All 21 healthy Rangers took to the ice for the morning skate at Madison Square Garden on Friday, and there were completely new groupings of the four forward line combinations, with most notably J.T. Miller centering a line with Brad Richards on one wing and Benoit Pouliot on the other side.
Miller, who was just recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack on Thursday, has played primarily on the wing during the games he has appeared in at the NHL level, but he has had much success at both the AHL and international levels playing center. So head coach Alain Vigneault will gave that a look tonight against the Islanders, with Richards providing some veteran guidance to the 20 year-old as his linemate.
"J.T. has been playing real well at both ends of the rink (in Hartford) and they've been using him at center, so we thought it might be a good time to give him a look," explained Vigneault after he morning skate. "I'm hoping that (Richards) and J.T. might have a little bit of chemistry there. I'm hoping that the veteran will rub off on the younger player..and it'll be the start of something real positive."
Miller joked that it'd be good for him if there was a Frequent Driving Miles plan like there is a Frequent Flyers program because of his routine trips back and forth between New York and Hartford this season--"I'd be in real good shape if they had that". He also expressed his happiness about being back with the Rangers after another strong---albeit brief---stint with the Wolf Pack.
"I went down there and tried to work on things the coaches suggested I needed to improve on," explained Miller. "I tried to play hard at both ends of the ice and be a leader. It was nice to get the call to come back here yesterday."
Miller has nine points (7-2-9) in eight games with Hartford this season. He has one goal and one assist in 17 games with the Rangers. Last year Miller scored his first two NHL goals in a February game against the Islanders at The Garden, so he is far from displeased to see the Isles as tonight's opponent.
As for the other forward line combinations, Rick Nash was skating with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin flanked Derick Brassard, and Dominic Moore centered Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett during the morning skate. Veteran winger Taylor Pyatt will be scratched tonight.
"I think (Nash) is real close," Vigneault said of the Rangers star power forward who has one goal in his last six games. "Obviously he wants to produce more than he has, but he's getting some good looks. There's no doubt in my mind that his will is there. It's a matter of just staying with it."
Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal for the Rangers, making his eighth consecutive start. In 44 career games against the Islanders he is 27-11-5 with five shutouts and a 2.07 goals against average and .924 save percentage. He will be opposed by veteran Evgeni Nabokov, who is 7-8-3 with a 2.51 GAA in 18 career appearances against the Rangers.