Ryan Strome cleared the remainder of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols and returned to the Rangers lineup against the Flames on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
Sidelined for the last four games, the 28-year-old center revealed that he tested positive for coronavirus and experienced symptoms ahead of the Rangers’ trip to Canada and Nashville.
“It was nice to be out there, it’s not fun to miss time,” Strome said after the sloppy 5-1 loss. “Not really used to it. It was a little bit tough to deal with because I haven’t really missed many games.”
Despite experiencing symptoms, Strome said he felt good on the ice and didn’t have any issues with his conditioning. He credited the organization for ensuring that he was up to speed by the time his 10-day stint in COVID-19 protocol was finished, citing the time he spent on the assault bike, eating healthy and getting plenty of rest.
“He’s a top-six player for us,” head coach Gerard Gallant said during his pregame media availability of getting Strome back. “[He plays on both] special teams, he’s an important guy, important guy down the middle for us. He does everything well for us, so when you miss a top guy, you definitely miss him. We were fortunate enough, we went 4-0 without him so that’ll give him a little shot.”
Strome, who won 11 of 12 faceoffs in 19:07 of ice time, slotted right back into his usual second-line spot next to Artemi Panarin and rejoined the Rangers’ first power-play unit. With Panarin back on the second line, Alexis Lafreniere was elevated to the top line alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
Regarding Kaapo Kakko, who has been on injured reserve with an undisclosed upper-body injury, Gallant said he expects the Finnish winger to be ready for Friday’s matchup with the Blue Jackets.
Additionally, Julien Gauthier was inserted back into the lineup for the first time in two games. He skated on the third line next to Filip Chytil and Sammy Blais, while Dryden Hunt, Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves made up the fourth unit.
Ryan Reaves suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury in the first period Monday night and sat on the bench for the remainder of the game.
Gallant didn’t seem too concerned over Reaves’ injury, saying the bruising forward is “doing fine” and considered “day-to-day.” Despite his injury, Reaves returned to the Rangers’ bench at the start of the middle frame and stayed to show his support.
“He just wanted to sit on the bench and be part of the group,” Gallant said. “Reavo is a new teammate and he wanted to be there to support them. He was disappointed he couldn’t play.”
Goalie Igor Shesterkin turned aside 32 of the 37 shots he faced in his fifth start of the season, which also counted as his first regulation loss of the year.
After competing in the previous two games, Morgan Barron was assigned to AHL Hartford on Monday to make room for Strome.
“Everything was good,” Gallant said of Barron. “He worked hard, he competed hard, he did a good job for us. As we all know, there’s only 23 guys you’re allowed on your roster. But it was good, he played a real good game the other night for us and worked hard.”