on Wednesday against Tampa Bay’s top unit featuring Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.
He’s heard the chatter around the deadline need. He does not endorse it.
“I take that personally,” No. 26 told The Post after recording two goals, one the empty-net clincher, in the Rangers’ 3-1 victory that extended the club’s win streak to three. “I think there have been games this year where our line has been really good against some top, top-end first lines.
“Improve our bottom-six? I guess you could look at our goal totals, but we’re going out in the defensive zone and generally have a different type of role.”
The Blueshirts got all of their goals from bottom-sixers. In addition to Vesey’s pair of markers, the first coming off a wicked right-wing backhand off an odd-man rush for a 1-0 lead at 1:15 of the second period, Jonny Brodzinski chipped in with his second goal within the last three contests — after a 22-game drought — with a scorching one-timer from the right circle at 17:46 of the second.
Brodzinski, of course, has been in the middle of the third line for the last nine games. That is the spot the hierarchy has focused on bolstering before the deadline strikes. This night likely will not impact the club’s wish list.
By the way, the Rangers’ first-rounder is in play. There has been no edict delivered from chairman Jim Dolan to Drury not to trade the pick because the draft is going to be held at The Sphere and Dolan wants his team to be up on stage to make a splash at his world-renowned entertainment facility. The concept is ludicrous. More to the point, it has zero validity.
The Rangers seem to have rededicated themselves to playing with more jam and structure coming out of the break. They grabbed on for the ride against the powerful Avalanche in their 2-1 OT victory on Monday before muddying the waters with a consistent 1-3-1 setup against the Lightning in this high-energy but low-event match.
“We’ve defended hard in both games and that is a point that has been stressed,” said Vesey, whose 11 goals match his total for last season. “We always say we’ve got to play with speed and we’ve got to play with attitude.
“To be honest, the month of January got long at points so the break was really good for us. It came at a good time, we got a big win [in Ottawa on Jan. 27] going into it and now coming out of it I think we’ve been really sharp with a reset of some finer details and our energy level.”
The battle level in this one was exemplary. Brodzinski got the ultimate winner only because Blake Wheeler was able to hold his own on a one-on-two battle in the corner before Chris Kreider joined with support, freed the puck and sent it to Brodzinski. The club did a strong job below the hash marks and in front of the defensive end in front of Jonathan Quick, outstanding again even if facing only 19 shots.
Let’s address this goaltender dynamic in which Quick has started three straight games with Igor Shesterkin the backup with a history lesson from seven seasons ago that should keep this in perspective.
On Dec. 8, 2016, Antti Raanta was in nets for a 2-1 victory in Winnipeg while Henrik Lundqvist backed up. When head coach Alain Vigneault went back to Raanta the next night, the Finn responded with a 1-0 overtime victory over Chicago. Guess who played the next game? It was Raanta, who two nights later shut out the Devils, 5-0.
This marked the first time in three seasons and the second time since the start of his sophomore 2006-07 campaign that a healthy Lundqvist had sat for three consecutive contests. Surely there would not be an unprecedented fourth straight.
Oh yes there was, and it created quite the uproar. But when Raanta and the Blueshirts were defeated by Chicago 2-1, it opened the door for Lundqvist to return. The natural order was restored. The goaltending “controversy” never became one. Indeed, that four-game stretch quickly morphed into trivia.
It is possible, though unlikely, that Laviolette could go back to Quick on Friday in Chicago. No. 32 is at the top of his game. The Rangers have been more disciplined and homed in front of Quick than they generally have been in front of Shesterkin. The Rangers are in the business of picking up points.
But there shouldn’t be any confusion as to the identity of the Rangers’ No. 1 in net. That is unambiguously Shesterkin. For his and the Rangers’ sake, he too benefited from a reset at the break.