Neal Pionk
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

New York Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk watched his first hockey game in dress clothes as the young player was a healthy scratch for the first time in his 31 game career Thursday night.

Frank Curto

New York Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk had appeared in every game his team played since he was called up to the team last February. That was until Thursday night where he experienced another first in his NHL career, his first time being a healthy scratch.

Pionk watched as his Ranger teammates took on the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at MSG. The team had been looking for their first win of the season, coming off a disappointing 8-5 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in which head coach David Quinn said of Pionk [he] “wasn’t great” when he described the defenseman game on Sunday.

Pionk understands the situation the team and himself are currently in. Winless on the season, coming off a poor performance in Carolina all the signs were there for a lineup shakeup.

“I’ve simply got to play better,’’ Pionk said at the morning skate Thursday to Colin Stephensen of Newsday. “If I want to be playing the minutes that they’re giving me, we’ve got to win some games. So when the team starts 0-3, something’s got to change, and that’s what they thought was best.’’

The 23-year old has recorded no points in the three games he has appeared in as he averages 19:15 ice time per game. He has been partnered with Marc Staal for most of the games this year, and though he has played what most would say pretty good hockey so far, that may not be good enough for a team that is currently carrying eight defensemen.

“There’s going to be times where a defenseman’s not going to play, and he’s been playing pretty well,’’ Quinn said. “That’s just going to happen. We’re fortunate we think we have eight defensemen that can play. So every now and then, a guy’s going to go in because we want to get him in there, and a guy who hasn’t been playing poorly is going to come out.’’

The guy going in the Quinn referred to was Fredrik Claesson, who had not appeared in a game this season.

Less is More

Pionk knows what he has been doing wrong during his first three games played. Recognizing the mistakes and miscues is all part of the open communication Quinn has with his players.

Players know that accountability is the top priority to the coaching staff and the players are made aware of what the team is looking for throughout practices and games.

“I think when you start 0-2, maybe in the Carolina game I was trying to do a little too much, trying to help the team out, maybe trying to overplay a puck or trying too hard without the puck, overpursuing to try to get the win when maybe sometimes less is more,” Pionk said to Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post.

The defenseman is young and eager to learn, yet he is still playing under the same criteria as an eight or ten-year veteran.

His bank account, as Quinn likes to say, is not large right now. What does that mean? He still hasn’t earned the right to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to playing in a game.

Players like Kevin Shattenkirk ( also a scratch on Thursday) or Chris Kreider may get a little more rope before the coach pulls them out because of their time in the league. Of course, when it comes to effort, the bank account can never be too large.

If a player gets lazy or shows no effort, that player will be out of the lineup. Quinn has been communicating this since his arrival in May. For Pionk, the effort seems to be there on a daily basis. He is still learning how to play in the NHL, on a struggling team. The growing pains will continue throughout the season for Pionk and his Rangers.

He will be ready to step back in, something that will absolutely happen. He may have to wait for another game or two as the team finds out what kind of coach Quinn is. Will he change his lineup following the team’s first win of the year, or will he go with what he feels is the best lineup against the next opponent regardless of results in previous games?

Neal Pionk won’t have to wait long to find out as the Rangers next game is Saturday afternoon against the Edmonton Oilers at the Garden.

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A graduate of St. John's University class of '91. I have been a fan of the New York Rangers since the days of Peter Puck. Founder of Ranger Proud, the Facebook page that covers all news, notes, pre /post-game stats, and player quotes. I can be reached at