Tilt with Habs Could Bring Changes to Rangers Lineup

It seems as though Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders has served as a wakeup call for the Rangers coaching staff, and changes to the lineup could be in store come Thursday’s game against the Canadiens.

Despite peppering Jaroslav Halak with 41 shots, the Rangers only broke through once with 10 seconds remaining in the game. It certainly wasn’t the performance the Blueshirts envisioned when they woke up Tuesday morning.

Alain Vigneault had this to say following the loss:

Now, with another tough matchup on tap tonight against a good Canadiens team, Vigneault and company are toying with some different line combinations.

At Wednesday’s practice, the top-two, almost interchangeable lines were unsurprisingly left unchanged. Brassard centering Nash and Zuccarello, and Stepan in between Kreider and St. Louis both remained intact, while the top defensive pair of McDonagh and Girardi did so as well.

As per Blueshirtsunited.com, there was, however, some shuffling with the bottom six forwards, and the second and third defense pairings.

On offense, Dominic Moore and Kevin Hayes swapped center slots, with Moore moving to the third line and Hayes to the fourth. Also changing offensively on Wednesday was the move of Jesper Fast from the third line to the fourth line. But undoubtedly the most notable shift of the day was the insertion of Lee Stempniak back into the lineup, and the consequential demotion of JT Miller.

Miller, who skated at right wing on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass on Tuesday, was the Rangers extra forward at Wednesday’s practice. With Fast then back on the fourth line with Hayes and Glass, Stempniak was then accompanied by Hagelin and Moore on the third line.

Of course, even the sole possibility of Tanner Glass remaining in the lineup, and praise from the coach on his play of late irked many a Ranger “fan” to the core. But Alain Vigneault insisted that over the past three games he has played better, and implied that he’s deserving of the roster spot he current is in possession of.

Adjustments were also made at the blue line.

While McDonagh and Girardi remained the team’s top-pairing, Kevin Klein was moved up to the second pairing with Marc Staal, while Dan Boyle, who struggled dearly in the game against the Islanders, dropped to the third defense pairing with John Moore, who took the spot of Matt Hunwick. Hunwick skated as the extra seventh defenseman at Wednesday’s practice.

While the changes at the blue line aren’t all that drastic, for Klein’s play has clearly been good enough to play on the second pairing, and Moore and Hunwick have been competing all season for the sixth defensive slot, the adjustments up front may be more telling than what’s on the surface.

With JT Miller having skated as the extra forward on Wednesday, it’s only fair to question his future on Broadway.

Vigneault did make it clear that he has yet to make a final decision with regard to Thursday’s lineup against Montreal, but just the fact alone that Miller’s status is once again in question should raise some eyebrows.

Miller’s presence in the lineup over the past three seasons has been as consistent as the Rangers were back in October. For those who’ve already forgotten, that wasn’t very consistent. And now, even with this latest stint on Broadway which many would agree has been his best, Miller still is unable to crack a permanent spot on the Rangers roster.

I will not speculate about a possible roster move which would involve Miller, for that’s like trying to predict the course of a giant coastal winter storm. Nor will I try to argue who the Rangers should make an effort to trade for, but you have wonder whether Glen Sather has something up his sleeve with regard to Miller.

We know the kid has talent, and if this isn’t a mirage and he doesn’t ultimately fit in the Ranger system moving forward, getting something quality in return would seem to best alternative, or he would most certainly be very tempting trade bait for a good number of teams.

When push comes to shove, that will be the call of Glen Sather, and he’ll have until March 2nd to work his magic. Until then, much like was the case with Anthony Duclair earlier in the season, it will only be a guessing game until a final move is made.

For now, though, whatever lineup takes to the Garden ice against the Habs, it’s the two points on the table against which the Rangers must remain focused on.