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Rangers’ penalty kill shows great promise in opener

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh shoots the

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh shoots the puck as New York Islanders center John Tavares defends during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It’s only a small sample, but the seeds have been planted in the hope that a successful penalty kill will become an asset for the Rangers.

Last season, the penalty kill finished 26th in the league, and the brainstorming between the coaches began.

“That onus is on me. Probably should’ve done a better job last year,” coach Alain Vig neault said Friday as the Rangers prepared to visit the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night. “As coaches, we have tried to put in certain rules, so there might be easier reads for players when they can be more assertive.”

During the preseason, the Rangers improved while shorthanded. And in the opener against the Islanders, the Blueshirts killed all three penalties.

“Guys made some good reads. We applied pressure when the opportunity was there,” Vigneault said. “But you’re not going to stop a great player like [John] Tavares from getting some looks.”

Captain Ryan McDonagh, who played 2:37 with the Rangers shorthanded Thursday night, listed some reasons why he prefers the new system.

“We’re trying to be a little more aggressive,’’ he said. “We changed our forecheck through the neutral zone. I think that’s going to allow us to keep the chances on the rush down, hopefully get the puck out of their hands, before they can cross the blue line.”

Once in the zone, McDonagh said, “As a defenseman, I like it better when [forwards] are dictating as opposed to standing in someone’s lane who doesn’t have the puck. You know, putting a little pressure, getting between guys, the puck-carrier and someone else, forcing them to make a play. At times last year, we got a little bit stagnant, got caught playing in a lot of two-on-ones down low. That’s when you get into trouble. I like it when our forwards are pushing the puck, at least to an area where we [defensemen] can get a sense of who’s around us.”Nine other players rotated through in duos: Defensemen Marc Staal (3:23), Nick Holden (3:27) and Dan Girardi (2:33) and forwards Jesper Fast (2:30) and Michael Grabner (1:46),J.T. Miller (2:28) and Kevin Hayes (1:50), and Rick Nash (1:42) and Derek Stepan (1:36).

Against the Islanders, McDonagh said, “I thought we did a good job of not letting them get too set up and not allowing ourselves to get tired, when we do make mistakes. So far, it’s a good confidence boost. Now we have to go on the road and back it up.”

Notes & quotes: Defenseman Kevin Klein (back spasms) did not skate Friday, did not make the trip and will miss his second game. He is listed as day-to-day, but Vig neault said he is improving . . . Vigneault said he likely will deploy the same lineup against the Blues, which would make Dylan McIlrath and Josh Jooris healthy scratches again.


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