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SportsColumnistsColin Stephenson

Rangers' Brendan Lemieux takes responsibility for poor defensive showing

Brendan Lemieux #48 of the Rangers and Craig

Brendan Lemieux #48 of the Rangers and Craig Smith #15 of the Nashville Predators battle for the puck along the boards during the first period at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

When he put the 23-year-old Brendan Lemieux on a line with 20-year-old Filip Chytil and 18-year-old Kaapo Kakko, Rangers coach David Quinn was asked who the veteran on that line was supposed to be. It was Lemieux, of course, only because the other two guys were so young.

Being the senior guy on the third line is something Lemieux takes to heart, which is why he was so broken up Saturday about how poorly things had gone for him and his linemates in Friday’s 6-3 home loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The line was on for three goals against, with Lemieux being on the ice for two of those. He was on the bench for the third, having been replaced by Greg McKegg for much of the third period.

“I take more responsibility on myself,’’ Lemieux said after Saturday’s practice. “I want to be trusted defensively and be able to contribute no matter where I am in the lineup and who I’m playing with. Last night we didn’t do a good enough job, so I own a lot of that. I’ve got to be better.’’

Lemieux, who came to the Rangers from Winnipeg in the Kevin Hayes trade last February, has five goals and seven assists (12 points) in 32 games this season, which puts him on pace to finish the season with 13 goals and 30 points, numbers that would be career highs. He’s also third in the league with 71 penalty minutes, which include five fighting majors. And he’s clearly shown that he won’t allow opponents to take physical liberties with Kakko, in his first NHL season, after being the No. 2 pick overall in the draft in the summer.

“Nothing’s going to happen when I’m out there with him or Fil (Chytil), but I think more than just those guys,’’ Lemieux said. “There are a lot of guys on this team I’m looking out for. It’s part of my game.’’

Lemieux, whose father, Claude Lemieux, was one of the NHL’s greatest pests in in his time – Claude was once selected as the most hated man in hockey – said his biggest problem when it comes to the fighting part of the game is that he sometimes has to suppress his instinct to fight when someone does something to one of his teammates, but the situation dictates that the time is not right for a fight.

“That’s my internal battle that I have going on, more than not,’’ he said. “I have to tone it down.’’

Friday wasn’t the first time Quinn has benched Lemieux in a game. The coach even scratched him once, in the Oct. 17 game against New Jersey. But the coach has always spoken highly of Lemieux, and Lemieux doesn’t take the coach’s discipline personally.

“You move past it,’’ he said. “We’re on a team where there’s nights where every guy [gets benched] – with the exception of one or two guys. And last night was my turn. And I knew I wasn’t having a good night. And that’s part of it. And a poor performance can put fire in people’s bellies, and I definitely feel it in mine, and it’s one of the good things about playing three games in four nights. You get a couple more opportunities to have a good game.’’

HEADING HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

When the NHL shuts down for the three-day Christmas break, most players scatter and go to their respective homes to spend time with family. Ryan Lindgren and Brady Skjei, who come from the same hometown in Minnesota, will be flying home together on Christmas Eve; while Adam Fox doesn’t have far to go, only to Jericho to celebrate Hanukkah with his family.

The European players don’t go home – it’s too long a flight to go home for just a couple days – but some have their parents or girlfriends come join them. Filip Chytil’s mom, dad and girlfriend are coming to New York to spend time with him, but rookie Kaapo Kakko’s parents aren’t coming, so he’s still considering an offer to go to teammate Brendan Smith’s house for Christmas.

One North American player isn’t going home because no one is going to be there. Brett Howden, who hails from suburban Winnipeg, is having Christmas at his pad in the city. His sister and her family are coming to spend time with him. Howden can’t go home because his parents aren’t going to be there. They’ll be in Russia, visiting their other son, Quinton, a 27-year-old forward for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, of the KHL. 

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