Rangers’ defense makeover revolves around Shattenkirk – McDonagh, youth

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NEW YORK (AP) After a second-round playoff exit last spring, the New York Rangers knew they needed to make some changes.

A core group that reached three conference finals in four years, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, had fallen short of advancing beyond two rounds in consecutive postseasons – losing to eventual champion Pittsburgh in the first round 2016 and then to Ottawa last season.

Some veterans were jettisoned and the defense was shored up with the signing of top free agent Kevin Shattenkirk and the influx of some younger players.

The offensive-minded Shattenkirk, signed to a four-year, $26.6 million deal, has had at least 30 assists and 40 points in six of his first seven seasons – with the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign the exception – and should help a power play that ranked 10th in the NHL last season at 20.2 percent.

“That puck-moving ability, 5-on-5 is definitely something we expect from him,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “He has been one of the best power play guys in the league for quite some time.”

Veteran Dan Girardi, 33, was bought out and 32-year-old Kevin Klein retired. Tony DeAngelo, 21, was acquired as part of the trade that sent Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona. Brendon Smith, acquired at the trade deadline, was re-signed, and Vigneault said he expected Brady Skjei to build on his stellar rookie season in which he had five goals and 34 assists.

After playing in various pairings in the preseason, Shattenkirk is expected to join captain Ryan McDonagh as the team’s top defensive duo. The newcomer doesn’t believe it’ll take long for everyone to get on the same page.

“I think the only way we’re going to get better is by playing with each other,” he said, “and that’s how you start figuring out your chemistry with the guys.”

Some other things to know as the Rangers head into the new season:

YOUTH AT CENTER

Stepan’s departure means Mika Zibanejad is moving up to center the top line, with Kevin Hayes likely on the second. Rookies Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil – have impressed in the preseason, and free-agent addition David Desharnais could also be in the mix. Vigneault has liked what he’s seen from the two selected in the first round in this year’s draft – Andersson at No. 7 and Chytil at No. 21 – saying “they’ve played well” and that the team will “tough decisions” as they pare down to their opening-day roster.

Asked if he had any hesitation about the possibility having the youngsters – Chytil is 18 years old and Andersson will turn 19 next month – centering two lines, the coach said: “Talent has no age. These guys have talent.”.

J.T. Miller got a look at center in training camp and preseason games but the emergence of the rookies allows the 24-year-old to return to the wing.

BETWEEN THE PIPES

Vigneault doesn’t have a specific number of games in mind for the 35-year-old Henrik Lundqvist, who is coming off a 31-20-4 season in which he had career worsts with a 2.74 goals-against average and a .910 save-percentage. Ondrej Pavelec has replaced Raanta as the backup but has struggled the last few seasons. He had a 3.55 GAA last season with a .888 save-percentage in eight NHL games. Vigneault believes Pavelec could be ready to turn things around.

“He has had a couple of off years,” the coach said. “(We) got to have a highly-motivated guy that wants to listen to the goalie coach, help a team win so he can prove that he can play in the NHL. I think we got him at the right time.”

LEADERSHIP

With Stepan and Girardi gone, Mats Zuccarello and Miller will be among those looked upon to fill the leadership void behind McDonagh.

“It’s the evolution,” Vigneault said. “It’s their turn to assume that leadership role, and I think quite a few of them have been waiting for this opportunity for quite some time.”

Miller said he’s ready for the challenge and take on the added responsibility.

“It’s what they’ve been grooming me for the last handful of years, to hopefully step up in a time like this, leadership-wise and as a player, too,” he said. “I think it’s time. I have more to give and another level and I think I’m ready to take on that.”

SCHEDULING

The NHL’s best road team last season at 27-12-2 will start the season with nine of their first 11 games on home ice. A year ago, they opened with 10 of 14 at Madison Square Garden on the way to a 13-4-0 start.

Freelance writer Scott Charles contributed to this report.

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP hockey: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.