There was plenty of jump and energy from the Rangers during their morning skate Thursday at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, where tonight they will face the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2013-14 season opener. In fact so excited were the Rangers to get going that they were on the ice half an hour before their scheduled 11:30 AM skate--though in reality that had as much to do with the fact that the Coyotes skated at their practice facilty as much as how anxious the Rangers were to get on the ice.
Still, the words "anxious", "excited", and "nervous" permeated the Rangers dressing room seven hours before the puck was to be dropped on the new season, with Mats Zuccarello perhaps summing it all up best.
"It's like you want to skip morning practice and just play the game now," said a smiling Zuccarello. "Everybody is so excited. It's been a long camp, we've been working hard, so this is kind of our reward for the hard work. First one of 82, I think everyone in here is ready to go."
Alain Vigneault has coached 806 regular season games in the NHL, and another 78 in the post-season, and he admitted after the morning skate that there is something different and more special about this particular game tonight.
"I would say I have more nerves now than, obviously, being seven years with the same team," Vigneault said on Thursday. "It's the first game of the regular season, but it's also my first game with the New York Rangers. That for me is as big for me as with the (Canadiens) or my first game with Vancouver after having been six (years) out (of the NHL). So I am very, very excited, and very nervous, too."
The Rangers will dress only two players tonight who have never played a regular season game for the organization before. Veteran forward Benoit Pouliot, an off-season free agent signee who will play on a line with Zuccarello and Derick Brassard this evening, joins 21 year-old rookie Jesper Fast as the two newcomers. Center Dominic Moore will also be in the lineup, rejoining the team after starting his NHL career with the Rangers in 2003-04.
Moore, who will center J.T. Miller and Derek Dorsett on the fourth line, drew high praise from his new coach following the skate n Thursday.
"I was extremely pleased by what I saw in training camp," Vigneault said of Moore. "For a guy not having played a full year, with what he has been through, he stepped in and his timing was very, very good and as he played the better he got. I still don't think his game is where it can be, but where it is now after not having played a year is very impressive."
The other two lines to be deployed by the Rangers tonight will see Derek Stepan between Rick Nash and Brad Richards, and Brian Boyle centering for Fast and Taylor Pyatt.
Henrik Lundqvist will make his eighth straight season-opening start in goal for the Rangers. He is 4-2-1 with a 2.42 goals against average and .918 save percentage in his previous seven season openers. Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi, Marc Staal-Michael Del Zotto, and John Moore-Anton Stralman will play on defense in front of Lundqvist this evening.
"You're excited for the start of training camp, you're excited for the pre-season games, and it keeps growing until tonight, the start of the regular season," explained Boyle. "It's a different level of excitement to start the season. It's a great opportunity for everyone here."