Ready, ladies and gents?
The Blueshirts open their six-game, all-road pre-season campaign tonight and head coach Alain Vigneault, who was on ice at the MSG Training Center this morning with the players who will dress tonight, didn’t feel any particular emotion in his new gig this morning.
“Right now my thoughts are really on evaluating our players, trying to find roles for guys where they’re going to have success,” Vigneault said. “Probably tonight when I go down behind the bench for the first time, I’ll feel it, but right now I’ve got so many things going on in my little French brain here that I haven’t had time to sort it all out. I’ve got a lot of things that I’m thinking about right now.”
An emphasis this morning was directing the power play, with a first unit of Chris Kreider, Brad Richards and Rick Nash up front, with Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto on the points. Dom Moore, Darroll Powe, Justin Falk and Aaron Johnson handled the PK.
On the PP, Staal finished a cross-ice, backdoor pass after cutting to the net, signaling Vigneault’s intent to have the d-men join the offense whenever possible. Staal hopes to play in four of the six games, and that’s fine with the former Canucks bench boss.
“I’ve been told by our medical staff, and from him, that he hasn’t felt this good in a long time, so I’m going by that. I think in Marc’s case, he hasn’t played a lot of hockey in the last couple years. He did ask me to play. Usually, when you play six games, your veteran guys will play three. He wants to play more, he wants to get out on the ice, get himself in game shape and game condition. So I’m going to give him an opportunity to play more than the standard games.”
In the mix are three back-to-back exhibition games, including tomorrow in Philadelphia, and a four-game in five-night trip out West next week. Vigneault wants to assess the 40-plus players who are currently available to dress (Derek Stepan is not here, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan continue to rehab from shoulder surgeries, and J.T. Miller is sidelined with a sore hamstring), so only a few veterans will likely play more than three of those games. Richards, for example, hasn’t talked to Vigneault about how many of the games he would play.
Henrik Lundqvist, who is expected to play half of tonight’s game, said that his timing and seeing different defense pairings in front of him were the key elements tonight in New Jersey. Because he has been here practicing for three weeks, Lundqvist said he thought technique was not an issue.
Stu Bickel, who spent most of last season in the AHL, playing just 16 games and not many minutes for the Rangers last season, will dress against the Devils. A sore back scratched him from Sunday’s scrimmage. Bickel, more of an enforcer than an all-situations defenseman , may have to drop the gloves, but Arron Asham and Brandon Mashinter are also in the lineup.
Asked if enforcers needed to have more than one dimension, Vigneault said: “You’ve got to be able to play. You’ve got to be able to skate and get in on the forecheck. Because you’re a physical presence out there, sometimes you have to stand up for yourself, but you have to be able to play. I don’t think a lot of teams have that. Some teams do, but a lot of teams don’t.”
Among the other prospects to keep an eye on tonight: Marek Hrivik, Danny Kristo, Ryan Bourque, Shawn O’ Donnell.
The Lines: Chris Kreider-Brad Richards-Rick Nash, Hrivik-Brian Boyle-Kristo, Bourque-Darroll Powe-Arron Asham, Mashinter-Dominic Moore- O’Donnell.
Defensive pairs: Staal-Del Zotto, John Moore- Bickel, Justin Falk-Aaron Johnson.
Goalies: Lundqvist and Cam Talbot
Please swing by later, when I’ll be in touch from the press box at the Prudential Center with game and post-game coverage here and @stevezipay on Twitter.