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Defenseman Neal Pionk returns to Rangers' lineup

Pionk, a right-handed shot, occasionally rotated in to play on the left side of the third pair, next to Kevin Shattenkirk.

The Rangers' Neal Pionk reacts after scoring against

The Rangers' Neal Pionk reacts after scoring against the Islanders on Nov. 21, 2018. Photo Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

Neal Pionk played through the soreness of a lower body injury for a couple weeks before the Rangers finally sat him down Jan. 12 for a game against the Islanders in Brooklyn. An injury to Freddie Claesson forced Pionk to come back into the lineup the next night, in Columbus, before he sat out the final three games leading into the Rangers’ bye week/All Star break.

“The trainers just thought it was the best idea just to take some time off and have some recovery time,’’ said Pionk, who said he was injured blocking a shot in a late December game, after the Christmas break.

While he was out of the lineup, Tony DeAngelo took his place on the right side of the top defense pair, alongside Marc Staal. DeAngelo stayed there Tuesday, at least at the beginning of the game, while Pionk started on the third pair, rotating in with Kevin Shattenkirk (on his 30th birthday) and Brendan Smith. At times, Pionk, a right-handed shot, played on the left side when partnered with the also-righthanded Shattenkirk.

“It’s a different way to see the game,’’ he said of playing the left side, which he did as a sophomore in college at Minnesota-Duluth. “So there are certain aspects that are easier, certain aspects that are harder. You kinda have to just go with the flow of the game, and figure it out from the left side, as a righthander.’’

Howden switches positions

Brett Howden also was playing out of position, moving from center on the fourth line to right wing on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey. The rookie left the game in the first period after suffering a knee sprain and did not return.

Blue notes

David Quinn said the plan remains for Mats Zuccarello (foot infection) to play Thursday in New Jersey against the Devils. Zuccarello still has not skated since the team returned from its All Star break … D Kevin Shattenkirk celebrated his 30th birthday.

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