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Vigneault Reunites Top Forward Line Combinations

by Jim Cerny / New York Rangers

Everyone was present and accounted for at Rangers practice Thursday morning, including new dad Derek Stepan--whose wife Stephanie gave birth to the couple's first child on Wednesday--and winger Viktor Stalberg, who has been sidelined since suffering a head injury last Saturday in Philadelphia.

Stalberg skated as the extra forward and will not dress Friday when the Rangers host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden. Dylan McIlrath again was the extra defenseman at practice and will be a healthy scratch for the tenth time in 11 games this season on Friday.

Head coach Alain Vigneault did juggle his top two lines, reuniting Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, and shifting wingers Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast on to a line centered by Stepan.

"I think both offensively and defensively our game can be better, and we need to spend more time in the offensive zone and less time in ours," explained Vigneault after practice. "There's that duo of Step and Kreids that's been successful for us. I wanted to go back to that, the right handed center with (Kreider) on the left side. And Nash, Brassard, and Zuccarello have had real good success in the past; so I just felt it was time to go back to that."

Both Stepan and Brassard--who has come on the past few games--have scored three goals and totaled five points apiece the first ten games of the season. Nash, Kreider and Fast have one goal each; while Zuccarello is second on the team with four goals and six points.

"Since he's been with me this is his best start, but my expectations of him offensively and defensively are much higher from what I've seen so far," Vigneault said of Zuccarello. "He's a good player; he's a competitive player; he's a highly-skilled player."

Vigneault kept the third and fourth lines intact, meaning Kevin Hayes will center J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg Friday, and Dom Moore, Jarret Stoll and Emerson Etem will team once again against the Maple Leafs.

"It's early in the season and it's important everybody understands this is a work in progress right now," noted goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "We have to continue to work on all the details and push each other and not look too far ahead, focus on each game as it comes, make sure sure to make the most of it."

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