NEWARK — For the moment, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault seems satisfied with his defensive pairs, but that could change when there are nine healthy defensemen.
Before Tuesday night’s game, Vigneault said he walked to the arena with Brendan Smith, and seemed pleased with his acclimation from Detroit to New York.
When he arrived at the trade deadline, Smith started on the right side with Ryan McDonagh, but now has settled in on the second pair with Nick Holden, where he seems more comfortable on the left side. Smith was expected to provide steadiness and competitiveness, not scoring. In nine games, he has averaged more than 20 minutes a night, and has just two assists, both against the Panthers on Friday.
McDonagh is playing on the left side with lefty Marc Staal moving to his right, a somewhat unfamiliar place for Staal.
“I have my reasons for it, I don’t want to get into it at this time,” Vigneault said before Tuesday’s game. For now, Marc is going to play the right side.”
Brady Skjei and Adam Clendening were the third pair for the second consecutive game, but the defense could move into some type of rotation when Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein return from injuries. They were scratches again Tuesday, but will travel to California on Thursday for the three-game trip, along with the healthy Steven Kampfer.
On Tuesday, Vigneault reverted to the first two line combinations that he has been deploying for several games: Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash-Mika Zibanejad-J.T. Miller. On Saturday, after two long penalty kills, he moved Zibanejad between Kreider and Zuccarello, and the switch resulted in a first-period goal off a faceoff. So he kept the altered units together for the rest of 3-2 defeat of the Wild. But he said before Tuesday’s game that was a one-time situational move.