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Struggling Rangers move Jesper Fast to first line

Rangers right wing Jesper Fast sets before a

Rangers right wing Jesper Fast sets before a face-off against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — David Quinn is still searching.

The crazy one-game-in-11-days part of the schedule is behind them and the games are coming hot and heavy now for the Rangers. So are the defeats — four in a row — after Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at the Garden.

Quinn, the Rangers’ coach-slash-mixologist, continues to shake things up, trying to find the formula that will allow his team to find the game that will end the losing streak.

On Monday, he decided to elevate defense-first wing Jesper Fast, who had a goal and an assist Sunday, to the No. 1 line with left wing Artemi Panarin and center Mika Zibanejad. Those three will be his top line when the Rangers host the Arizona Coyotes at the Garden on Tuesday night.

“I think he complements them well right now,’’ Quinn said when asked about putting Fast with his two top offensive forwards. “I think he gives them an honest effort. I think he’s going to create a little bit of space for ’em; I think he’s going to create a little bit of defensive honesty for ’em. And we’ll see how it goes.’’

It probably won’t last long. Fast, 27, a 191-pound native of Nassjo, Sweden, has never scored more than 13 goals or 33 points in any season. He has played on the top line at times for the Rangers, though, and he’s hot now, with two goals and an assist in the last three games. He set up Panarin’s goal Sunday with a feed from behind the net.

“You know what you get out of him,’’ Zibanejad said of Fast, with whom he has played plenty in the past. “You know what kind of player he is. He makes the good, simple plays. And he can make those good passes — you saw that pass to Artie yesterday. He’s predictable in the sense of I can read him quite easy. And he’s been on top lines before .  .  .   so he has the skill set to play on a top line.’’

“I just try and give them the puck as much as possible,’’ Fast said when asked what he hopes to contribute to the top line. “If they have the puck, I mean, that’s good for me as well, so I’ve just got to work hard and get in on the forecheck [and] create space for them.’’

Fast replaces Chris Kreider, who played right wing on the top line the last two games in an attempt to ignite his game. Kreider, a natural left wing who had played out of position on the right with Panarin and Zibanejad, returned to left wing on the second line with Brett Howden and Kaapo Kakko. That dropped Brendan Lemieux back to the third line, skating with Ryan Strome and Pavel Buchnevich.

Notes & quotes: Quinn said Alexandar Georgiev, who played Friday in Washington, will start in goal Tuesday against Arizona, and the coach said he will use the same three defense pairs he used Sunday, meaning rookie Adam Fox again will be on the top pair with Marc Staal. The other pairs will be Libor Hajek-Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei-Tony DeAngelo.


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