Winning is important, but the overriding goal for new head coach Alain Vigneault heading into Monday night’s preseason game against the Devils was to study the collection of athletes at his disposal.
“Right now my thoughts are evaluating our players,” Vigneault told reporters at the Rangers’ Greenburgh, N.Y., practice facility Monday morning.
The Rangers held two practice sessions yesterday — one at 10:30 a.m. and the other at 11:30 a.m. — before the preseason opener at the Rock.
Vigneault’s plan heading into the exhibition game was to “find roles for guys where we’re going to have success, putting guys in places where they can be successful.
“You always play to win. There’s not a player, a coach, [an] assistant coach, a staff member — we all have a competitive nature where we want to win. We’ll play to win but it’s also about putting guys on the ice [in] any moments and see how they react. Can they make the right play at the right time in the right areas? You’ve got to give them that opportunity and that’s what we’re going to do tonight.”
As part of the experimentation, a top line of Chris Kreider, Brad Richards and Rick Nash was created for the game. While the organization has embraced a “clean-slate” mantra, the forward trio should be on the opening night roster.
All three have something to prove this season.
Following a season in which he was routinely shuttled between the NHL and AHL, Kreider appeared to jell with Nash and Derick Brassard as a line during the final two games of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Bruins. He finished the regular season with three points (two goals and an assist) in 23 games, and had two points in eight playoff games.
After being acquired in a blockbuster deal with Columbus last summer, Nash recorded 42 points (21 goals and 21 assists) in 44 games, but only had five points (one goal and four assists) in 12 playoff games. Nash assessed his playoff performance as “good” on breakup day.
Despite their ups and downs, it can be argued that Kreider and Nash were more successful than Richards. The center arrived to camp out of shape, and was benched at one point during a regular season in which he had 34 points in 46 games. He was scratched in Games 4 and 5 against Boston to end a playoffs where he had one goal and no assists in 10 games.
“We want them to play well,” Vigneault said. “I want them, if they get an opportunity, to go out on the power play [and] get a little bit of chemistry going. We worked on [the power play] today for the first time with coaches. We worked on it [Sunday] but there [was] no direction. Today there was a little more direction. I’m anxious to see us get better and evolve — five-on-five and our specialty teams also.”
Tickets going on sale
Rangers single game tickets go on sale, Thursday, Sept. 26 at noon. There is a limit of four tickets per game per person. Tickets can be purchased through the Rangers website and Ticketmaster.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.