GREENBURGH, N.Y. — As the Rangers prepare for three Metropolitan Division games in a row after their bye week, center Kevin Hayes is unlikely to play in the first one when the Blueshirts host the Islanders on Saturday afternoon.
Hayes practiced Friday after coming in for treatments on a lower-body injury suffered in the loss to Vegas on Sunday. Coach Alain Vig neault said the chance that Hayes will play is “50-50 or maybe less than that. It could change.”
If Hayes (9-8-17 in 42 games) doesn’t dress, J.T. Miller probably will move from wing to center, resulting in lines that would differ from Friday’s practice.
Hayes, who missed nearly the entire second and third periods after a check into the end boards by defenseman Nate Schmidt in the first, was not available to the media.
“I really thought coming into [Friday] he’d be ready to play, but I’m not 100 percent sure, so we’re going back to the drawing board,” Vigneault said.
Rookie Vinni Lettieri, who has a goal and assist in three games with the Rangers since his call-up from Hartford, will be a winger on one of the lines. Pavel Buchnevich will return after being a healthy scratch in Las Vegas.
“We’ve been a little slow on the finishing part. We’ve got a couple guys who need to finish five-on-five,” Vigneault said. “We need, especially our second unit, to give us something on the power play. I think everybody understands we’re facing playoff hockey right now.”
The defense pairs will be unchanged from Sunday’s game: Ryan McDonagh-Nick Holden, Brady Skjei-Kevin Shattenkirk and Marc Staal-Steven Kampfer. Brendan Smith will be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game. “The first half hasn’t been what we expected. He hasn’t been the same player we saw last year,” Vigneault said. “Last game, I like the way Kampfer and Marc played with and without the puck.”
Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start Saturday in the opener of a back-to-back set, with a game at Pittsburgh on Sunday.