Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere, center, celebrates scoring on Penguins...

Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere, center, celebrates scoring on Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry during the first period of an NHL game on Friday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

angers coach Gerard Gallant insisted to anyone who asked that his decision to drop Alexis Lafreniere from the top line to the third line for Friday night’s game against the Penguins had nothing to do with a demotion for the former No. 1 overall draft pick and more to do with moving him from right wing back to his natural left wing position.

“He’s not going from the first to the third line in my mind,’’ Gallant said before the game. “He’s going to play left wing, where he’s more comfortable . . . It’s not that Laffy hasn’t played well on right wing, but I know he plays a lot better on left wing, more comfortable.’’

So after Lafreniere scored at 2:07 of the first period to give the Rangers a good start in their 5-1 victory, Gallant winked and smiled when talking about the goal.

“Good line switch,’’ he said.

Lafreniere insisted he wasn’t extra motivated to play well after being moved off the top line.

“Not really,’’ he said. “It was good to come back to my natural side and I can play both sides. So, you know, we have so many options in our forward group.’’

Lafreniere played with center Filip Chytil and right wing Barclay Goodrow, who both assisted on his 14th goal of the season.  

n  Schneider back in lineup

New forwards Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte played their second straight game with the Rangers on Friday, but defenseman Justin Braun, who was acquired from the Flyers on Monday, was left out of the lineup by Gallant. Rookie Braden Schneider re-entered the lineup after sitting out Tuesday’s game in New Jersey.

Gallant said there was no major reason he scratched Braun in favor of Schneider.

“The kid sat the other night [and] the kid’s played well for us, as you know,’’ he said. “So it’s just moving people around, and we’re going to see. I mean, we’ve got 17 or 18 games left to find out what the best combinations are going to be. So there might be some movement, and it’s not all from poor play. You know what I mean? It’s trying different options. And so, tonight, it was good.’’

Defenseman Libor Hajek and forwards Ryan Reaves, Greg McKegg and Julien Gauthier were the other scratches.   

Reunion for Trouba

Jacob Trouba smiled Thursday as he recounted how he and Rangers newcomers Copp and Frank Vatrano drove to practice together that morning, reminiscing about their days together in the U.S. National Team Development Program.

“It was just kind of funny,’’ Trouba recalled. “That’s, I mean, basically 10 years ago now, and here we are today . . . I guess it’s pretty interesting to know what we did way back then, moving [to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to join the program], going away from home and playing together and some of the long days we had there. To all kind of come together here is pretty fun for us.’’

Copp, whom the Rangers acquired Monday from the Winnipeg Jets, and Trouba grew up together in Michigan and have known each other since they were 10 years old. They played together in youth hockey, at the NTDP, in college at the University of Michigan and in the NHL with the Jets before Trouba was traded to the Rangers in the summer of 2019.

Vatrano, who was acquired last week from Florida, joined the other two at the program. Motte, whom the Rangers acquired on Monday from the Vancouver Canucks, also was at the program when the other three were there, but he was a year younger and on a different team.

Vatrano was with Trouba when both found out that Copp and Motte would be joining them on the Rangers. Vatrano had been staying with Trouba since being traded to the Rangers, but he moved out to make room for Copp.

“We shuffled Frank out to a better place and Copper moved in,’’ Trouba said. “My parents got the boot to the hotel for Copper also.’’

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