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Girardi Back for Tilt With Kings

Plus Update on Klein and Lineup for Saturday

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

EL SEGUNDO - Henrik Lundqvist won't be the lone Ranger returning to injury this weekend, as defenseman Dan Girardi is expected to return Saturday in Los Angeles. 

The blueliner has been out for 12 games with an ankle injury he sustained blocking a shot last month. The injured wound took slower than expected to heal, leading to an extended absence for the 32-year-old, career-Ranger.

Girardi said the best way to get back into the lineup is to keep his game simple and to play his style early to get into the game quick.

"Obviously going into tomorrow's game, they're a big, fast team, so I've got to keep it simple out there and not try to do too much those first couple shifts," Girardi said. "Just try to get in on the body or block a shot or something like that to get into the game. I'm just trying to just play with the guys. 

"I don't want to make a big deal coming back or try to do too much," Girardi added. "I just want to blend in and try to play as best as I can and help the team win."

Despite missing nearly a month of action, Girardi said he feels good physically, and added the last stretch of his rehab has felt like the start of the season.

"I've been doing three a days for the last little while," he said. "It's kind of been training camp for me the last week and a half. I feel really good out there. I've been skating a lot. I feel great and just ready to go."

Girardi was paired with longtime partner Ryan McDonagh at Friday's practice, and coach Alain Vigneault said that's how he'd start Saturday's game against the Kings. The bench boss said their familiarity with one another should help Girardi after the long break.

"Danny has been out for a while and they've been playing together for a long time, so I want him to start on the right foot," he said, before adding that it "made sense to us anyway to put them back together and have that continuity there and hopefully it will help us out on the penalty kill also."

While Girardi will return to the lineup, defenseman Kevin Klein will not. The good news, though, is that Klein is healthy enough to return, but that Vigneault prefers not to have two defensemen returning from extended injuries in the same game.

With that said, Vigneault expects Klein - who has missed 15 games with back spasms - to return this week.

"I'm going to get him in here in the next couple games," Vigneault said. "I'm not exactly sure which one. I want see how Dan is going to do. He's been out a long time. Kleiners been out a long time. At some point here in the next three games here, he's going to play."

Pavel Buchnevich will return to the Rangers' lineup after being replaced by Tanner Glass for Wednesday's matchup with the Islanders. While that's the only personnel change, Vigneault did change his lines Friday at practice.

The Derek Stepan line will remain intact, but Jimmy Vesey will move up to play the left side on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Rick Nash. J.T. Miller will move back down with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner, while Buchnevich and Jesper Fast will flank Oscar Lindberg on the fourth line.

Vigneault said he liked his team's play on both sides of the puck Wednesday, but that he feels this lineup gives him the most balance, especially while the team begins a busy stretch out west.

"We played a good game last game. I liked our offensive output in terms of scoring chances," Vigneault told reporters. "I liked what we did defensively. We didn't give up much, but I feel that this right now with Jesper on with Oscar and Buchy, it gives us a better balance and a four-line rotation. We're playing three games in four nights, so I really want that four-line balance there."

With the return of Girardi with McDonagh, Marc Staal was moved back to his natural left side on the second pairing with Nick Holden, while Brady Skjei will skate alongside Brendan Smith.

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