AV Shuffles for Answers

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault chuckled when it was mentioned to him that he made a lot of lineup changes for Thursday’s practice before heading to Columbus for a game Friday.

“Which day have I not so far?” he said…

Yup, the Rangers, at 1-3 and still searching for a complete-game effort, will have a lot of new looks again. Especially on defense, where Nick Holden, a scratch the first two games, finds himself as the first-pair righty with Ryan McDonagh.

Thursday’s re-shuffle included Brendan Smith returning after being scratched the last two games, on the right of his partner from late last season, Brady Skjei, and Marc Staal moving to the left with Kevin Shattenkirk.

That would leave Steve Kampfer and Tony DeAngelo as the scratches Friday.

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Vigneault has consistently, in his first four seasons in New York, made lineup changes after losses and almost always ridden the same group after wins.

“Just trying to sort things out right now,” Vigneault said. “Are we going to have a shutdown pair like we had in the past, or is our group of six defensemen going to have that mandate? We’re going to need a little bit more time here and we said that at the beginning of the season.”

Vigneault said that, while McDonagh has shown he can play either side, when he plays the right side “we lose a little bit of him being able to jump up in the play, keep pucks in the offensive zone.”

[Watch Friday’s Rangers-Blue Jackets on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

McDonagh said the offensive-instincts part of his game doesn’t change much based on his partner, or whether he’s on the right or left.


“I don’t really think too much into [the juggling],” the captain said. “I just try and play as well and as in sync as I can with whoever I play with, whether it’s right or left. So I’m looking forward to playing with Holds here. He’s real solid in his own end and always has his head up looking to make plays. Hopefully, we don’t have to spend too much time in our own zone.”

It was widely assumed that Shattenkirk, who has never been a shutdown-type, would be McDonagh’s partner. That lasted four periods. Vigneault said it’s an adjustment for Shattenkirk to play against opponent’s top players.

Shattenkirk, who’s been fabulous on the power play and has struggled at even strength, understands.

“Even though chemistry might not be quite there yet, with playing with certain linemates or whatever it might be, the identity part of it, you don’t need to play with the same guys night in and night out,” Shattenkirk said. “That should be something that’s constant throughout our lineup with the way we play.”

Smith carefully said he was surprised by the move, so early in the season. He also said he hadn’t been told exactly why the decision was made, and when asked if it was warranted, he stammered and laughed. “Warranted? I don’t even know how to answer that.

“You know what I think? I think I should have played better in the first period (in Toronto). ‘Should’ is a tough word. I think I could have played better … everything that you do, there’s pros and cons, there’s consequences to everything and a lot of times you can get knocked off the horse. You just have to get back on.”

Vigneault thought Smith’s training camp “was OK” and that he played fairly well in the opener against Colorado, but added, “in Toronto, I wasn’t trying to single anybody out, but I had to make some decisions and it happens that he sat out, and the guys that played, played a real good game against Montreal.”

[Watch Friday’s Rangers-Blue Jackets on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]