Starting the first game of a five-game homestand against the team with the best record in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rangers coach David Quinn opted not to make any changes to the lineup that had won Thursday night in New Jersey against the Devils. That meant scratching defenseman Tony DeAngelo for the second game in a row.
But Quinn promised that DeAngelo, the 23-year-old from South Jersey with the beautiful skating stride and superior passing ability, wasn’t going to be banished to the press box much longer. “I think he’s a real good player, and you’ll see him very, very shortly,’’ Quinn said.
The first-year coach said he stayed with the same lineup because the six defensemen dressed against the Devils played well enough to all retain their places in the lineup. But he admitted the decision to keep DeAngelo out a second straight game was a combination of that and the fact that he is trying to teach DeAngelo something that will ultimately make him a better player.
And he said that, even though the Rangers might be a weaker team without DeAngelo’s skating ability and offensive instincts in the lineup, the team will be better down the road with an improved DeAngelo as a regular on its defense.
“It’s a balancing act, for sure,’’ Quinn said of scratching any talented player. “And what I would say to that is, you’ve got to think big picture. Do I want to lose tonight? No, I don’t. But I think, big picture, if we’re going to have the success we’re capable of having, throughout the season, you may lose a game because of what (not having a player in the lineup one night), but over the course of 82 games, you’re going to have a much better hockey team.
“It’s something, as a coach, you’re certainly aware of when you’re making these decisions,’’ he continued. “You don’t want to let the season get away from you, but you also want to make sure that – if we get Tony DeAngelo playing to his ability, and being the player he’s capable of being… we’re going to have a much better hockey team over the last 30 games of the season.’’
DeAngelo, a first-round pick by the Lightning in 2014 who was traded to Arizona after his rookie pro season and then was sent to the Rangers by the Coyotes as part of the Derek Stepan-Antti Raanta deal, has been a healthy scratch 19 times this season, more than anyone else on the team. He has played 32 games, and scored four goals and 12 points, while posting a plus-4 rating, which was tied for second-best on the team with Chris Kreider entering Saturday.
Quinn, though, said DeAngelo, who has been known to be emotional on the ice and capable of taking undisciplined penalties at times, is getting better. And the coach said he believes his message to the third-year NHLer is getting through.
“I would say, that I think Tony, as we stand here today, is probably in the best place he’s been, mentally, after the conversation we’ve had in the last 48 hours, some of the things that have happened,’’ Quinn said. “I’m hoping that’s the case. I get that feeling. And like I said, he’s a 23-year-old kid who’s, you know, growing.’’