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Morning Skate: Updates from San Jose

Girardi In for Klein; Puempel Skates in Buchnevich's Spot

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

SAN JOSE - Coach Alain Vigneault said he has some game-time decisions tonight before the Rangers look to secure a playoff berth against the Sharks.

The bench boss said he will dress one extra forward and defenseman during warmups before he "makes the call" on his lineup.

If the morning skate is any indication of what those changes could be, it appeared that forward Matt Puempel would replace Pavel Buchnevich on the team's newly constructed fourth line with J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg. Puempel last played on March 9 against Carolina.

The Rangers' top two lines remained intact during the skate, but with Miller moving down, Jesper Fast was moved up to the right side with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner.

Vigneault did admit to one change on defense, as Dan Girardi will swap in for Kevin Klein on the team's top pair with Ryan McDonagh. Vigneault said Klein, who returned to the lineup after missing 16 games with back spasms, felt tightness after Sunday's game. He added that he would not use Klein on back-to-backs.

Brady Skjei was shifted to the right side of Marc Staal, while Brendan Smitih was on the left side of Nick Holden. Vigneault said the move was to get a look at Skjei on his offside in the event he's needed there down the road.

"It's like Mac. You're used to playing that one position. You're comfortable. This is getting him out of his comfort zone, but this is something we wanted to see here in the last couple of games," Vigneault said. "We know that Smitty can play there, we know Holden can play there. You never know what might happen here moving forward, so we thought tonight was a good time to get him a little more experience there and see how he does."

Skjei has played the right side in the past, including during his time with the Wolf Pack last year and during last postseason when he was paired with McDonagh for most of the team's five games against the Penguins. 

"I did it a lot in Hartford last year, playing the right side, so I don't think it'll be too much of a change," Skjei said. "Marc is a very good player and I think we'll play well together."

While New York hasn't officially clinched a playoff berth - the team needs one point tonight or a Bruins loss to the Predators - the experimentation with his pairs is something Vigneault said he could continue to do during the final six games of the season.

"I might take some of those last games to make sure the extra D's - just like the extra forwards - play at least one [game] to make sure that they get some game situations," he said. "There's that balancing act between getting your lines together, getting your D pairs together, getting healthy and making sure certain guys get a little bit of playing time also."

Rick Nash was named the 2016-17 recipient of the John Halligan Good Guy Award by the New York chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The award has been given annually since 1974-75 for cooperation with the media.

"As an assistant captain, you're definitely a pipeline from the team to the media," Nash said. "You're a spokesperson. I've been a captain before. I know what it's like to answer to the media all day. I just take the approach of being honest and always being open about situations."

Recent winners of the award include Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Marc Staal.

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