GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Opening night is finally here, and the Rangers are raring to go.
“I think we’ve had a really good training camp, we had a good week of practice in between, and guys are excited,’’ Mika Zibanejad said after Wednesday’s practice. “Guys are looking forward to get this whole thing started, and you can feel it. It’s a little – not a little nervous, but you’re happy. You can see it in the guys’ eyes. Guys are excited to get started.’’
They’ll get started Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, when they host the Nashville Predators, who won the Presidents' Trophy last season as the team with the best record (53-18-11, 117 points) in the regular season.
“The honeymoon’s over,’’ David Quinn, the Rangers’ rookie head coach, said. “We’re going to find out where we really are [Thursday] night. We’re playing one of the best teams in the league, a team that’s one of the Stanley Cup favorites, so we’re certainly not dipping our toe in the water.’’
Quinn, who was hired to replace Alain Vigneault and become the Rangers’ 35th head coach, will be making his debut as an NHL head coach after having coached Boston University for the past five seasons. On Wednesday, he didn’t bother trying to hide the fact that he’ll have some butterflies when the puck drops.
“Obviously, I’m human,’’ he said. “I’m going to coach my first NHL hockey game [Thursday] night at Madison Square Garden, coaching the New York Rangers. So, I’m probably as excited as you would think I would be.’’
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who will make his 13th consecutive opening night start, said he, too, is excited to get going after a too-long summer.
“I’ve been skating for a while now – I started in July,’’ he said. “Or, really, in May, you started to prepare, with different types of training. I think camp’s been great, but I think we all feel like we’re ready to play now. We’ll just try and get going, focus on [Thursday] and enjoy the home opener. It’s always special.’’
Generally speaking, expectations are not high for the Rangers, who were 34-39-9 (77 points) and missed the playoffs last season. But Lundqvist, 36, said he agreed with GM Jeff Gorton’s assertion last week that the Rangers can compete for playoff spot.
“You’ve got to believe it,’’ he said. “There’s definitely some really good teams, especially in the Eastern Conference, but there’s also a lot of teams right now trying to figure out where they are, and they’re of course going to try to get in [to the playoffs]. But we’re definitely one of those teams where – we made some changes, but if we can play on the top of our game, and get a lot of different things going for us – you never know.’’
“We don’t know what our ceiling is,’’ defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We have a chance to prove people wrong, which is something that makes teams hungry . . . We also have a chance to grow as a team and become better than what people think. And then, from that point, keep getting better.’’
Notes & quotes: Quinn told the players after practice the team has decided not to name a captain, but has instead chosen five alternate captains. They are: Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider, Marc Staal, Mats Zuccarello and Zibanejad. Zibanejad and Zuccarello will serve as alternates for home games, Kreider and Fast for away games, and Staal for all games, home and away.