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Youthful Rangers focused on getting better after changes

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Chris Kreider and the New York Rangers have put last season’s struggles behind and are just focusing on trying to get better.

”Show up and compete every single day,” Kreider said Friday as players skated in groups for on-ice testing. ”We want to win games. It’s not a developmental league. Right now everyone is 0-0-0 across the board. It’s a clean slate for players, clean slate for teams.”

The Rangers are in a rebuilding mode after dealing several stars in a youth movement at the trade deadline last winter and then finishing 20 points out of a playoff spot while missing the postseason for the first time in eight years.

There’s also a new coaching staff with David Quinn making the jump from Boston University to the NHL as the head coach to lead a younger team with some veterans.

”You lose teammates every year, there’s always turnover,” Kreider said. ”At the same time I think there’s a good buzz around the group right now. I think everyone’s excited about the group that we have, about the coaching staff, about the players.”

Mika Zibanejad returned from his home in Sweden feeling energized after helping his country win the world championships in May. He credited that experience for fueling his summer workouts.

[Three questions facing the Rangers]

”Got to finish off the season in a better way, personally,” Zibanejad said. ”Got that win and I felt more motivated in the training. Now, I’m just coming back here and get excited again.”

Both Kreider and Zibanejad had positive things to say about their new coach. Kreider, who played at Boston College, said he nearly went to Boston University, and ”a big part of that was Coach Quinn.” Zibanejad was appreciative that Quinn traveled to Sweden during the summer to meet with him, goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Jesper Fast.

When Quinn met with reporters on Thursday, he stressed patience, as well as the importance of practicing hard.

”It’s going to take a little bit of time,” he said. ”Once we get on the ice I’ll have a clearer picture of what everybody is capable of doing, their strengths and weaknesses. … We want to be a fast, physical, relentless hockey team. You can’t play that way unless you practice that way.”

That will begin Saturday when the team breaks into three groups for daily practices.

Some other things to know as the Rangers open training camp:

BETWEEN THE PIPES: The 36-year-old Lundqvist is back for his 14th season after going 26-26-7 with a 2.98 goals-against average – the highest of his career. It was also just the second time he finished with fewer than 30 wins; the other was the lockout-shortened 2012-13, when he was 24-16-3.

”I think he’s in a great mindset,” Quinn said. ”He wants to be part of the next wave and win a Stanley Cup here. He’s in incredible shape, he’s an incredible competitor and he’s one of the best in the business.”

Alexandar Georgiev went 4-4-1 with a 3.15 GAA in 10 games down the stretch, and Marek Mazanec was signed after compiling a 8-13-4 mark with a 2.98 GAA in 31 career games for the Nashville Predators.

HEALTHY AGAIN: Zibanejad and Kreider are among several players who are healthy now after dealing with injuries last season. Zibanejad, who missed nearly two months witha broken left leg in the 2016-17 season, was out for about 10 games with a concussion last November. He had 11 goals and 11 assists in 22 games before the injury, and finished the season with 20 goals and 27 assists.

Kreider missed two months after having a rib removed to help alleviate a blot clot in his right arm. He said he recently received ”a clean bill of health” after meeting with his pulmonologist to make sure he wasn’t predisposed to blood clots.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is also healed after a knee injury in January ended his season.

LOGJAM ON DEFENSE?: Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and veteran Marc Staal are assured of their spots on defense. After that it could be an open competition.

Adam McQuaid, a nine-year veteran, was acquired from Boston earlier in the week. The 6-foot-4, 212-pound 31-year-old is similar in size to Rob O'Gara, who also came over from the Bruins last February. Fredrik Claesson was signed this summer, Tony DeAngelo is getting another look, and Neal Pionk had a goal and 13 assists in 28 games after making his NHL debut last season. Youngsters Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, and Joey Keane are also among others in camp.

CENTER DEPTH: Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes figure to be the top two centers again. Lias Anderson, 19, and Filip Chytil, who turns 20 next month, could key the youth movement. Both appeared in fewer than 10 games last season after being taken in the first round of the 2017 NHL draft.

Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov – both acquired in trade-deadline deals – are also centers on the roster, along with Boo Nieves. Peter Holland, Steven Fogarty and Gabriel Fontaine will also get looks.

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

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

The Buzzer: Gibson’s shutout ends losing skid; Campbell finally gets support

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Three stars

1. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Gibson was simply sensational, stopping all 37 shots he faced, including 10 on the power play, as the Ducks finally stopped their losing streak at 12 games in a 3-0 win against the Minnesota Wild.

Gibson’s in a race for the Vezina, and he’s been fantastic this season — one of few, if any, constants with the Ducks. The run support he’s received throughout the season, or lack thereof, just highlights further how important Gibson has been. Anaheim has just 116 goals for this season, ranking 30th out of 31 teams.

There are other cases to be made, but Gibson might just have the strongest one.

2. Jack Campbell, Los Angeles Kings

It’s a shame injury got in the way of Jack Campbell playing more. He’s been one of best backups in the NHL, despite missing nearly two months due to a meniscus tear.

His record might not reflect it, but never mind that: just check out his save percentage.

Consider this: In his past three starts coming into Thursday, Campbell has come out winless despite save percentages of .929, .979 and .972.

Campbell got the goals he needed at the other end of the ice and stopped 29 shots in a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars.

3. Sami Niku, Winnipeg Jets 

Niku has gone from seventh-round pick to the AHL’s Defenseman of the Year and into the limelight on Winnipeg’s blue line in pretty short order.

Niku played his best game as a pro on Thursday as the Jets came into Nashville and embarrassed the Predators 5-1. Niku was a big part of that, doing it all on Winnipeg’s eventual game-winner with an assist and then grabbing his second assist of the night when his point shot was deflected past Pekka Rinne.

Injuries to Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Chiarot have put Niku into the lineup and he’s thrived in the opportunity, so much so that he’s made a case to stick in the lineup even when the blue line returns to health.

Highlights of the night

Steeeeretch:

Body bag, indeed. What a hit:

Saad smacks this one in out of mid-air:

Vasilevskiy just being himself:

Factoids

Given their long and storied history, this is impressive:

Scores

Rangers 4, Blackhawks 3
Islanders 4, Devils 1
Bruins 5, Blues 2
Maple Leafs 4, Lightning 2
Jets 5, Predators 1
Ducks 3, Wild 0
Kings 2, Stars 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The bleeding ends: Ducks finally halt record losing streak

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The agony is over.

The Anaheim Ducks have won for the first time in 2019 (and the first time since a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 17), snapping a 12-game losing skid that earned the title of a franchise record.

Yes, the bleeding has ended, due in large part to John Gibson, who has been the one constant during the winless stretch. Gibson stopped 37 shots, including 10 on the power play for the shutout in a 3-0 win against the Minnesota Wild.

The Ducks got goals from Adam Henrique, Brian Gibbons and Rickard Rakell.

Devin Shore, who the Ducks picked up earlier this week in a trade that sparked the first of four in the span of 72 hours, added an assist. Derek Grant, who the Ducks traded for in a flurry of deals late Wednesday, played 16:21.

While Bob Murray’s moves didn’t dent the scoresheet too much, they certainly sent a message to the locker room. To be fair to the Ducks, they had been playing better as of late, only to have a couple games slip through the cracks, including a 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets and a 7-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that should have been an Anaheim win if not for an epic implosion.

But that’s all history now with the losing streak coming to an end.

The Ducks won six of their first seven games in December and still sit in a three-way tie for the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference. With Gibson’s Vezina-caliber season so far, and the fact that a lot of teams in the West seem disinterested in distancing themselves from one another, the Ducks have as good a chance as any to sneak in the backdoor.

Breaking that losing streak was the start. What happens over the next few weeks is the next test.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Rangers hold on, win second straight after Quinn’s call-out

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The New York Rangers are 2-0-0 now after head coach David Quinn put his team on blast this past Sunday.

Sometimes the truth hurts, and Quinn destroyed his team in his post-game comments after losing 7-5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The response? A 6-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and a 4-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on NBCSN on Thursday.

You’ve got to pick your spot sometimes, and the rookie NHL bench boss seemed to find the right time to light the spark.

The Rangers probably aren’t going to be challenging for a playoff spot this season, but setting a tone going forward is exactly what Quinn needs to do with his group of youngsters. And despite getting down early in Thursday’s game, it’s likely Quinn enjoyed his team’s response and then its resiliency.

The Blackhawks took the early lead in this one, with Brandon Saad making a sweet play off a rebound for a 1-0 Blackhawks lead.

That lead would be relinquished later in the period when Filip Chytil notched his eighth, and before the period was out, Mats Zuccarello gave the Rangers the 2-1 lead.

After Chris Kreider scored his 22nd of the season to put the Rangers ahead 3-1 with the only goal in the second, Alex DeBrincat continued his stellar season to bring the Blackhawks back within one with his 24th just 1:40 into the third.

Mika Zibanejad ended up scoring the eventual game-winner with 38 seconds left in the game. His goal went into the empty net, to put the Rangers up 4-2. But with 1.5 seconds left, Dominik Kahun pulled the Blackhawks to within one, albeit with not enough time to do anything else.

Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves for the Rangers, picking up 445th NHL win to tie him for sixth place on the all-time list with Terry Sawchuk.

The Rangers are now 3-6-0 in their past nine games.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have lost five straight.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks visit Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Last season was the first since 2003-04 in which both the Blackhawks and Rangers failed to make the postseason. The Blackhawks had made nine straight postseason appearances prior to last season, while the Rangers had made the postseason in 11 of the previous 12 seasons prior to last year. However, both teams continue to struggle this season.

The Blackhawks have lost six of their seven games in the new year (1-3-3), including four straight losses (0-2-2). Since Jeremy Colliton took charge on November 6, Chicago has lost 23 of their 33 games under their new head coach (10-17-6) after going 6-6-3 in 15 games under former head coach Joel Quenneville. The Hawks are coming off a disappointing 8-5 loss at New Jersey on Monday, which included an eight-goal second period in which Chicago was outscored 5-3.

Chicago has won four of their last six on the road (4-1-1) after winning just four of their first 18 away games this season (4-12-2). Recent notable road wins have come at Colorado (Dec 29) and at Pittsburgh (Jan 6). The Blackhawks will look to continue this good away run, with four of their next six games coming on the road.

After losing six of seven games, the Rangers were called out by head coach David Quinn, who called the team’s performance in a 7-5 loss against Columbus “a freaking joke,” saying the team “failed miserably.” They responded with a 6-2 win vs Carolina on Tuesday, led by a four-point night from Mika Zibanejad (2G-2A). It was the Rangers’ most goals scored this season and their biggest win since November 21.

Mats Zuccarello has seven points in his last five games (3G-4A), after having just six points in his previous 19 games. The forward is currently on a three-game point streak (3G-3A), and is coming off a three-assist performance against Carolina, which included this no-look through-the-legs pass for Zibanejad’s second goal. Zuccarello has been the Rangers’ top scorer each of the past three seasons, but has been rumored with a trade away from New York as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Thursday, Jan. 17, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAlex DeBrincat
Drake CaggiulaDylan StromePatrick Kane
Chris KunitzArtem AnisimovBrendan Perlini
David KampfMarcus KrugerDominik Kahun

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Henri Jokiharju – Brent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Collin Delia

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Mats Zuccarello
Filip ChytilRyan StromeJesper Fast
Jimmy VeseyBoo NievesVladislav Namestnikov
Cody McLeodBrett HowdenPavel Buchnevich

Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid
Ryan Lindgren – Kevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

John Walton (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher will have the call from Madison Square Garden.