It’s been nearly six months since the Rangers played a game that counted, and their longest offseason in half a decade comes to a close Thursday when they face their rival Islanders at the Garden, when they can officially begin anew.
For while several veterans from deep playoff runs remain, this is a team retooled on the fly without the same lofty, perhaps overwhelming, expectations they’ve had in recent years. The Rangers are turning the page.
“Something I think our group really needs to focus on is this is a new year,” Derek Stepan said Wednesday. “We’re not gonna go back to seasons past. We’ve done everything in seasons past: We’ve had great starts; we’ve had terrible starts; we’ve made it deep in the playoffs; we’ve ended short in the playoffs.
This is a new year. We’re gonna try to avoid talking about years past, but if you’re really talking about the feeling in this room, I think the biggest thing we’ve all been saying for weeks is we just want to get this season started.”
The Rangers open at home for the first time since 2007, facing the Isles in a season-opener for the second time; they tied 2-2 in 1997. The Isles won all four meetings last season.
“We all know that last year they had our number,” Alain Vigneault said. “This is a new season and I think everyone’s anxious to get going here.”
The Rangers to face Isles in last preseason game.
(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Veteran players such as Stepan — still only 26 but entering his seventh NHL season — are used to the pomp and circumstance of new beginnings. Then there’s someone like Harvard product Jimmy Vesey, 23, one of the faces of the Rangers’ youth movement who signed as a free agent on Aug. 19, and after getting his NHL baptism during the preseason will make his official debut Thursday.
“For too long,” Vesey said of the wait for his first NHL game, in which he’ll play on a line with Stepan and top returning scorer Mats Zuccarello.
Defenseman Kevin Klein won’t play Thursday after an MRI revealed a back strain; he’s day-to-day. The defensive pairs from Wednesday’s practice are Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi, Marc Staal-Nick Holden and Brady Skjei-Adam Clendening. Dylan McIlrath, who told The News on Monday he wouldn’t be starting, worked as an extra.
J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash make up one line, while the already-in-sync combination of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and rookie Pavel Buchnevich worked on a power-play unit with McDonagh and center Brandon Pirri on the points, an indication Pirri could start on the fourth line. The other three forwards are Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner and Josh Jooris. And of course, Henrik Lundqvist will man the nets.
Those are the new Rangers, a team now outside the Stanley Cup conversation wanting to prove they’re still a force. “We expect a lot out of ourselves no matter what people are saying about us,” McDonagh said. “We want to be up there at the end of the year making a name for ourselves.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News