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Morning Skate: Miller Returns, "Big Test" vs. Pens

by Jim Cerny / New York Rangers

Two days after facing one of the Western Conference powerhouse teams in the Anaheim Ducks, the Rangers are getting set to host the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins, tonight at Madison Square Garden. J.T. Miller, who was scratched for Monday's 2-1 loss to the Ducks, will return to the lineup for this evening's divisional battle with the Penguins.

With the Rangers playing on back-to-back nights Wednesday vs. the Pens and Thursday in Columbus against the Blue Jackets, the team's head coach Alain Vigneault said that it would be imperative he use all four of his forward lines in both games, and he is more comfortable giving Miller more minutes than he would with Brandon Mashinter---who logged less than three minutes of ice-time Monday night.

J.T. Miller
J.T. Miller
Center  - NYR
Goals: 0 | Assists: 1 | Pts: 1
Shots: 12 | +/-: -1

"Hopefully tonight he has a good game, a strong game, at both ends of the rink," Vigneault said of the 20 year-old Miller. "Tonight he's got to come here with a clear head, be in the moment, and play a good game."

Vigneault has pointed out for several days now that Miller has played pretty well so far this season, but struggled with his all-around game during Saturday's 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. The weekend hiccup was enough to land Miller a seat in the press box on Monday, but his skill-set and potential are enough to get him right back in there this evening.

Through nine games Miller has recorded one assist, notched four penalty minutes, and is a minus-one.

Having coached in the Western Conference the last seven years Vigneault has not seen much of Sidney Crosby and his high-flying Penguin 'mates in person. That will change beginning tonight.

"I am real excited about tonight,"stated the Rangers head coach. "I think our players are anxious for this game. They know Pittsburgh, it's a divisional game, they know they're one of the best teams in the NHL and they have some star players who get a lot of attention. We want to go out on the ice and show we are good players and a good team. I think everybody will be ready for tonight."

The Penguins lead the East with 22 points and already are ten points up on the Rangers, making this a very important early-season match up.

Derek Stepan called tonight's game "a big test", and Derick Brassard said the Blueshirts are well aware what they are up against.

"I think we need to stay disciplined because they have some really good forwards---probably the two best players in the world," noted Brassard. "I think we need to play a fast game because they move really well, move the puck well. It's similar to Anaheim, one of the top five teams in the league, so we're going to need to be ready."

Henrik Lundqvist (11 gp, 4-6-0, 2.57 GAA, .914 save %) is in goal for the Rangers while Marc-Andre Fleury (12 gp, 10-2-0, 1.83 GAA, .929 save %) starts for the Penguins.

The Rangers continue to be without Rick Nash, who remains out of the lineup with a head injury he suffered on Oct. 8 against the San Jose Sharks.

Penguins star Sidney Crosby knows about head injuries as well as any player in the NHL, and after Pittsburgh's morning skate, Crosby said he has reached out to his Team Canada teammate to see how he is doing.

"I think that it's tough to see that, what guys are going through when they go through stuff like that," Crosby told reporters inside the Penguins' locker room. "Hopefully, he's improving."

Crosby, who was first sidelined with a concussion in 2011, said he himself reached out to players — including Boston's Patrice Bergeron — when he was dealing with the injury.

"The more you can kind of learn and understand what you're dealing with, the better," said Crosby, adding that Nash has the benefit of having Marc Staal, who also knows the challenges head injuries can face. "I think you'd rather know as much as you can at that point, the more you can learn about it the better that way."

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