GREENBURGH, N.Y. — For Kevin Hayes, spending all week practicing at right wing meant stepping out of his comfort zone more than a little bit.
“I haven’t played wing in four years,’’ said Hayes, who has been the Rangers’ No. 2 center this season. “So I’ll just watch some film and try to figure it out.’’
One regulation win in the last six games (1-4-1) prompted coach David Quinn to experiment during the team’s mini-bye week.
With no games between last Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg and Saturday’s contest against the Panthers in Sunrise, Florida, Quinn tinkered with his forward lines, putting his top three scorers — Hayes, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider — together on the same line.
Left wing Kreider is the team’s top goal-scorer with 14 (plus eight assists) and center Zibanejad leads in points with 25 (eight goals, 17 assists). Zibanejad will play center and the 6-5, 216-pound Hayes (five goals, 12 assists) will play wing.
“I think, big picture, long term, he’s a center, for sure,’’ Quinn said of Hayes. “But you’re just trying different things to kind of jump-start your team. And this [playing the wing] is something that I know he did in college . . . So with the situation we’re in, we’re just trying [to create] a different matchup.’’
In the wake of moving Hayes, Quinn put newcomer Ryan Strome — who had played exclusively on the wing since he was acquired Nov. 16 — at center on the second line between Jimmy Vesey and Filip Chytil. Quinn had been saying he wanted to get a look at Strome at center.
Hayes may not have volunteered to move to the wing, but he said the opportunity to play on a line with Zibanejad and Kreider was appealing enough to make him look past the idea of changing positions.
Quinn tried to minimize the difference between playing wing and center.
“There are certain things that might be a little bit different for what he’s going to be doing on the wing,’’ he said. “But a lot of times, during the course of a game, this game becomes positionless. Play’s going on in the offensive zone, it gets thrown out into the neutral zone, you’re the first forward back, you’re going to be the center. You’re going to fill the middle lane.
“There are some things that he’s going to probably have to pay a little bit of attention to on the wing, but most of it is you’re just playing hockey.’’
Notes & quotes: This is the Dad’s Weekend trip, with the players’ fathers joining the team on the trip to Sunrise and Tampa . . . Mats Zuccarello, who twice tried to return to action prematurely from his groin strain, is day-to-day, Quinn said.