The Rangers bring their season-high six-game winning streak into Barclays Center Thursday night for a meeting with the Islanders.
The Blueshirts are coming off a 3-2 win Monday night over the Blue Jackets in Columbus on a third period goal by Jimmy Vesey. Antti Raanta got his first start in nearly a month and left with the win.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault will tweak his lineup for Thursday's game a bit, swapping forward Matt Puempel for rookie Pavel Buchnevich, citing a "so-so" game for the Russian Monday night.
"Buch had a so-so game last game," Vigneault said following Wednesday's practice. "Part of the growing process of a young player. [Puempel] is a young player and I just feel it's time to get him in a game."
Puempel hasn't played since Feb. 5 against the Calgary Flames. He has six goals in 31 games with the Rangers this season, who claimed him off waivers in November. He said the near two-week absence from the lineup afforded him the chance to evaluate not only his game, but also learn from his teammates.
"You can learn every day," Puempel told NYRangers.com. "Probably better than watching your shifts is watching the game from a different point of view. Watch the game, watch different things. Obviously it's a lot easier from up top. Watch little things, like where you have more time and where you can shoot more and where you can make different plays.
"All those different things go into account of learning every day and getting better every day and that's been part of the process."
Vigneault said Buchnevich played well on a line with Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast after Vigneault swapped him and Vesey. The coach said perhaps Buchnevich had hit a bump, which is part of the process.
"There's always a learning curve and he's going through it," Vigneault said. "Maybe the fact that he missed a lot of time, came back and was energized. Maybe there's a little dip there in the energy level. It's one game and we'll go from there."
The Islanders enter Thursday's meeting coming off a lopsided 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Maple Leafs in Toronto Wednesday evening. The loss, though, was just the third under interim head coach Doug Weight after he took over from Jack Capuano on Jan. 17.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said it doesn't matter what either team has been doing during the season, games against the Islanders are always tight, physical affairs.
"It doesn't matter what's going on with either team at any point in the season. When we face them it's always real tight out there. It's going to be one or two plays that's going to make the difference, so you've got to make sure that you're heads in the right place and your positioning out there is good and when you get a look to make something happen, try and bear down."
Thursday marks the 56th game against the Islanders for Henrik Lundqvist. The netminder is 30-18-6 with five shutouts in his career against the Islanders, and is 4-3-1 in his last eight road games.
Lundqvist said playing the Islanders on the road is special, and he's expecting a tough challenge following their loss Wednesday.
"Every time we go out there and play it's a good atmosphere," Lundqvist said. "We have a lot of fans there supporting us, so it's always fun to get up for these games. They're usually pretty intense. They had a tough loss the other night, so they're going to come really hard against us. We just have to prepare for it."