Pionk to sit, Vinni Lettieri recalled

When the Rangers host the Bruins at 8 PM tonight, there’ll be two changes. Defenseman Neal Pionk will have a seat in the press box. He’s struggled a great deal and looked out of sorts in the previous two games. With coach David Quinn hinting at the 23-year old defenseman not being as confident or decisive with the puck, it makes sense to sit him out.

Given how well Tony DeAngelo has played when he’s paired up with Marc Staal, along with Brendan Smith’s uptick, Pionk will be a healthy scratch for the NBC game. He hasn’t been good for over a month and can use a blow. Maybe watching the game from upstairs can help. Quinn isn’t writing him off. The second-year player certainly has been given a lot of responsibility, mostly playing on the top pair while learning on the job. He still leads all Rangers defensemen in points with 20 (5-15-20) with a majority coming on the power play.

We’ll see what happens with Pionk. The Rangers will face Carolina on Friday when they commemorate the 25-Year Stanley Cup Anniversary before the game. It’ll be a emotional time for the older generation who were fortunate enough to see the ’93-94 team win the franchise’s last Cup. I was a senior in high school. Yes, I did go to the parade. I’ll detail more of that memorable day tomorrow.

One other change for tonight is the return of Vinni Lettieri. With Cody McLeod shipped back to the Predators for a seventh round pick, the Rangers had to recall a forward to play on the fourth line. Lettieri has played well down with Hartford. So, he gets another chance despite never having much success with the big club. He’s a hard working guy. But unless he can produce the occasional goal, I feel like it’s an exercise in futility.

I’d much rather see Lias Andersson even though his plus/minus has suffered with Hartford. I haven’t a clue what the heck the plan is with the Rangers 2017 seventh overall pick. I don’t trust them. Some have even gone as far as to claim the Derek Stepan/Antti Raanta trade is the worst of the Jeff Gorton era. I’m not ready to conclude that in a season where Raanta is out for likely the season with Stepan finding points hard to come by. DeAngelo is finally developing into a good defenseman. If he can stay on the ice, there’s hope.

You know how impatient our fans are. It’s pathetic. That said, I don’t think the organization has handled Andersson right. But it’s worth noting he’s only 20.

Facing a good Bruins club locked in a tight playoff battle with the Leafs and Canadiens in the Atlantic Division, it’ll be a battle of backups. Jaro Halak gets the start for Boston while the Blueshirts counter with Alexandar Georgiev.

One other note. Congrats to Patrice Bergeron on playing in his 1,000th NHL game last night. Not surprisingly, he scored twice in the Bruins 3-1 home win over the Islanders. The best player from the famed ’03 NHL Draft wasn’t taken in the first round. Hard to imagine.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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