David Desharnais

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Rangers’ losing streak continues with OT defeat vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers needed a win.

Their slow start is among the surprises early this season, as the Rangers have now lost four in a row with only one win to their record through seven games so far. They’ve had trouble scoring. Mistakes at inopportune moments have been costly.

Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the Rangers had a brutal start and a brutal finish in a 5-4 overtime loss to their Metropolitan Division foes.

Phil Kessel scored just 43 seconds into the game, utilizing that dangerous wrist shot off the rush to beat Henrik Lundqvist top corner. By the end of one period, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh.

Despite a second-period comeback, with three goals in under three minutes, and taking the lead in the third period, the Rangers couldn’t hang on and the Penguins won in overtime.

Sidney Crosby scored a crafty tying goal with only 56 seconds remaining in regulation, waiting for the Rangers defender to touch the puck negating what would’ve likely been called a hand pass on Pittsburgh before firing a no-look backhander toward the net from behind the red line. The puck deflected in off Lundqvist, helping send this one to overtime.

Evgeni Malkin capped off a four-point night with the overtime winner.

“Right now it’s a little bit challenging as far as putting a whole game together for us,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault following the game. “But this group is very accountable … and I’m very confident that if we keep doing a lot of the things we’re doing right now, we’re going to be on the right track.”

A trio of Rangers recorded their first goals of the season. That included David Desharnais, Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich, although the latter played less than 10 minutes on Tuesday, despite nearly four minutes in power play time, and of course the goal.

The Rangers host the New York Islanders on Thursday. Another loss, and one has to wonder how hot the seat may be getting under Vigneault.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Add the Rangers’ poor start to list of surprises early this season

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Last October, the New York Rangers were the highest scoring team during the opening month of the 2016-17 season.

Rick Nash was at the time enjoying a resurgence while Jimmy Vesey‘s pro career was off to a fine start, helping New York to a strong record out of the gate.

The Rangers started this new season almost two weeks ago, and so far they’ve experienced the opposite end of the spectrum. Goals have been difficult to come by, with New York having scored only 13 times in six games, and that has hindered their record to just 1-5-0. They’re currently sitting on a three-game losing streak with the Pittsburgh Penguins in town tomorrow night.

The start of a new season always brings about surprises.

Where do we begin?

— The New Jersey Devils are among the higher scoring clubs right now, and being led offensively by two rookies not named Nico Hischier.

— The Vegas Golden Knights have enjoyed the best five-game start for an NHL expansion franchise since 1967-68, with four wins.

— Outside of their season opener, the Edmonton Oilers so far look nothing like the team that shrugged off a lengthy playoff drought and made it to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.

— How many hat tricks have there been now?

You can add the Rangers’ start to the list as well.

Mika Zibanejad, who has been put into the No. 1 center role, has five of the team’s 13 goals so far and only one of his tallies has come at five-on-five. Meanwhile, Nash, the highest paid forward on their roster at $7.8 million this season and a pending unrestricted free agent, has just one goal through six games, albeit with a team-high 25 shots on net. So far, no points for Vesey.

After losing in the second round of the 2017 playoffs, the Rangers made a number of changes to their roster, with Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein and Oscar Lindberg all being moved through trade, buyout, retirement or the expansion draft. They brought in Kevin Shattenkirk and Anthony DeAngelo, and added diminutive center David Desharnais on a one-year deal, and there is usually an adjustment for new players in a lineup when it comes to the roles they are put into, as well as forward or defensive combinations.

Dating back to their most recent loss on Saturday, head coach Alain Vigneault liked what he saw from his team for just over half the game, but missed opportunities, costly mistakes and an opportunistic Devils team proved too much for the Rangers.

The Rangers are in the midst of a six-game home stand, with seven of the final eight games this month at Madison Square Garden. This was seen as an opportunity for them to gain early ground in the standings, but three straight losses have set them back.

It’s still probably too early to read too much into a poor start or great start for any team or player. It won’t get any easier, though, when the Rangers host the Penguins tomorrow. And another loss would only add to the growing unpleasantness of this early season surprise.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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The Rangers are keeping J.T. Miller at wing

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When the New York Rangers traded center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason it created an opening at a pretty important spot in their lineup. With that new vacancy at center it seemed reasonable to conclude that J.T. Miller, coming off of a career year that saw him score 22 goals and record 56 points, would move back to his natural position on a more permanent basis.

According to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Monday, that will not be the case to start the season.

Vigneault announced on Monday that Miller is going to open the season playing on the wing, not necessarily because of anything he has or has not done, but because of the play of the other centers in Rangers camp.

This would seem to be good news for 2017 first-round picks Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both have not only been impressing the team at camp, but still remain in the running for a roster spot. With Jesper Fast currently sidelined due to an injury, Vigneault said it is possible both of the Rangers’ first-round picks could start the season on opening night roster.

Along with the two draft picks, the only other move the Rangers made this offseason to address the center position was to bring in veteran David Desharnais.

Mika Zibanejad, who was limited to just 56 games a year ago due to injury, will also be expected to take on a bigger role in what will be his second year with the team.

The Rangers traded Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a deal that brought them back the No. 7 overall pick (used to select Andersson) and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo in an effort to create some cap space and help rebuild their defense.

Under Pressure: Kevin Hayes

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It was not that long ago — less than two years, in fact — that Kevin Hayes received a scathing critique from his head coach, Alain Vigneault.

“In Kevin’s case, I think we made it clear our expectations about him and what we felt he could do were very high,” Vigneault said in December of 2015, per the New York Post. “Obviously, he hasn’t lived up to that. Did we overestimate his possibilities? I don’t know, time will tell. But I do know that what I’m seeing now, and what we’re seeing now, is not good enough.”

It has been quite a turnaround for Hayes ever since. Now 25 years old, he’s coming off a career-high 49 points in 2016-17. And after the trading of Derek Stepan to Arizona, he’s considered the top candidate to center the Rangers’ second line next season.

Oh, and did we mention this is a contract year for Hayes? He can become a restricted free agent next summer, and he’s already seen Mika Zibanejad get paid.

Now, it goes without saying that second-line center is a tough job in the NHL. Often, it’s used against the opposition’s top players, and it still comes with the responsibility to produce some offense.

So, is Hayes up to the challenge?

That’s a tough question to answer, because Hayes was already given a tougher defensive role last season, starting many of his shifts in the defensive zone while also facing quality competition.

But his possession numbers were worrisome, as you can see below:

After crunching the numbers, here’s what GothamSN writer Brandon Fitzpatrick concluded:

Basically, Hayes got tough minutes from Vigneault last season, and despite registering career-highs in assists and points, the underlying numbers weren’t favorable to him. Much of Hayes’ point totals can be attributed to Michael Grabner’s extraordinary 27 goal season where he shot a career-high 16.7%, well above his 12.7% career average.

There’s no doubt the Rangers want to see if Hayes can be a top-six center before committing to him long-term next summer, but if he’s not ready, the Rangers are going to suffer big time.

In addition to trading Stepan, the Rangers also lost Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in the expansion draft. And while they did sign veteran David Desharnais, the center position is going to be under a big microscope next season.

If Hayes is up for the job, it should go a long way towards making the Rangers a competitive team, while also helping him financially.

If not, all bets are off.

Related: Lias Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers

It’s New York Rangers day at PHT

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After plodding their way to a frustrating series loss against the Penguins in 2015-16, Alain Vigneault changed the New York Rangers’ style, and it worked in 2016-17.

Sort of.

The Rangers’ experience ranks up there as maybe the most indicative of just how ridiculously stacked the Metropolitan Division was.

The Rangers were one of nine teams in the NHL to generate at least 100 standings points (in their case, 102), finishing just one behind the Montreal Canadiens, who won the Atlantic Division. Even so, they faced said Canadiens in the first round as a wild card.

After dispatching the Habs, the Rangers fell to the Senators, and now they prepare for what’s likely to be an even bigger set of changes in 2017-18.

The Rangers traded away Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. The Dan Girardi era ended with a buyout. Ondrej Pavelec now serves as Henrik Lundqvist‘s backup, while the Rangers landed the biggest fish of free agency in Kevin Shattenkirk.

Mika Zibanejad got a new deal as he takes over the No. 1 center spot, while David Desharnais was added to try to limit some of the losses down the middle.

So, the Rangers continued their move toward a more modern system, as their transition game should be much stronger. On the other hand, last season’s deep offense looks quite a bit thinner.

The Rangers are quite the puzzle heading into next season, so enjoy as PHT tries to put the pieces together today.