PITTSBURGH — Already without top-line forward Chris Kreider, who is sidelined after rib surgery to treat a blood clot, the Rangers faced the Penguins on Sunday with two more players sidelined: top-pair defenseman Ryan McDonagh and center Kevin Hayes.
Alain Vigneault said McDonagh, who leads the team in time on ice per game (23:57), was suffering from back spasms and that the injury was not a recurrence of the abdominal strain that kept the captain out for four games in late November. Vigneault hopes McDonagh will be available for Tuesday’s home game against the Flyers.
With McDonagh out, defenseman Brendan Smith was inserted into the lineup Sunday and scored his first goal of the season late in the first period to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead in their 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
Hayes, who played through a lower-body injury and scored a goal Saturday against the Islanders, did not dress after a setback with the same injury.
“It’s not as bad as when it was first diagnosed [last Monday], but we decided to keep him back at the hotel,” Vigneault said.
Neither Hayes nor McDonagh participated in Sunday’s morning skate at PPG Paints Arena, and Vigneault had said there was only about a 50-50 chance that McDonagh would play.
Hayes and McDonagh are key players on the penalty kill, which is ranked sixth in the league. The Penguins’ power play leads the NHL. They have 41 goals with the man advantage in 47 games after going 0-for-3 Sunday night.
Before dressing for the Islanders game, Hayes hadn’t played since being shaken up on a hit from Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt in the first period the previous Sunday. He had treatment and skated in one practice since then. Paul Carey stepped in for Hayes and had an assist.