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Martin St. Louis trying to find his top form for Rangers

Martin St. Louis of the Rangers skates against

Martin St. Louis of the Rangers skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on March 5, 2014. Credit: Mike Stobe

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Martin St. Louis, who has no goals and one assist in four games as a Ranger, skated in the optional practice at Xcel Energy Center Thursday morning.

"It's like being on the golf range before you play, getting the rhythm," said St. Louis, who is 38.

"I always like to be out there shooting when I can . . . especially when it's not going in," he said with a rueful grin.

St. Louis, a former Hart Trophy winner, had 29 goals and 32 assists in 62 games with Tampa before the Rangers acquired him March 5 for Ryan Callahan and two draft picks. St. Louis has no goals on 14 shots as a Ranger.

Coach Alain Vigneault was hoping St. Louis' dry spell would end against the Wild. He was busy devising ways to make that happen. One was mixing up the line of St. Louis, former Tampa Bay teammate and close friend Brad Richards and speedy left wing Carl Hagelin.

"You've got to do what you feel is best for the team," Vigneault said before the Rangers played the Wild with backup Cam Talbot in net. "Anytime you bring in a piece like Marty, you want to play to his strength, but the team has to come first; our job is to win points and they're not easy to come by."

St. Louis, a 5-8 right wing, has scored just two goals in seven games in March, and endured a nine-game drought leading into the Winter Olympics, where he took home gold with Canada.

"I've got a couple ideas I'm mulling over," Vigneault said.

On Thursday night Chris Kreider stepped in for Hagelin, who slid onto the left side of Derek Stepan and Rick Nash.

"One thing that I liked in all our lines, and it's the way to be successful offensively in the NHL because it's a hard league to score, is you need a net presence," Vigneault said. "All three forwards have to be willing to go to the front of the net. A lot of times you need one guy that's more in tune to going there and taking a little bit more abuse. With Hags and Richie and Marty, there's three guys who really like to cycle, and nobody really likes to go to the front of the net."

Hagelin was benched Tuesday in the final nine minutes of the 3-1 loss to Carolina, and Vigneault said Thursday: "I wasn't crazy about Hags [who has an empty-net goal and assist in nine games] and how that was working out."

Said Hagelin: "When Cally was here, he spent a lot of time in front of the net. Marty plays more in the corner like I do, so I've been spending more time in front. He also likes those quick plays, those quick give-and-go's. Maybe I've been thinking too much the last couple of games."

Or maybe a tweak was in order. After all, in his career, St. Louis has posted 369 goals and 605 assists in 1,045 games.

A net presence, said Hagelin, has "got to be more a part of our game. We haven't spent enough time away from the perimeters. We created some chances on the rush, but we've got to cycle the puck, get in front of the net, and get a five-on-five goal."

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