GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- In the last three games, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh recorded his first assist and attempted 10 shots -- four were on goal, four were blocked and two missed the net. They may not seem like impressive numbers for the team captain, but stats never tell the entire story.
McDonagh is rounding into form after playing the final three games of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a broken right foot and spending the first four weeks of the summer in a walking boot. He figured that not being able to train right away would "be somewhat of a difference -- I'm not saying challenging or harder or easier -- getting my skating ability back to where it needs to be."
McDonagh, a high-quality shutdown blueliner whose quickness and stride was not up to par in the early going, said Thursday that he senses a turnaround.
"I feel stronger on the ice, feel a lot faster skating, and my reads are coming real fast," said McDonagh. "I'm trying to get more involved offensively, getting a few more looks."
When he is playing his A-game, McDonagh contributes offensively as well.
"I usually have the puck a little more in the offensive zone," he said. "A lot of times you can make something happen from the blue line, make a move and go down and create there, but you've got to do the right thing to get yourself there first."
"I feel his last three games, he's been skating much better," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "He needs to improve his decision-making with the puck. Sometimes that first available outlet is your best option, he needs to be a little bit quicker to that decision. When he's skating with that puck and moving it up, he's a real effective player. Health-wise and conditioning-wise, he's found his groove, and I expect him to improve, based on his last three games."
After five games apart, Derick Brassard is returning to the top line between Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello; Derek Stepan is being reunited with Chris Kreider on the second line, with Jesper Fast. Vigneault cited the success of the top trio in the past and the pairing of Stepan, a righty, with Kreider rather than Brassard, a lefty ... Viktor Stalberg (concussion) was cleared medically and practiced, but as a precaution, Emerson Etem will start against Toronto (1-5-2) on Friday, his second straight game in his place, Vigneault said.