GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The NHL regular season begins Tuesday night for the Rangers, and it’s not a moment too soon. The Blueshirts will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that eliminated them in the Eastern Conference Final last season, and everyone in Rangerland is happy about that.
“I’m extremely excited to get the season going,’’ newcomer Vincent Trocheck said after Monday’s practice. “After coming here early and going through camp and all this and preseason, and it just kind of feels like an ongoing waiting game until the first game of the season.’’
“We’re so excited,’’ goaltender Igor Shesterkin said. “We waited a long time, so everybody in New York missed hockey. And finally, it will be the first game.’’
Shesterkin, the Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s best goalie last season, played the whole game in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Islanders in the preseason finale after missing last Wednesday’s game against Boston with an upset stomach.
Final roster set
The Rangers set their opening-night roster Monday, assigning forward Julien Gauthier to AHL Hartford and releasing defenseman Matt Bartkowski from his professional tryout. Defenseman Jarred Tinordi would have been assigned to Hartford, but he was claimed off waivers by Chicago.
The moves leave the Rangers with the maximum 23 players on the roster — 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. Most had expected them to carry 22 to increase salary-cap flexibility and try to bank space under the cap to allow for trades.
But an upper-body injury suffered by forward Sammy Blais on Saturday night in the final preseason game against the Islanders likely prompted the Rangers to keep two extra forwards instead of one.
Lindgren back, Blais doubtful
D Ryan Lindgren returned to practice after missing Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury. Blais did not practice and the Rangers said he is doubtful to play Tuesday, but coach Gerard Gallant doesn’t seem to think Blais will be out long term.
“He’s doubtful for [Tuesday] but day-to-day after that, so it’s not that serious,’’ he said.
Kakko to start on top line
Judging by the lines at Monday’s practice, Kaapo Kakko will start at right wing on the top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad and Vitali Kravtsov, who did not play Saturday, will be on the second line with Trocheck and Artemi Panarin. Barclay Goodrow will start on the right of Alexis Lafrenière and Filip Chytil. Jimmy Vesey, who got a contract after coming to camp on a tryout, worked on the fourth line.
The Rangers announced that Kreider, Zibanejad, Panarin and Goodrow will continue in their roles as alternate captains.
“There’s a lot of guys knocking on the door for those roles,’’ Gallant said. “I just think last year we had a great group, and why would I change it and take [the position] away from those guys? They’re good people. And they did a good job.’’