Alain Vigneault was not liking what he was seeing from his team during Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Canadiens up at the Bell Centre so he began juggling his lines and defense combinations really for the first time this season. Saturday at practice there were four new lines and some changes on defense as the team prepared for Sunday's matinee against the Devils at Madison Square Garden.
"It's more about trying to see if we can get a little bit more momentum here, power play, five on five, offensively and defensively," explained Vigneault following practice at the MSG Training Center. "We've got quite a couple guys right now who, results wise, offensively and defensively can be quite better. So, I'm trying to see if we can't get them going with different linemates. Sometimes it grabs their attention a little bit, excites them to have the opportunity to play with someone else. So sometimes you split them up and see what comes of it."
Vigneault pointed to defense breakdowns, far too many odd-man chances against, and too few scoring opportunities for the Rangers on Thursday as reasons why he feels compelled to shake things up. The Rangers had won their first three games of the season before losing back to back games against Winnipeg and Montreal heading into the Devils contest.
"It's going to take some time to figure out where all the pieces go," stated Vigneault.
Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello are being moved off of Derick Brassard's line and will skate on the wings with Derek Stepan on Sunday, while Brassard centers Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast, who moves up from the fourth line. Kevin Hayes shifts from the wing back to center on the third line where he will skate with J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg. Dominic Moore continues to center the fourth line with Jarret Stoll back after being a healthy scratch on Thursday and either Viktor Stalberg or Tanner Glass on the other wing.
"I have some experience in a Top-6 spot from last year and gained confidence doing that sometimes during the playoffs, too," explained Fast, who has played in three of the team's five games so far this season. "It all starts in the defensive zone no matter what line you are on, but in this role the expectations are that I produce more offensively, too. I understand that."
Vigneault shook up two of his three defense pairings on Saturday, deciding it best to split up long-time partners Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. McDonagh paired with Kevin Klein, while Girardi skated with Keith Yandle. Marc Staal and Dan Boyle remained together at practice.
"We need more, and (the coaches) are looking for answers," offered McDonagh, the team's captain who is without a point through five games. "As a player, it's got to come from within."
Henrik Lundqvist will again start in goal Sunday against the Devils. It will be his sixth consecutive start to open the season, with newcomer Antti Raanta still waiting for his first chance to start in goal for the Rangers.
"I think there are parts of our game that have been good, but there are definitely parts we need to improve," shared Lundqvist, who is coming off a magnificent 29-save performance in Montreal. "I think there's room for improvement, and you have to expect that you have to play your best to win. The league is that tough."
Rangers lines and defense pairs from Saturday's practice: