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66° Good Afternoon

Kevin Klein settling in nicely on Rangers' defense

Kevin Klein looks on before a faceoff in

Kevin Klein looks on before a faceoff in the third period of a game against the St. Louis Blues at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Elsa

The Mohawk haircut that Predators defenseman Kevin Klein sported during the playoffs in April 2012 is long gone. And Nashville is in the rearview mirror, as well.

The Phoenix Coyotes ousted the Predators in five games and the 29-year-old Klein, who has been close-cropped since, is settling in as a Ranger.

And so are his wife, Jodi, and their two sons, who have joined him in a temporary apartment in the madhouse of Manhattan, which is still exhaling from Super Bowl week.

Not only was his older son, Joseph, 4 1/2, tossing a tennis ball around in the Rangers locker room at the Madison Square Garden training complex Monday, the youngster visited Central Park and the Intrepid with his mom.

"It's nice that they have some time to explore," Klein said. "He's burning a lot of that energy. He's getting a little older and he's enjoying it."

As is Klein, who was 3-1 as a Ranger entering Tuesday night against the red-hot Avalanche since the Jan. 22 trade for Michael Del Zotto.

"It's been good," he said. "The organization has been great, and so has playing in the outdoor games . . . on the big stage."

During the Olympic break, the family, which includes 1 1/2-year-old Oliver, will be back in Nashville, packing up things -- and memories -- and bidding farewell to surroundings that became a second home to Klein, a Kitchener, Ontario, native, since he was drafted by the Predators in the second round in 2003.

"Kleiner has grown from a young single guy to a married guy to a veteran leader," Predators coach Barry Trotz said in November 2013. "Just watching him on the bench and around the rink, he's helping the young men along. I think that's great . . . Over time, he has matured in his game; you get the consistency as you do in life, you get the professionalism that sets in. Kleiner has that."

Though Klein, a durable, dependable defenseman who specialized in blocking shots and the penalty-kill, signed a five-year, $14.5-million contract in September 2012, general manager David Poile was looking for a younger, lefthanded, more offense-minded blueliner.

So the Rangers sent Del Zotto to Nashville for Klein, a much-needed righty, who has stepped in on the third defensive pair alongside John Moore. In his first four games, he averaged more than 15 minutes per game and blocked seven shots.

That's not unusual for Klein, who has ranked in the top 30 in the NHL in blocked shots in each of the last three seasons, and coming into Tuesday night, was tied for 26th with 101.

Klein had faced Colorado 18 times and has seen the Avalanche evolve into a speedy young squad, with a 36-14-5 record before the game. The Avs had won four straight, were 9-2 in the previous 11 and 6-1-0 on the road.

"They're a high-octane group," said Klein, who added that the Avalanche was getting very strong goaltending. "Their D like to join the rushes, they are definitely involved and can create confusion. You have to be aware of that; you don't have to hammer guys, but you have to stand them up, hit them."

Which, after all, is a key part of Klein's game, whether on Music Row or Broadway.


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