Defenseman Tony DeAngelo was back in the lineup Friday night when the Rangers played their first road game of the season in Pittsburgh.
DeAngelo, who angered coach David Quinn when he took an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty in the third period of the Rangers’ season opener against the Islanders, was supposed to sit out only one game for that transgression. But when the Rangers won big without him, Quinn stayed with the same lineup for a second straight game, keeping DeAngelo in street clothes a little longer.
"It was not my intention to have it be a two-game situation. He knows that,’’ Quinn said while the Rangers held a morning skate at PPG Paints Arena. "We’ve had conversations regarding he’s back in the lineup and we’re ready. He’s ready to move past it; I’m ready to move past it. He’s learned from it.’’
DeAngelo has had a rough last couple of weeks. After starting training camp partnered with Jacob Trouba on what was expected to be the top defense pair, he was dropped to the third pair with newcomer Jack Johnson after the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage.
Then, in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the outspoken DeAngelo created a stir when he announced on Twitter that he was quitting that platform and moving his social media presence to Parler, the ultra-conservative political app. The Rangers felt the need to talk to him about that.
Then came the season opener. He got called for a holding penalty early in the third period with the Rangers trailing 4-0 and slammed the penalty box door in frustration. That got him an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Quinn decided to make a statement.
With DeAngelo out, Quinn changed his defense pairs, splitting up the Adam Fox-Ryan Lindgren partnership. He put Lindgren with Trouba and Johnson with Fox. Rookie K’Andre Miller played with Brendan Smith, who took DeAngelo’s spot in the lineup.
With DeAngelo back Friday, Quinn went back to the pairings he had used in the opener: Trouba-Miller, Fox-Lindgren and DeAngelo-Johnson.
DeAngelo, 25, has had a reputation of being a hothead that dates to junior hockey, and his outspokenness on social media has made some uncomfortable. But after being traded to the Rangers by Arizona in 2017 as part of the Derek Stepan deal, he seemed to mature.
He had some early run-ins with Quinn, who took over as coach in 2018, but was a model citizen last season and blossomed into a key player for the Rangers. He was the primary point man on their power play and put up career highs in goals (15), assists (38) and points (53). He re-signed as a restricted free agent in the offseason, inking a two-year, $9.6 million deal.
Fox ran the power play in the two games DeAngelo was out and looked good doing it, as the man-up unit went 3-for-13. And on Friday, Quinn kept Fox on the first power play.
"I just thought that unit looked outstanding for the two games that he was there,’’ Quinn said.
There also are prospects in the pipeline whom the Rangers think very highly of, such as 2018 first-round pick Nils Lundkvist, who is tearing up the Swedish Hockey League, and 2020 first-rounder Braden Schneider, who has signed an AHL contract with the Rangers’ Hartford affiliate.
If DeAngelo becomes a headache for the Rangers, he could become expendable. The Penguins are struggling with injuries on defense. The Columbus Blue Jackets may be forced to trade their No. 1 center, Pierre-Luc Dubois. Columbus’ power play has struggled, and DeAngelo might help.