NASHVILLE -- Kevin Hayes has not scored a goal in 16 games, and he won’t have the chance to break that schneid in the Rangers next contest either.
As part of a shakeup of the team’s top three forward line combinations, Hayes will be scratched for the first time this season when the Rangers face off with the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. It marks the first time the second-year pro has been a healthy scratch since late October 2014 during his rookie season in the NHL.
“I think Kevin has had an extra-long leash, especially considering (Derek Stepan) was out for quite some time, but there’s just nothing going on,” stated Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault on Tuesday. “At the end of the day we’re at the point now where we have to make some decisions in the best interest of the team. In Kevin’s case we made it all clear about our expectations for him and what we thought he could do, and they were very high. Obviously he has not lived up to that. I know what we are seeing now is not good enough.”
Hayes has just two assists in his last 12 games and he has produced only two multi-point games this entire season. In contrast to 2014-15 when he ranked fifth among all NHL rookies with 45 points and sixth with 17 goals, Hayes has managed only six goals and 17 points through the first 37 games this season. He is currently tied for seventh on the team in scoring.
“Obviously you don’t want to sit out games,” Hayes said. “My game is not nearly where I want it to be. You come into the season with goals and aspirations, and I haven’t come close to mine. I’m struggling right now.”
While Hayes skated as an extra with rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath during Tuesday’s intense no-nonsense practice at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Vigneault altered the look of three of his four lines.
In response to the team’s 5-3 loss Monday against the Predators, and current 1-4-0 and 2-6-1 rough patches of play, Vigneault moved Rick Nash off of his usual line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello and placed him alongside Derek Stepan and Jesper Fast. J.T. Miller, who has six points in his last seven games, took Nash’s spot on the Brassard line, while Chris Kreider skated on the left side of Oscar Lindberg and Emerson Etem.
The fourth line of Viktor Stalberg, Dominic Moore, and Tanner Glass remained intact from Monday night’s game.
“I don’t want to change the way I’m playing because I’m playing with two highly-skilled guys,” Miller said of teaming up with Brassard and Zuccarello. “I want to keep playing physical, keep winning my battles, but make a play if it’s there. I just don’t want to get away from playing hard.”