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Rangers Practice Report; Kevin Hayes back to center

Bobby Bevilacqua

kevin hayes 1-31

Kevin Hayes is back in the center position for tomorrow’s game, as Alain Vigneault believes that it gives the Rangers three lines that can facilitate offense. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Following Wednesday’s loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Alain Vigneault decided to switch up the lines, trying to find something that clicks in the absence of Martin St. Louis.

On Wednesday, James Sheppard played center on the third line alongside Carl Hagelin and JT Miller, while Kevin Hayes moved alongside Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. Rick Nash as reunited with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, a line that worked well last season.

“It was very important for me to get a look at Shep in the middle, and we used the last game to do that,” Vigneault explained. “We know he can play all three forward positions which is a big bonus for us; but there’s no doubt that having Kevin in the middle gives us three lines that I believe can play a little more offensive hockey.”

I tend to agree with Vigneault here. The game seems to flow through Hayes, and putting him in the middle with the choice to decide where the play goes is something that he thrives in. Hayes plays really well with that freedom and the power to make those choices, and he facilitates offense, as well as playing well in his own end.

Hayes will play with Carl Hagelin as well as Jesper Fast. Since coming back from the knee injury, Fast has played well, and has been starting to get that offensive touch back. This trio should work rather well, creating another quality offensive line for the team.

JT Miller earned the promotion this time around, and will be skating on the second line alongside Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. Both guys are pass-first players, and excellent playmakers, so Miller will have plenty of open ice to work with.

James Sheppard will now play the right wing position on the fourth line. I think this benefits this line as well. While Fast has been showing signs of a scoring ability, he’s not there yet, meaning that on most nights, Dominic Moore is the only one creating offense. Sheppard and Moore worked well together, connecting on a goal in the game against the Panthers. By putting him on the fourth line, it creates a more balanced line that will still play strong defensively, but now has a winger with a nose for the net. Moore and Sheppard will connect for a few chances, and maybe this will open the ice for Tanner Glass to finally score that first goal.

james sheppard 3-18

James Sheppard will now play the right wing position on the fourth line. His offensive skills are better than Jesper Fast, and he will help balance out the offense across all four lines. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

Although the Rangers have been winning, they are in dire need of some more consistent offense. In the month of March, the Rangers are just 1-21 on the power play, falling to 19th in the league in scoring on the man advantage. On top of that, quite a few players are going through goal droughts.

Rick Nash is pointless in his last four games, with just two goals (one empty netter) in his last 11 games. Chris Kreider has gone seven games since his last goal, with two assists in that span. Zuccarello has one goal in his last 16 games, and Brassard just one in his last 20, but both have been picking up assists, so it’s less of a problem. The most severe is Derek Stepan, who has not recorded a point in 11 games.

Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes presents a good opportunity for the Rangers. Although the Hurricanes have been more competitive lately, they are still in the bottom five teams of the league. These guys will start chipping in goals soon, I’m not too worried, but tomorrow is good opportunity for guys like Rick Nash and Derek Stepan to get going again.

In other news, Henrik Lundqvist was cleared for today’s practice, but did not participate, as he was with his wife expecting the birth of their second child. Lundqvist won’t travel with the team, and will likely practice on his own this weekend.

PRACTICE LINES

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash

JT Miller-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello

Carl Hagelin-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-James Sheppard

Ryan McDonagh-Dan GIrardi

Marc Staal-Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle-Matt Hunwick

Cam Talbot

Mackenzie Skapski

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Posted on March 21, 2015, in Rangers Updates and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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