SAN JOSE – There are no big secrets, no codes to crack for J.T. Miller to get his game back on track.
“Just take care of the puck. It’s not rocket science,” he said.
Unfortunately for Miller and the Rangers, he did nothing of the sort in their loss to Anaheim on Tuesday, with one ghastly defensive-zone turnover leading to a Ranger penalty after which the Ducks scored a power-play goal, and another horrible pass intercepted for a breakaway, shorthanded goal.
Miller played just 4:55, glued to the bench for the last two periods as Alain Vigneault said Tuesday night he had “seen enough.”
The 24-year-old forward, normally a winger who’s played a lot of center this year because of depth and injury issues, said there’s no point in feeling bad for himself and he was concentrating on elevating his game Thursday night against the Sharks, for which backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec was set to start.
“At the end of the day, you can X-and-O it as much as you want, but I think I evaluate myself pretty fairly and I know that’s not good enough,” said Miller, normally one of the team’s best playmakers. “I’m not surprised by what happened. I’m ready to play tonight, I’m ready to move on and don’t want to think about the other night too much.”
Vigneault said Miller handled his benching professionally and arrived at the rink Thursday morning focused.
J.T. Miller is ready to move past his benching and get his season back on track.
(Michael Owen Baker/AP)
“J.T. does a lot of good things on the ice, but sometimes he puts himself in a little bit of trouble with decisions with the puck,” Vigneault said. “Just needs to take the high-percentage road and he’ll be in good shape.”
It was unclear before the game if Miller would remain at center. Kevin Hayes, who missed the previous six games with a leg contusion, was a game-time decision but said he felt ready to return. Hayes said Thursday morning he felt the best he had since he first suffered the injury in Las Vegas on Jan. 7. He played the Rangers’ first game back from their bye week on Jan. 13 against the Islanders but has been out since.
The Rangers have certainly missed Hayes, who this year has become the team’s top matchup center defensively, but everyone involved has been exercising caution.
“Obviously we’re in a little rut right now. But as an athlete, I think guys understand this, you don’t want to put yourself at risk at any time going out to play,” Hayes said. “When you feel like you’re ready to play, that’s when you get back to play.”
The Rangers claimed fourth-line forward Cody McLeod off waivers from the Predators to add depth as they’ve been stung by injuries. McLeod, who in 713 NHL games has 1,524 penalty minutes and has averaged 10:16 of ice time per game, will be with the team for its first practice after the All-Star break. Daniel Catenacci was sent back to AHL Hartford in a corresponding move.