GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Thirty-four games remain in the season for the Rangers, beginning Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden against the Philadelphia Flyers. And for coach David Quinn, the question at practice Monday was whether his team can carry the momentum from its three-game winning streak across its nine-day bye week/All-Star break into the season’s second half.
“You sure hope so,’’ Quinn said. “I liked our practice today. I thought, maybe [at Sunday’s practice], you’re trying, really, just to not get anybody hurt, not shock the system too much, after being off the seven days. Today was certainly more of a workmanlike effort and attitude from our end of it. I thought the guys did a good job and we just talked about carrying over what we did leading into the break.’’
They will have to tweak one or two things from where they left off before the break, though.
Right wing Mats Zuccarello will not play Tuesday after missing the last two practices with a foot infection, the team said. Quinn said Zuccarello was much improved Monday over Sunday and that his absence will be “a short-term thing, hopefully.’’ He said the plan is for Zuccarello to be back for Thursday’s game in Newark against the Devils.
Zuccarello’s linemate, Mika Zibanejad, left practice early Monday after shooting a puck on a power-play drill and collapsing to his knees. Quinn said Zibanejad, the team’s leading scorer and the NHL’s second star of the week last week, is OK and will play Tuesday.
Without Zuccarello, though, the red-hot first line will have a different look. Vladislav Namestnikov took Zuccarello’s spot on the right side of Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on Monday.
The return of Kevin Hayes, who missed the last nine games before the break, also creates a different look. Hayes, the team’s third-leading scorer with 10 goals and 23 assists, will center the third line, between left wing Jimmy Vesey and rookie Brett Howden, who has played center all season but now will be asked to play right wing.
With Hayes returning, Quinn had to move either Howden or Boo Nieves to the wing. In the end, he said he wanted to get a look at Howden on the wing, and he hoped that perhaps relieving him of some of the defensive responsibilities at center might kick-start the 20-year-old’s offensive game.
The second line of Filip Chytil, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast remains intact, and the fourth line will feature Nieves between Cody McLeod and Pavel Buchnevich.
Quinn said the decision will be made Tuesday about whether to reinsert defenseman Neal Pionk, who missed the last three games before the break with a lower-body injury. Pionk, a righthanded shot, took turns with lefty Brendan Smith playing on the left side of Kevin Shattenkirk at practice Monday. Pionk also worked on the second power-play unit.