With at least two injured regulars — right wing Jesper Fast and defenseman Dan Girardi — closer to returning, coach Alain Vigneault will have some juggling to do as the Rangers hit the last lap of the regular season beginning this weekend.
Fast, the fourth liner and penalty killer who has recovered from a shoulder injury, is expected to be cleared for a full practice on Thursday and is a possibility to return for either Friday’s home game against the Panthers or Saturday’s visit to St. Paul to face the Minnesota Wild.
Vigneault could remove veteran Tanner Glass, who has been spirited and effective in a fourth-line role since his callup on March 5, and insert Fast alongside center Oscar Lindberg and Jimmy Vesey. Fast, who has missed seven games, had three points in the four games before he was decked on a check from Washington’s Alex Ovechkin on Feb. 28.
Although Vesey has only two assists in the last 13 games, Vigneault has said that the rookie has shown no signs of fatigue and been skating better in the last five or six games. Glass, however, could be rotated into the lineup depending on the opponent. The Blueshirts, with a secure hold on the first wild-card playoff berth, have 12 games remaining, including meetings with the Islanders, Ducks, Flyers, Capitals and Penguins. Eleven of those games are against teams in the playoff hunt or battling for positioning.
Girardi, just starting to skate after being shut down since Feb. 26 to make sure a nagging ankle wound heals, might be a tad further away, and Marc Staal has been faring well with Ryan McDonagh, Girardi’s former partner on the first pair. It’s believed that Girardi could temporarily take the spot of righty Steven Kampfer, who was summoned from Hartford along with Glass and has been playing with Brady Skjei on the third pair.
The moves would leave the Rangers with six spares, five of them healthy: Glass, Brandon Pirri and Matt Puempel up front and Adam Clendening and Kampfer on defense. Blueliner Kevin Klein (back) has not played since Feb. 23.
Notes & quotes: The Rangers are the favorite to sign Russian defenseman Alexei Bereglazov of the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk, reports Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Bereglazov, 22, a 6-4 lefty, was a teammate of Pavel Buchnevich at the 2014 World Junior Championships. He was 1-18-19 in the regular season and has six assists in eight playoff games.