Rangers' focus is on power play as they prepare for Thursday's season opener in Phoenix
The shadow of an ineffective power play continues to hover as the Rangers prepare to open the regular season.
After finishing 23rd in the NHL last season, everyone knows the units must click regularly for the Rangers to have any sustained success.
To that end, the Rangers again practiced playing with a man-advantage before flying here to face the Coyotes Thursday night in the season opener.
New coach Alain Vigneault is already fatigued by the questions. "I don't need to put an emphasis on the power play. That's all you guys talk about," he said. "Everybody understands what happened last year. We're trying different things, [but] things I'm sure they've done in the past; it's just a matter of executing."
The power-play units will change when captain Ryan Callahan, who might join the lineup in Los Angeles on Monday, returns, but Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and J.T. Miller were in the first group, with Marc Staal and Brad Richards on the points; the other group had Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello up front, with Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi on the points.
Callahan, who Vigneault termed "real close" after offseason shoulder surgery, rotated with Miller. Vigneault prefers two righthanded shots on each unit, rather than be overloaded with lefties.
The Rangers play their first nine games on the road, but Vigneault doesn't foresee a shift in strategy based on the venue. "There's one way to play, not a road way and a home way," he said.
Two forwards will make their Rangers debuts Thursday night. Pouliot was signed as a free agent after scoring eight goals and 12 assists in 34 games with Tampa last year. Jesper Fast, 21, a speedy Swedish right wing, scored 18 goals and 35 points in 47 games in Sweden last year. "What I like about him is his hockey sense," Vigneault said. "He seems to know where to go and what to do when he doesn't have the puck."
Dominic Moore, who last played for the Rangers in 2005-06, will center the fourth line.
Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal, and forwards Arron Asham and defenseman Justin Falk are expected to be healthy scratches.
Lundqvist is in the final year of his contract and is discussing a long-term extension. But to avoid distractions, he isn't going to be personally involved in talks and will not talk about the issue during the season.
"I know the Rangers and my agent [Don Meehan] have been working to get a deal done," Lundqvist said. "Unfortunately we don't have a deal right now. For me now, it's time to just focus on the game. I want to have all my thoughts on playing as well as I can, and winning. That's all my focus is. That's all I care about. If they continue to talk, the Rangers and my agent, so be it."