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Hayes Line "Building An Identity" At the Right Time

Vesey's Physical Edge Leading to Success in O-Zone; Same Lineup Against Sharks

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

The early part of the regular season is a time coaches tinker with lines in search of chemistry among trios.

Coach Alain Vigneault seems to have found some with Kevin Hayes centering Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast. The line led the way offensively on Saturday with three goals and five points in the team's 4-2 victory over Nashville.

Fast got the scoring going, Hayes had the game-winner and Vesey clinched it with an empty-netter in the final minute.

"I think that line's building an identity," Vigneault said before his team faced the San Jose Sharks at The Garden Monday night. "Those three guys together work very, very hard and they're good on the forecheck, they create turnovers and work hard to come back in our own end. I had them out last game in the last minute. I really believe that threesome there is building a real strong identity."

The line does a little bit of everything for a Ranger team still looking for its own identity through nine games in this 2017-18 campaign. It scores, it defends and is a line that can be deployed no matter the situation.

"I've got confidence that I can put them up against any line and they're going to play well and they're going to play hard, and I want that to continue," Vigneault added.

Vesey's empty-net goal was a boost two-fold; It got the monkey off his back with his first of the year, and also iced the game for a Rangers team in need of two points.

"I think it was a big goal for us to seal a win for us," Vesey told NYRangers.com. "I think it was a relief for everyone to finally win a game. It's been a while. We've played really well, I think, but haven't gotten the two points. We got it on Saturday. For me, I've had some really good looks. They haven't necessarily gone in. It's definitely a relief and hopefully I can take off from here."

Video: NSH@NYR: Vesey scores empty-netter from his own zone

While not the traditional enforcer, Vesey is embracing his role as a physical presence on a team known more for its skill and speed than for its hard hitting. In fact, he said playing that style benefits him in other areas on the ice.

"I don't think it's a secret that we don't have a big, bruising team, but I'm trying to be physical," he said. "Just because by the end of the game, if you finish all your hits on a D, it does wear them down. The coaches told me they'd like to see me finish more of those checks, and I think it was a good message for me. 

"When you play simple like that and just try to have good habits, the puck seems to follow you around and you get rewarded for that," Vesey added. "I tried to do that the last couple games and I got rewarded last game."

 

Vigneault said the 24-year-old must play with an edge to be the successful player he knows Vesey can be.

"That's part of his repertoire. He has to bring that," Vigneault said of the winger. "If he doesn't bring that, he's not the player he can be. He's a good skater, he's a power forward. He's got to get in there and play the body and play the man when the opportunity is there and he's been doing that more since I've put him on that line."

Vesey, now in his second year with the Rangers, said he thinks his line with Hayes and Fast is working because the three complement each other well to form one cohesive unit.

"I think we have a good mix," he said. "Me and Quickie have been good on the forecheck and getting in there first and getting some pucks back, causing some turnovers. Hayesey is a possession guy. He likes to hang on to it. I think it boils down at the end of the day that we've just been working hard and trying to do the right thing. The puck has been following us a little bit."

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The Rangers will deploy the same lineup as it did on Saturday, meaning Vigneault will dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards against the Sharks. Both Nick Holden and Tony DeAngelo will play while both Adam Cracknell and Paul Carey will be scratched.

"I think at this time right now I'm thinking of keeping Anthony in our lineup and on that second power play unit," Vigneault said of the rookie blueliner. "Adam or Paul are not true centermen, so I just feel the way the schedule is laid out for us right now, we have a better chance with 11 forwards."

Vigneault said by doing so, it gives him the chance to double shift other forwards, namely Mika Zibanejad and J.T. Miller, at center between Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich. 

Thus far, the unorthodox strategy has paid off, as the Rangers dressed seven defensemen in both of its wins this season.

With that said, Vigneault admitted it's not an optimal situation for the 21-year-old DeAngelo, who is used mainly in power play roles. In the 2-0 win over Montreal on Oct. 8, DeAngelo saw just 3:45, while he skated 5:20 on Saturday.

"He's been all right for us," Vigneault said of DeAngelo. "It's not the ideal situation. Obviously Jeff [Gorton] and I are going to talk about this in the coming days here, but wanted to get through Saturday and Monday and we'll see what happens here moving forward."

Vigneault did not rule out a potential call up from Hartford, but also said his team could "stay status quo." 

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