GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Those who know Rangers coach Alain Vigneault describe him as prepared, intense, savvy. Moonstruck? Nah.
Yet in his state-of-the-team remarks on the eve of training camp Thursday, Vigneault referenced the movie "Apollo 13" in discussing the Rangers, who missed glorious opportunities to win the Stanley Cup in the past two seasons.
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"There were two phrases [in the film] that caught my attention," said Vigneault, who has watched it several times. "One of them is 'Failure is not an option,' when they have to find a way to bring the astronauts back. That's sort of us going into last year and sort of us going into this year. We believe that we have a team that has the elements to win the Stanley Cup. And we firmly believe that. So failure is not an option."
Vigneault, who is beginning his third season behind the bench, said before leaving New York in June, "Everybody was asking questions like, 'Is this season considered a failure because you didn't win?' At the end of the movie, Tom Hanks says their mission was considered a 'successful failure' because the ship was banged up and they didn't land on the moon but they were able to come back, lives were saved . . . "
Credit goes to the players, he said, because "from a coaching standpoint, what you're trying to do is to get the most that you can out of your personnel. When you have three of our top defensemen [Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi] play most of the playoffs on one foot, another defenseman [Keith Yandle] playing with a first-degree [shoulder] separation, and other things, they're putting it on the line for us, they want to win. So I believe that with the motivation that this group has, the work ethic and competitive nature, we're here to win a Cup."
The long journey begins this weekend, when 62 players begin practicing for a six-game preseason schedule and a regular-season slate that Vigneault considers challenging, with 17 back-to-back games and many stretches of three games in four nights.
Last year, the Rangers came out of the gate 6-6-2, and Vigneault said that an emphasis will be that "Hank [Henrik Lundqvist] and the team need to have a better start."
But decisions abound before the opener in Chicago on Oct. 7, Vigneault said. Where does second-year pro Kevin Hayes best fit, at third-line center or top-six wing? Will free-agent veterans Jarret Stoll and Viktor Stalberg find roles in the bottom six? Who will emerge as the seventh defenseman and backup goalie?
"There are spots available, ice times available, roles available and we're hoping some guys are going to come in and find ways to contribute more than they have in the past," Vigneault said.
Notes & quotes: Mats Zuccarello (skull fracture) is expected to be ready for opening day but is being held out of on-ice testing Friday with a minor foot injury, as are McDonagh, Girardi and Staal, who will be tested next week . . . Former Islanders forward Kirill Kabanov has been invited to camp.