GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Phillip DiGiuseppe is no Chris Kreider, but the 26-year-old Toronto native, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Rangers last summer as a free agent and spent the first half of the season with AHL Hartford, got the first crack at plugging the giant hole on the Rangers’ top forward line, created when Kreider suffered a broken foot Friday.
“I love his pace,’’ coach David Quinn said Monday of DiGiuseppe, who started Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Philadelphia in Kreider’s spot at left wing with No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad and right wing Pavel Buchnevich. “He plays a lot like [Jesper] Fast. He's got that hard-working mentality; he gets to the net, plays at a pace. He can create room for ‘Boochie’ [Buchnevich] and Mika."
Quinn said Sunday, and repeated Monday, that filling Kreider's spot will be something that often will be dependent on the situation. Late in Sunday’s game, for instance, with the Rangers trailing, Quinn put the team’s leading scorer, Artemi Panarin, together with Zibanejad. Julien Gauthier and Kaapo Kakko got shifts with Zibanejad over the last two games, and Brendan Lemieux is an option as well. Quinn also noted he always has the option of shifting a right wing – like Buchnevich – to the left side, and promoting a right wing, like Kakko or Gauthier.
At practice Monday, though, it was DiGiuseppe taking line rushes with Zibanejad and Buchnevich. That’s how they’ll start Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues at the Garden, Quinn said.
“He skates well,’’ Zibanejad said of DiGiuseppe. “He works. And, you know, in a situation that we're in, we need to work. I thought he was good [Sunday]. A little bit different than ‘Kreids,’ but… I'm sure it'll be fine. We talked today and during practice, and I'm trying to get an understanding [of DiGiuseppe’s game] and just go from there.’’
DiGiuseppe’s game isn’t complicated. He works the boards; he drives the net, and he shoots the puck.
“I know what I bring to the team and just try to work hard every shift and take it shift by shift,’’ he said. “[I try to] be ‘heavy’ on the forecheck; move my legs, and be responsible in the ‘D’ zone. So just stick to the same kind of script, and then, whoever I'm with, just try to work for them and let them do their thing.’’
Notes & quotes: Ryan Strome, who was benched in the third period Sunday, was back at center with his regular linemates, Panarin and Fast. “We kissed and made up,’’ Quinn said. “We need him, and he's been a great player for us.’’ … Quinn wouldn’t give a timetable for Kreider’s potential return. “He thinks he's going to come back next week,’’ Quinn said, while noting Kreider is wearing a protective boot on his foot… G Igor Shesterkin (broken rib) skated again before practice. Quinn said Shesterkin’s return “might be sooner, it might be a little later. This type of injury is very free flowing, and how quickly can you recover. He's feeling better.’’… G Alexandar Georgiev will start Tuesday. Quinn would not speculate whether Henrik Lundqvist will get another turn soon. “I just go game by game,’’ he said. Lundqvist turned 38 Monday.