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Jan 10, 2024 8:02 pm

Rangers seek sturdy defense when they face Blues

The New York Rangers will be looking to clean up their defensive play when they hit the road for a two-game trip.

They will face the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Thursday before moving on to Washington D.C. to face the Capitals on Saturday.

The Rangers trailed 3-1 in their previous two games, a 4-3 shootout loss at the Canadiens and a 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at home.

Against the Canucks, the Rangers trailed 5-2 after two periods. They cut their deficit to 5-3, but didn’t get closer before allowing an empty-net goal.

“We weren’t under siege, but some of the decision-making for line changes or a line rush with people out of place or line changes, they bit us right away against a team that has a lot of talent,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said.

“There’s no excuse for that. We’re not going to win giving up five goals. You can’t win. Not on a regular basis. You’ll win one out of 10, maybe you’ll score six. And so that has to get taken care of.”

Since starting the season 18-4-1, the Rangers have gone 8-7-1 in their last 16 games. They hope to get Kaapo Kakko (lower body) back from the injured list soon, but he is questionable to play Thursday.

Laviolette shuffled his forward lines in practice after the loss to Vancouver, moving Blake Wheeler down to the third line with Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow and testing Will Cuylle on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.

“If we were healthy, I’m not sure that would be the move,” Laviolette said. “We’re not. When you don’t have all your assets available to you, you fill in different spots at times. You try things and give it time.”

The Blues have gone 7-4-0 since Drew Bannister became interim coach, replacing Craig Berube. They have made some strides on their power play since the change, converting at a 16.7 percent rate (5-for-30) after converting at a meager 8.43 percent rate in the first 28 games.

But in their 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Blues went 0-for-4.

“We have to score,” Bannister said. “We have to have a mindset when we step on the ice that we’re looking to score goals. The chances have been there, the opportunities have been there, but we aren’t finishing on those chances, and we have to finish.”

The season-long struggles with the man advantage have left the Blues overthinking and second-guessing themselves at times.

“It can be easy to squeeze the stick and see that you’re not producing, but understand that there’s a bigger picture here,” Blues defenseman Torey Krug said. “If we continue to grind and move the puck well, continue to get those Grade-A chances that we always talk about, eventually, they’re going to go in the net. Results haven’t been there so far this year, and that is what it is, but we can’t change that. We just have to continue to look forward and be ready for the next one.”

Bannister shuffled his groupings in Wednesday’s practice, putting Colton Parayko at the point and Jake Neighbours at the net front on the top unit. Brayden Schenn and Krug moved to the second unit.

–Field Level Media

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