50° Good Morning
50° Good Morning

Alain Vigneault considers altering Rangers’ lines

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault looks

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault looks on against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — There weren’t many outward signs of distress in Rangerville on Wednesday. After Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Columbus at home in the first game after the All-Star break, players reported to practice early for video work. The 35-minute on-ice session was intense. Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled in the second period after allowing three goals — two of them softies — stayed late to handle more shots.

“That’s what I love about this group,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Very accountable, no finger-pointing. I’m not finger-pointing at Hank, or anybody, we’re all in this together to find solutions. I do think though, when things happen like [Tuesday] . . . you’re down 3-0 and your mind starts: ‘I can’t make another mistake.’ You don’t want to play this game with that in the back of your head. You want to play on your toes, going north-south, attacking and making the plays that are in front of you, not forcing anything. Maybe that’s what happens in those situations.”

So Vigneault felt the need to tinker with lines, swapping centers Derek Stepan and Mika Zibanejad on the top two trios, moving winger Jimmy Vesey into the top six, and dropping Pavel Buchnevich down. Forward Brandon Pirri, who has two goals and two assists in the last 16 games and is a minus-6 in the past seven, skated as a spare defenseman and Oscar Lindberg was back at center after being scratched Tuesday.

Those combinations in Tuesday’s four-goal third period, Vigneault said, “got us a little spark. I was just trying to get something going,” he said of the shuffle, and compared it to mixing up “bonbons” as a youngster. “Five cents of this, and five cents of this,” he said. “I was just mixing up the candies to get something going. [Chris] Kreider and Mika had some good chemistry early in the season, Step and Rick Nash have played well together in the past.”

Vigneault admitted that splitting the Kreider-Stepan-Mats Zuccarello line was difficult and he would watch tape of Tuesday’s Sabres-Canadiens game before a final decision. “They have been our best most consistent line in the past 20-25 games, breaking those guys up would not be easy,” he said, “but I’m only taking one piece out.”

Replacing Lundqvist, who will start Thursday in Buffalo, with Antti Raanta on Tuesday “was performance based,” Vigneault said, pointing out that the Blue Jackets’ first and third goals were stoppable. But he reiterated his confidence in the veteran, noting that Lundqvist had made plenty of timely saves over the years. Against Columbus, he said, “we didn’t get the timely goal or the save; we needed one or the other.”

Notes & quotes: Marc Staal, who played 17:19 after missing eight games with concussion symptoms, felt fine postgame and good after practice . . . Adam Clendening will be scratched for the second consecutive game.

New York Sports