Turning The Page and Heading to Vegas and Beyond
Despite Alain Vigneault's postgame take that "this one of our better games" following Thursday's 5-0 loss in Vancouver, you get the sense that the coach and his club were more than happy to "turn the page"---as AV stated when discussing his return to the city where he coached the previous seven seasons---and head to Las Vegas for the pre-season finale on Friday, and on to the regular season after that.
It's been a long haul with the twists and turns of spending the bulk of training camp out west, playing four games in five nights, and battling their way through a three-game losing streak heading into the Vegas contest against the Los Angeles Kings. While the spectre of playing on the strip in Las Vegas sounds intriguing---and will be a cool spectacle for sure---the players and coaches are ready to start their final preparations for the regular season, especially with the news Thursday that Derek Stepan will join the team at practice Sunday and Ryan Callahan is inching closer to a return to game action now that his shoulder has been cleared for contact.
"It's been a fun trip," Henrik Lundqvist said Thursday morning. "We had a really good time. We have a lot of new players and new faces, and you get to know them a little better this way. It's been a fun experience, but I'm looking forward to finishing strong (Friday) and start preparing for (the regular season) starting Sunday."
The roster currently stands at 31 now that Stepan officially has agreed to terms, meaning a minimum of eight players will be removed from the roster by this weekend. Vigneault played most of those expected to be on the opening night roster when the Rangers were dropped by the Canucks on Thursday. The lineup leaned heavily on veterans---with J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast representing the two younger players still fighting for a spot on the team--and after the game the head coach did not sound like he envisions an influx of youth to begin the season at the NHL level.
"We have a lot of players that are close, but haven't really shown to me that they can play at this level on a consistent basis," stated Vigneault following the game Thursday. "There's still a couple young guys that will get a chance (Friday), but they're definitely going to have to do better."
Danny Kristo, Dylan McIlrath, and Cam Talbot have already been sent back to the Hartford Wolf Pack, and by the sounds of it several more prospects may be joining them this weekend. Yet there is that one last chance against the Kings, at the MGM Grand in Vegas, to catch the coach's eye, and maybe snatch a berth on this club.
Who will get that chance on Friday? One would suspect that Miller, Chris Kreider, and Marek Hrivik---he of the strong play along the walls, and two points in three pre-season games--- could get that final opportunity.
The only known about the Rangers lineup Friday is that Lundqvist will be back between the pipes, looking to finish the pre-season on a better note after surrendering five goals on 17 shots over two periods of play against the Canucks.
"I had planned to play Marty (Biron) (on Friday), but since Hank did not get a full game there's a good possibility he'll get thrown back in there tomorrow," Vigneault said with a knowing look Thursday.
And that's just fine with the Rangers No. 1 goaltender.
"I think I'll get another chance to get some minutes out there, and it's going to be good," said Lundqvist, who has lost all three of his pre-season starts for the 1-4-0 Blueshirts. "I want to get a good feeling heading into the regular season. The most important thing is getting the details of your game right."
Turning the page on last night. Soon to turn the page on the pre-season and training camp. The bright lights ahead are not those of the strip on Friday, but instead the start of the real 82-game journey which begins next Thursday in Phoenix.