After arriving in Banff, AB late Wednesday afternoon, the Rangers resumed training camp by practicing in Banff on Thursday before being given a day off on Friday. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault spent part of his day off meeting with reporters discussing a number of topics including his gameplan for further evaluating his current roster when the team plays four pre-season games in five nights next week.
Vigneault said that while he wants to get a look at different line combinations, so far he has kept the Chris Kreider-Brad Richards-Rick Nash line together in practice, and the Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello threesome intact, as well. That could change next week as he looks to evaluate youngsters like Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, and Jesper Fast in bigger roles.
"Because of the fact we are going to play four games in five nights, all of those (younger) guys will get an opportunity to play, and I've been trying to put them in situations where they're going to be sucessful," explained Vigneault. "Both Fast and Kristo, for example, are supposed to be offensive players, so I'm trying to put them on a line with some skill level and with a little power play time."
Those three first year-pros have all made significant positive impressions, first at the Traverse City Tournament for prospects, then during training camp and the team's lone scrimmage, and also in the one pre-season game they all played in. Though Lindberg is considered a two-way center, he scored five goals in four games at Traverse City and one during last Sunday's scrimmage, and it will be interesting to see where the head coach lines him up when he plays next week.
"In those four games in five nights we are going to get a real good read on where some of these guys are, and if they can chip in and contribute," offered Vigneault. "So far, none of those guys have let us down, they've played real well. We're real excited with that young energy that they bring; but this will be a real solid test."
Vigneault also mentioned that while he has really liked what he has seen from veteran Brian Boyle at center, he also wants to get a look at Boyle playing on the wing next week. As for the defensemen, Vigneault mentioned that he likes the pairings of Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi, Marc Staal-Michael Del Zotto, and John Moore-Anton Stralma as a top six.
Regarding his philosophy as to how to deploy his defensemen, Vigneault stated that he likes having a shutdown defensive pair---which right now he views as McDonagh and Girardi---and another pair he can regularly put on the ice with his top line for more offensive situations as a five-man unit---and at this point that pair would consist of Staal and Del Zotto. Vigneault added that he liked the third pairing of Moore and Stralman, too.
"That's the way we practiced again our last practice, and I like (those pairings)," said the Rangers new head coach. "We're going to continue in that fashion. We have four games in five nights coming up here so we're probably going to experiment, but I want a shutdown pair and a pair that can play with our top line."
Neither Ryan Callahan nor Carl Hagelin has been cleared for contact yet, so they are not expected to play next week following off-season shoulder surgeries. However Vigneault said that both forwards took part in drills on Thursday with their teammates and both are able to work on their respective shots.
"They're coming along nicely," Vigneault said of Callahan and Hagelin.
Henrik Lundqvist is scheduled to start, and go the distance between the pipes, Monday night against the Flames and Thursday against the Canucks. Martin Biron gets the call in goal Tuesday against the Oilers, while Friday's goalie plan has yet to be decided.
The Rangers will practice in Banff Saturday and Sunday before heading to Calgary on Monday for their game that night against the Flames.
What do you think the Rangers lines and defense combos should be on Opening Night? Let us know below.