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Rangers shake up top line with Mika Zibanejad centering Chris Kreider on right, Alexis Lafreniere on left

Rangers' Mika Zibanejad celebrates a first-period goal by

Rangers' Mika Zibanejad celebrates a first-period goal by Pavel Buchnevich, not seen, against Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. Credit: AP/Bruce Bennett

Mika Zibanejad is fine after his awkward crash into the boards Tuesday night. When the Rangers play Friday in Pittsburgh, he’ll be centering the top line as usual.

But that first line is going to look a little different. Red-hot Pavel Buchnevich won’t be on Zibanejad’s right; he’s moving to the second line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

Zibanejad’s right wing will be his longtime left wing, Chris Kreider. Kreider is switching sides to open a spot on the left for No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere.

"It’ll be interesting,’’ Zibanejad said after practice Thursday. "I haven’t played with Laffy at all, and Kreids is on the right now, so I’m sure it’ll take some time. But . . . I think it’ll turn out good.’’

"Just seeing how this goes,’’ coach David Quinn said. "Obviously, we’ve got some new pieces in our top six, so we’re trying to figure out the best combinations.’’

Lafreniere, the two-time Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year, started the season on the third line, playing left wing with center Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier. But he looked good enough in the first game that by the end of it, he was playing with Strome and Panarin. He played with those two the next two games.

But three games into the season, Lafreniere still doesn’t have his first NHL point, so Quinn is trying something new. Because Kreider, Panarin and Lafreniere all are left wings, Lafreniere had to switch from left to right when he played with Panarin. This time it is Kreider whom Quinn asked to move to the off side.

"Alexis obviously has been a left wing most of his life, so at [19] years old, I think it might give him a little bit more comfort playing on the left side,’’ Quinn said. "Kreids hasn’t played a lot of right wing [but] he’s been in the league a while . . . It’s something that we’re going to look at, and we’ll see how it goes [Friday] night and take it from there.’’

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby played for the same junior team (Rimouski, of the QMJHL) that Lafreniere did and is the only other player to be named CHL Player of the Year twice. He hasn’t spoken to Lafreniere recently, but he thinks he’ll be OK.

"There’s so many new things — new buildings, new opponents, that sort of thing,’’ Crosby said. "I’m sure there’s a lot on his mind. But being someone who can relate to what he’s going through, he’s just got to continue doing what he’s doing.’’

Zibanejad said Lafreniere is "very mature for his age,’’ and he believes the rookie just needs something good to happen for him on the ice.

"Maybe a goal, maybe something to just get his confidence level up a little bit more and [make him] more comfortable,’’ Zibanejad said. "I think he’s still maybe a little nervous. It’s not easy, with all the expectations, I’m sure, but I think he’s been handling everything really well, and he’s a real pro.’’

Notes & quotes: Quinn said Igor Shesterkin will start in net Friday. He wouldn’t commit to returning defenseman Tony DeAngelo to the lineup after missing two games, but it looks as though he will, with Brendan Smith sitting out . . . Forward Kevin Rooney also is ready to come back . . . The Rangers will play two straight games in Pittsburgh on Friday and Sunday before heading for Buffalo for games Tuesday and Thursday.

New York Sports