72° Good Afternoon
72° Good Afternoon

Alain Vigneault shakes up Rangers’ defense pairings

New York Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei skates ahead

New York Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei skates ahead of Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele during the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Common logic and a folksy proverb dictate that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So it stands to reason that Alain Vigneault must have seen something particularly troubling in Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to Vancouver, because the Rangers team that practiced Thursday looked mighty different from the one that took the ice for the past few weeks.

Despite his team’s 10-4-0 record, Vigneault spent the morning shifting around all four lines and two defensive pairings in preparation for the Rangers’ four-game road trip — one that will go a long way toward determining whether this team actually is as good as its record indicates.

The Canucks ended their losing streak at nine games and snapped the Rangers’ winning streak at five games, and Vigneault said the defeat was marked by a lack of execution.

“Sometimes you vary things up and get a little spark and you get a little bit more jump and enthusiasm from your group, so we’ll see if I go that way [Saturday night in Calgary],” Vigneault said. “I just wanted to get a look. Whatever you saw today with the lines and the ‘D’ pairing, give me until tomorrow. I want to see Dallas and Calgary tonight first, but I did want to get a look at a couple different options . . . I’ll catch that game tonight and make up my mind.”

One major change was moving rookie Brady Skjei to the right side alongside Marc Staal on the second defensive pairing (Nick Holden moved down to join Kevin Klein). Entering Thursday, Skjei led all rookie defensemen in the league with nine assists. His 27 hits were tied for third in the NHL among rookies.

“I really like his progression and his skating and puck abilities and I definitely want to see them on the right side,” Vigneault said. “Today I thought he was all right, did what I expected.”

Skjei said he had no problem moving over and spent time there last season with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack. “It isn’t a big deal for me,” he said. “Every ‘D’ can play with everyone in our ‘D’ corps, so it’s nothing crazy, but a little different.”

Other changes included moving Pavel Buchnevich up from the fourth line to the first; he skated alongside Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello. Rookie Jimmy Vesey moved down to the third line with Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller.

Concussion rule questioned. Henrik Lundqvist said the NHL should reconsider its concussion “spotter” rule as it pertains to goalies. On Tuesday night, Antti Raanta was temporarily removed from the game after a hard hit, even though he said he was not concussed. Lundqvist, who had not warmed up, was forced to play six minutes and gave up two goals before Raanta was cleared.

If something like that happened to him in the playoffs, “I’m not going to go off easy, I’ll tell you that,” Lundqvist said. “If someone is calling to tell me to leave the ice and I’m feeling fine, at some point, you’ve got to trust the player, because I think the whole situation is very different compared to a skater . . . They really have to look into this rule [for goalies]. It’s not like a player who can sit out a shift.”

Vigneault said in the future, the coaching staff will send the backup to the locker room to stretch as soon as they see removal as a possibility.


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