GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When you’ve won six games in a row, there isn’t a lot of momentum to make changes going into a matchup against your most heated rival.
But Rangers coach Alain Vigneault didn’t like what he saw from rookie forward Pavel Buchnevich in Monday’s 3-2 win in Columbus. So Buchnevich will sit and Matt Puempel will take his place when the Rangers visit the Islanders at the Barclays Center on Thursday.
“ ‘Butch’ has a so-so game last game,” Vigneault said after practice on Wednesday. “Part of the growing process of a young player. ‘Pumps’ is a young player and I just feel that it’s time to get him in.”
Puempel, whom the Rangers claimed off waivers from Ottawa in November, last played on Feb. 5. Buchnevich has appeared in 24 games in his first NHL action and has six goals and nine assists.
Of Buchnevich, Vigneault said: “I think right now he’s got to make a couple plays with the puck. Prior to this, he’s getting an opportunity to play on the power play, he’s getting an opportunity five-on-five. He’s a skilled player that has the ability to make plays with the puck and that’s what we need from him. But there’s always a learning curve and he’s going through it.”
He’ll go through it in street clothes on Thursday when the Rangers play the Islanders for the third time this season. The Islanders were 8-2-2 under new coach Doug Weight before Tuesday’s 7-1 loss in Toronto. The Rangers visit to Brooklyn should light a fire under the home team, Vigneault said.
“System-wise, I watched a couple of their games and haven’t seen a lot of difference,” Vigneault said. “But there’s some players obviously that have picked up their game. Without getting into specific names, there’s some players that have been playing some pretty good hockey for them right now. They didn’t particularly play well [Tuesday] night, so I figure they’re going to be highly motivated. They always are against us. So it should be a good game.”
The Rangers are looking to improve their power play, but other than that they’ve settled into a nice groove. After two days off, a rivalry game might be just what they need to keep the juices flowing, even if Barclays isn’t the Coliseum.
Said captain Ryan McDonagh: “Maybe not the same atmosphere after the change in arenas or whatever. But, still, as soon as that puck is dropped it seems like it’s a tight-matched game and always ends up being exciting and down to the wire.”