After a resounding loss to the bottom of the league Canucks on Tuesday, Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault looks set to restructure the Rangers forwards and defense. Recent benchings of Chris Kreider and Jimmy Vesey, along with a nine-game goalless streak by Mika Zibanejad - that ended late in the game Tuesday, were already indicators that not all was right with the combinations.
Were the Rangers complacent facing the team with the worst record in the league, did six games in ten nights finally catch up with them, or were the combinations getting stale? While certainly you could argue the former two, it's clear that Vigneault thinks that there's some credence to the latter.
Today at practice his lines consisted of:
Pavel Buchnevich - Mika Zibanejad - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Jimmy Vesey - Kevin Hayes - J.T. Miller
Michael Grabner - Brandon Pirri - Jesper Fast
Primarily you can see that Vigneault is recognizing the play of Buchnevich who now has scored in three striaght games. Pairing the talented winger with Zibanejad and Zuccarello gives him access to two of the better passers on the team, and perhaps at the same time help his center build his form follwing the end of his nine game goalless streak.
You can also see that out of form wingers Kreider and Vesey get new line-mates. Kreider is reunited with Stepan and Nash a combination that has worked well at times in the past, and Vesey gets time with fellow college grads Hayes and Miller, who are jointly tied for the team lead in scoring.
Michael Grabner loses out a bit in the reshuffle, but joins a fourth line that has been very productive this season. They may lose a little goalscoring with the changes, but Grabner is tied for the team lead with seven goals.
It also looks like Brady Skjei might get an audition on the right side of Marc Staal, pushing Nick Holden down to a pair with Kevin Klein. Skjei has been racking up the assists in recent games, and is playing with more confidence than early on, both on offense and defense. Holden may also have reached his peak and perhaps will benefit from some easier matchups.
We'll get our first chance to see the matchups in action on Saturday night against the Flames, with the Rangers flying out today to give them a chance to acclimate ahead of three games in four nights before they head to Columbus next Friday and then home again Sunday for their first meet-up of the year with the Florida Panthers.