NEW YORK -- In the process of adjusting to a new role, Carl Hagelin relied on his greatest asset Sunday to help the New York Rangers defeat the San Jose Sharks.
After five games to the start the season without a point, Hagelin scored at 13:01 of the first period, the opening salvo in a 4-0 victory for the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
The play began in a familiar place for Hagelin this season, with a faceoff in the defensive zone. After Dominic Moore won the draw to the left of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, defenseman John Moore sent an outlet pass to Hagelin beyond the blue line in the neutral zone.
Hagelin skated toward the middle of the ice and into the offensive zone before directing a long-range shot at Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock. The goalie failed to handle the puck cleanly, and the speedy Hagelin pounced. He swooped in and lifted Mirco Mueller's stick before the rookie defenseman could sweep the puck out of danger, and Hagelin chipped the rebound into the top-left corner of the net at 13:01 of the first period.
"If you win a draw in your end, you have a good chance of breaking it out," Hagelin said. "They don't really have time to get in their structure so if you can make a good play right away from the D to a winger, you should have a 2-on-2 pretty quick and maybe even a 2-on-1. I'm trying to use my speed off the draw, that's for sure."
Part of the reason for Hagelin's lack of offense to this point could be contributed to him adjusting to a new role.
Hagelin started 20 shifts in the offensive zone and 37 in the defensive zone in New York's first five games of the season, and the disparity was even greater against the Sharks. As long as he stays on Moore's line, it is a trend that is likely to continue.
He had started more often in the offensive zone than his own end in each of his first three seasons in the NHL, including more than 62 percent of his non-neutral zone faceoffs in 2013-14.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is one of the foremost in the NHL at putting players on the ice based on where the faceoff is going to take place. He became known for this tactic with the Vancouver Canucks, when Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin would routinely place among the NHL leaders in offensive zone start percentage.
Vigneault's first season with the Rangers proved to be a boon for a couple of players, including Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello, who were among the team leaders in offensive-zone deployment.
Hagelin set a career high with 17 goals, and scored them at a higher rate per 60 minutes (1.0) than he had previously in his career. Zuccarello went from a player who started the 2012-13 NHL season playing in Europe to being the leading scorer for the Rangers with 59 points in 77 games in 2013-14.
"I am playing with Dom as of right now," Hagelin said. "[Vigneault] wants him out there because he's really good on faceoffs. Right now there is a lot of starts in the defensive zone. It is something that I've always taken pride in is playing well defensively. It is important that if you start in your own end that you're not getting scored on."
As with several of the Rangers forwards, Hagelin's place in the lineup could be temporary. Once Derek Stepan returns from a broken leg, it will likely push rookie Kevin Hayes into a bottom-six role.
If Hagelin ends up on a line with Derick Brassard or Hayes, he's likely to see more offensive opportunities. If he stays with Moore once the shuffling is complete, his role won't change.
Expecting him to score 17 goals and 44 points playing next to Moore and spending so much time starting out in his zone might be unreasonable, but that doesn't mean he still can't make an offensive impact like he did Sunday.
"Anytime you just want to play your game. Obviously it is a little bit harder to score goals when you start in your own end," Hagelin said. "At the same time, I can use my speed and help us get odd-man rushes and things like that. My focus is always just to play as well as I can and do my job, no matter where the faceoff is."