Chris Kreider absence, shuffled D pairs at Rangers practice ahead of Game 6

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The day before their biggest game of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New York Rangers had a slightly different look at practice Wednesday.

Chris Kreider was not on the ice, taking a maintenance day. And coach Peter Laviolette gave a look to some new (old) defense pairings.

All of this as the Rangers prepare for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round in Raleigh, their third chance to eliminate the Carolina Hurricanes or else face a decisive Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Rangers, who won the first three games of this best-of-7 series, dropped Game 4 on the road 4-3 and Game 5 at home 4-1.

Whether they’ll have Kreider on Thursday is at least partially in doubt. The 33-year-old skipped practice, coming off a miserable minus-3 performance in Game 5 on Monday.

“I’m hoping that today was just a normal playoff maintenance,” Laviolette said.

Blake Wheeler skated in Kreider’s place on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Jack Roslovic at practice. Wheeler has made great strides physically after being sidelined three months with a lower-body injury. However, just Tuesday, Laviolette said that Wheeler won’t be rushed back into game action.

Filip Chytil skated as an extra forward, as did Matt Rempe. Chytil returned to play Game 3 in this series after being sidelined six months with an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. But Chytil missed the past two games, the first because of an illness, the second believed to be a healthy scratch.

Jonny Brodzinski, scratched in Game 5 after playing in the previous game, practiced on the fourth line with Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey.

“Everybody that was out on the ice was cleared (to play) today and then we make (lineup) decisions based on where players are at,” Laviolette explained. “Based on where players are at physically, we make decisions.”

Related: Could injured Hurricanes defenseman return in playoffs against Rangers?

Rangers practice ahead of Game 6 vs. Hurricanes with changes on defense pairings

NHL: New York Rangers at Vancouver Canucks
Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Though there were no personnel changes on defense at practice Wednesday, Laviolette did shuffle some defensemen around. Jacob Trouba was reunited with K’Andre Miller, and Braden Schneider paired with Erik Gustafsson.

These were the defense pairings for most of the regular season. However, down the stretch and through the first nine games in the postseason, Trouba skated with Gustafsson, and Miller paired with Schneider.

“It may or may not be exactly how it was out there today (in Game 6),” Laviolette stated.

Trouba and Gustafsson were on for 11 more scoring chances against than for (41-30) 5v5 in the first five games of this series, including nine high-danger chances against (eight for), per NaturalStattrick.

Miller and Schneider were minus-7 (43 chances against, 36 for) and nine nine high-dangers chances against (seven for).

The pair that has struggled the most is the Adam Fox-Ryan Lindgren tandem, who allowed 11 high-danger chances against and only three for. Fox has not seemed himself in the series and could be playing hurt since he didn’t practice for nearly a week between the first and second rounds.

“Speaking of Miller and Trouba, there’s a lot of experience there. They’ve played a long time together, a lot of minutes together,” Laviolette said. “Again, no matter how we go back there, I still feel we have a really good balance of defensemen.”

And they’ll need a big night from their six defensemen, who will face another relentless barrage from the rejuvenated Hurricanes in Game 6.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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