LOS ANGELES — Slowly but surely, Rangers veterans will be returning on this three-game trip. With the Blueshirts having lost two in a row, lineup changes are coming, starting Saturday night against the Kings.
With eight games left, “every game is a must-win until we’re in the playoffs,” Chris Kreider said after practice at the Kings’ training center in nearby El Segundo.
Defenseman Dan Girardi, who has missed 12 games with an ankle injury, will play Saturday night. He’ll be back in his familiar spot with Ryan McDonagh.
“It’s kind of been like training camp for me the last week . . . I just want to play my normal game, keep it simple and have a seamless entry,” said Girardi, who was nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in a vote by the New York chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. “I know it’s late in the year, but I’ve been playing a long time with him and hope there’s a no-adjustment period.”
Said coach Alain Vigneault: “I want him to start on the right foot, have that continuity and hope that will help us out on the penalty-killing also.”
Antti Raanta will start Saturday night, but Henrik Lundqvist will be in the crease against the Ducks and Sharks. Defenseman Kevin Klein, who has missed 15 games, is expected to play in one of them, according to Vig neault.
“For Henrik, we’re going to wait to Sunday,” Vigneault said. “I want Hank to play two of the three. He’s ready. He could play Saturday without a doubt; this way with a 7:30 and 6 o’clock start [Saturday and Sunday], Bennie [goaltending coach Benoit Allaire] thought [waiting] was a better fit.”
Vigneault said he is leaning toward having Lundqvist start five or six of the remaining games, depending on how the goalie feels.
Up front, the first line with Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello is the only one unchanged. Jimmy Vesey will move up to the second line with Mika Zibanejad and Rick Nash; J.T. Miller drops to the third line with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner, and a fourth line has Oscar Lindberg centering Jesper Fast and Pavel Buchnevich.
With three games in four nights, Vigneault said: “I really want that four-line balance . . . It’s taken a while to get our team healthy, but it is now, so there’s some decisions to be made, and that’s why they hired me.”