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Rangers’ depth to be tested by injury epidemic

Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers

Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers skates against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The forward depth that propelled the Rangers to a 13-4 start has dissolved in December.

The struggling Rangers left for Winnipeg with a patched-up roster on Wednesday; four regular forwards were left behind and another is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

With Mika Zibanejad (broken leg) and Pavel Buchnevich (back) still sidelined, Rick Nash (groin) and Matt Puempel (concussion) joined the injury list during the 4-2 loss to the Islanders and didn’t travel for the start of the two-game trip that concludes in Chicago Friday.

The team said on Wednesday that Nash would miss a week with his injury.

And Jimmy Vesey, who was slashed in the forearm/wrist in the second period of the game in Brooklyn, flew west but did not practice and is likely to miss Thursday’s game against the Jets.

“This is part of the NHL,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “A lot of players wish they could get more ice time and have a bigger role. This is a real good opportunity for forwards to get some extra minutes.”

Michael Grabner, who is meeting the club in Winnipeg following his grandmother’s funeral, will likely skate on the top two lines, with Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and J.T Miller. If Vesey can’t go — Vigneault sounded doubtful — the bottom six will be a combination of Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Pirri, Josh Jooris, Marek Hrivik (recalled from Hartford for the Islanders game) and Nicklas Jensen, recalled Wednesday for his Rangers debut. Lindberg will center the third line and replace Nash on the penalty-kill, Vigneault said.

“All hands on deck,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “We have a couple more [injuries] than we’d like, but the guys who’ve been here and the guys coming up know the style we play. That shouldn’t change. If there’s a play to be made on the rush, and they give us time and space, be creative, use your offensive skills. If there isn’t, be high-percentage, get the puck in deep and forecheck.”

Backup Antti Raanta will start in goal against the Jets (13-13-3) and Henrik Lundqvist (2.55 GAA, .912 save percentage) who hasn’t seemed settled in recent games, is expected to play against Chicago.

“He [Lundqvist] would probably tell you that he’s got another level,” Vigneault said. “He’s got more consistency to give us. He’s our top player, he’s been doing it for quite a few years, and if you look at any team right now that’s winning in the NHL, they’re getting consistent Grade-A goaltending. We’re no different. We need consistent Grade-A goaltending.”

Notes & quotes: Spare defenseman Adam Clendening could dress on defense to add mobility and another righthanded shot on the power play. “That’s high on our list” for discussion, Vigneault said . . . .The active roster includes players from eight countries. In addition to Americans, Canadians and Swedes, there’s Mats Zuccarello (Norway), Raanta (Finland), Grabner (Austria), Hrivik (Slovakia) and Jensen (Denmark). Buchnevich, from a ninth, Russia, is rehabbing to strengthen his core muscles. “That needs to improve before [trainers] can really push him on the ice,” Vigneault said.

New York Sports