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Flyers shifting Gagner to center against Rangers

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

RANGERS (5-2-1) at FLYERS (3-2-1)

TV: MSG, CSN-PH

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers will shift Sam Gagner to center Saturday against the New York Rangers.

Gagner has played mostly left wing since joining the Flyers this season. But with Sean Couturier out because of an upper-body injury, Gagner will start between Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds.

It's the same place Gagner played the final two periods Wednesday against the Boston Bruins after Couturier was hurt.

Gagner is a natural center and played there at times during the preseason. He said Saturday he won't need much time to adjust to being a center in the Flyers' system.

"Not much different from other teams in terms of responsibilities at center," Gagner said. "I think everyone shoulders the load defensively. Just down low in your own end there's some things you need to be aware of. Just have to win your battles, get it up to the wingers and go from there. Obviously there's differences between center and wing. But I'm ready for it."

Gagner played a season-high 15:42 and scored his second goal of the season against the Bruins. But he won four of 12 faceoffs, including one of seven in the defensive zone (1-for-4) and neutral zone (0-for-3).

"I actually thought I was pretty good the other night regardless of what the stats said," Gagner said. "I just want to keep that going in the dot. If you can start with the puck it's a good thing. I think that's something I have to be sharp on tonight. … I've done it in the past. Just trying to get timing down; I think that's the biggest thing. Once you get your timing down it's a matter of going to the dot and competing. I like to do that."

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he isn't concerned with Gagner having to make any adjustments to play center the way he demands it be played.

"He's played the position for many years," he said. "There's not a learning curve for him. He played a couple games there in the preseason. Did a good job when he needed to the other night. And he'll do a good job tonight."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault confirmed he would use the same lineup that played Thursday in the 4-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes. That means Derek Stepan, who did not practice Friday, would be in the lineup. Stepan was one of four players to skate Saturday morning, along with forward Emerson Etem, defenseman Dylan McIlrath and goaltender Antti Raanta. Stepan did not practice Friday because of a maintenance day; he had surgery Wednesday to extract a wisdom tooth and remove two screws from his jaw. He had played Thursday against the Coyotes.

It also means the Rangers' top defense pairing will be Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein.

"Since we've put them together I think they've been very physical and dependable in our own end," Vigneault said. "I think [McDonagh's] game is slowly but surely coming. He's moving the puck a little bit quicker, moving the puck his decisions are a little bit better."

Here are the projected lineups:

RANGERS

Rick Nash - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider - Derick Brassard - Jesper Fast

Oscar Lindberg - Kevin Hayes - J.T. Miller

Viktor Stalberg - Dominic Moore - Jarret Stoll

Ryan McDonagh - Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Dan Boyle

Henrik Lundqvist

Antti Raanta

Injured: None

Scratched: Emerson Etem, Dylan McIlrath

FLYERS

Michael Raffl - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek

Matt Read - Sam Gagner - Wayne Simmonds

R.J. Umberger - Scott Laughton - Brayden Schenn

Chris VandeVelde - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Ryan White

Nick Schultz - Mark Streit

Michael Del Zotto - Radko Gudas

Evgeny Medvedev - Brandon Manning

Steve Mason

Jason LaBarbera

Injured: Sean Couturier (upper body); Michal Neuvirth (upper body)

Scratched: Vincent Lecavalier, Luke Schenn

Status report: Klein will remain with McDonagh for a second straight game, with Girardi playing with Yandle. Girardi will play his 768th game with the Rangers, tying him with Mark Messier for 10th on their list of combined regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games. … Neuvirth was injured during the first period Wednesday against the Bruins. LaBarbera was recalled from Lehigh Valley of the AHL on Saturday. Manning returns to the lineup after being scratched Wednesday against the Bruins. Hakstol said he liked Manning's speed against the Rangers.

Who's hot: Stepan has 24 points in 25 games against the Flyers. It's the most points he has against any NHL opponent. … Giroux has three goals in his past two games, including a goal in overtime Wednesday against the Bruins.

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