GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers had a special guest at practice Thursday: Retired English soccer legend Alan Shearer, the Premier League’s all-time leading scorer with 260 goals.
A minute or two after Shearer sat down behind the glass, a puck whizzed around the boards. Shearer flinched the way any hockey neophyte would when faced with a projectile seemingly heading his way.
Goals on the pitch and the rink are two different animals. But Shearer’s visit seemed well-timed, given that the Rangers spent much of practice working on their offensive-zone weaknesses.
A goal is a goal, after all.
“We need to support the puck better in the offensive zone,” coach David Quinn said. “We need to stop playing three-on-five hockey. We need to be more patient in the offensive zone. Those are the things that we kind of touched on today.”
The Rangers are in the midst of a five-day “minicamp” between their last game, a 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Sunday, and their next one, Saturday night’s visit to the Florida Panthers.
The team took off Monday and Wednesday and had hard practices Tuesday and Thursday. They will go at it hard again on Friday before flying to Florida.
“After having a day off, I thought they came back with purpose and energy,” Quinn said. “Usually, after a day off, there’s a little bit of rust and it takes a little time to get going . . . Our balancing act [this week] is to stay sharp, maybe re-address some of the things that we maybe have gotten away from after training camp, and also give them the proper rest, recharge the batteries and get ready to go.”
The Rangers are welcoming back injured players, though not all of them. Mats Zuccarello and Vladislav Namestnikov should return Saturday, but Quinn said Pavel Buchnevich probably is “a week away” and won’t make the trip for Saturday’s game in Sunrise, Florida, and Monday’s in Tampa against the Lightning.
Another name that was added to the injured list is defenseman Brendan Smith, who wore a red (non-contact) jersey because of an upper-body injury. Quinn said he expects Smith to return to full practice status on Friday.
After Thursday’s practice, some of the Rangers entertained Shearer with a soccer-kicking exhibition on the adjacent Knicks practice court. Quinn, via video, answered questions from fans on the team’s Twitter account.
It has been that kind of week for the Rangers — one to clear out the mental and physical in-box before the grind of the season begins again.
“A couple of days away from the game, a couple of really good practices here,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “I think it sets us up for a good trip, hopefully.”
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