When the Rangers last visited Vancouver in late September Alain Vigneault was in the midst of his first training camp and pre-season as head coach of the Rangers, and had been on the job in New York for roughly three months after spending seven years behind the bench of the Vancouver Canucks. Though he had nearly 900 games of NHL coaching experience under his belt at that time, Vigneault was still feeling his way with his new team.
On Monday afternoon when he met with reporters at Rogers Arena following practice, Vigneault was much more so the head coach of the New York Rangers as opposed to the former coach of the Vancouver Canucks, as perhaps it seemed to many back in September; and Vigneault certainly did nothing to dispel that notion during his press conference.
"This is night and day from when we came in during training camp," shared Vigneault Monday. "It was a very emotional time for me, it was my first time back (in September). Now it's all about winning games. We're in a real tough conference. We're in a tough fight to get into the playoffs, and we need every point we can get so my focus right now is to get our team ready to play against Vancouver tomorrow."
The Rangers were hammered by John Tortorella's Canucks in that pre-season contest on September 26th, but as the regular season winds down it's the Rangers who are in the middle of the playoff mix while the Canucks are on the outside looking in. As of Monday the Rangers have 88 points, good for second place in the Metropolitan Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Canucks have 79 points and reside in tenth place out west, five points out of the final wild card playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Despite being asked several questions about his former team and its play this season, Vigneault refused to take the bait, stating repeatedly "it's unfair for me to comment on them." Instead he chose to praise his current team.
"The one thing about our team is that it's a hard-working group," stated Vigneault, whose Rangers have won six of their last seven games. "They come to practice and they work, they focus, and they bust their butt. Since the first time I've been on the ice with them they've had this drive to learn and to improve and to get better, and that hasn't changed."
The Rangers coach shared several laughs with the assembled press from both Vancouver and New York, at one point joking that "we're fortunate right now to have the top scorer in the NHL the past four years (Martin St. Louis) on our team right now, and he doesn't have a goal and has three assists...I've turned him into a defensive specialist."
When asked if he has adjusted to the New York market, Vigneault quipped, "I'm real used to New York right now, I'm honking the horn, I've got it all down to a science now."
Turning serious Vigneault gave a very thoughtful answer when asked to compare the New York and Vancouver hockey markets.
"New York has a great fan base and the Rangers are without a doubt the most popular hockey team there," explained the Rangers bench boss. "New York is a big market, there's a whole bunch of other things there--football, baseball, basketball, college basketball, etc. When it's hockey night it's big, but on other nights there are other sports. Whereas here in Canada...every night it's hockey, and that's almost 12 months out of the year."
Tuesday's contest will be the second overall meeting this season between the Rangers and Canucks, with the Blueshirts skating to a 5-2 victory at Madison Square Garden on November 30th.