One thing is for certain about the elongated start to the Rangers’ season, there has been ample time to experiment with line combinations.
Ahead of Thursday’s matchup with the Devils in Newark, coach David Quinn shuffled center Brett Howden to the second line between Kaapo Kakko and Chris Kreider. Howden skated on the third line through the first three games of the season.
“I didn’t love what I saw from that [second] line,” Quinn said following practice Tuesday. “I think the line balance might be a little bit better [with Howden]. I thought Howds had a decent night the other night [against the Oilers].”
Moving Howden up means Ryan Strome will drop down to the third line, while Brendan Smith will bump up from the fourth line to the third.
It is yet to be determined how the fourth line will look on Thursday.
Quinn said he feels as if he has watched Howden — acquired last season as part of the five-player trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay — improve each game. The 21-year-old has played with a little more pace and physicality, according to Quinn, which led to his promotion.
Having Howden between Kakko, the second-overall pick this year, and a veteran like Kreider could open a lot of doors for the lefty center.
Quinn said he believes it’ll be a great opportunity if Howden continues “to do the things he’s capable of doing.”
“Obviously if you haven’t played with guys before, it takes you a little bit just to get going with them,” Howden told The Post. “Whether that be a couple shifts, a game — chemistry you can find right away. It’s just getting to know the guy that you’re playing with, knowing where he’s going to be at the time that he’s going to be there. “You’re just really reading off each other and it doesn’t matter who you play with, you’re going to eventually find chemistry together. Obviously guys work better together than others. I think it’s early in the season, so I don’t think [Quinn] has a problem with juggling it up.”
Alexandar Georgiev has proven to be capable of handling increased minutes in goal this season, and with franchise netminder Henrik Lundqvist entering his 15th season, Quinn is challenged with finding the right balance of playing time.
The Rangers have three games in a four-day stretch ahead, and though nothing has been decided, Quinn said the coaching staff will home in on its strategy in the next few days.
Quinn seemed to indicate he plans to use the same defensive pairs as against the Oilers on Saturday — keeping the twosomes of Marc Staal-Tony DeAngelo, Libor Hajek-Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei-Adam Fox together — though the defensemen rotated throughout practice.
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