RANGERS (0-0-0) at COYOTES (0-0-0)
TV: MSG, FS-A
Season series: Drama unfolded the last time the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes opposed one another on Jan. 10, 2012 at Madison Square Garden, when Derek Stepan ended a thriller in the sixth round of a shootout to give New York a 2-1 victory. Marian Gaborik had a chance to win it for the Rangers in overtime on a penalty shot, but was denied when Coyotes goalie Mike Smith made a sprawling save.
Big story: The Coyotes will begin a new era tonight when they open the 2103-14 regular season at Jobing.com Arena.
The team’s entire new ownership group and NHL Commissioner Gary Betmman will be in attendance as Phoenix hosts the New York Rangers in the first game of the season for both teams.
“People are looking at us and they’re saying ‘OK, you guys came in and you had big hopes and dreams of what you think hockey can do in the desert – show us that this can be successful,’” Team President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said. “The onus is on us but we feel we’ll get there.”
A sellout crowd is expected. For those not coming, tonight’s opener can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona and can be heard on the team’s new flagship station Arizona Sports 620.
Coyotes: The Coyotes failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the abbreviated 2012-13 season, and the goal this year is to get back to the postseason.
The Coyotes finished the preseason with a 4-2-1 record. Defenseman David Rundblad led the team in scoring with seven points (all assists) in six games. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored a team-high three goals in four games.
Phoenix has posted a 16-13-4-0 record in season openers with a 21-9-2-1 mark in home openers.
Mike Smith, who signed a six-year contract over the summer, will start in goal for the Coyotes. He owns a 2.71 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage in 12 career games against the Rangers.
Shane Doan will begin his 18th season with the franchise and his 10th as team captain. He is now the longest tenured captain in the NHL. Doan, 36, tied for the team lead in goals (13) and finished third in points (27) in 2012-13.
Mike Ribeiro will make his Coyotes debeut in this game. Phoenix signed the top-line center over the summer to boost the team’s offense.
Forward Lucas Lessio is expected to make his NHL debut.
Rangers: Head Coach Alain Vigneault makes his regular-season debut as head coach. Vigneault, who guided the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2010-11, takes over for John Tortorella -- Vigneault's replacement in Vancouver. Former Coyotes Associate Coach Ulf Samuelsson is on Vigneault’s staff.
Stepan returned to the Rangers in just the nick of time after agreeing to a two-year contract that will have him back on the ice in time for the opener. A critical component to the Rangers' success, Stepan will center a top line with Rick Nash and Brad Richards.
A center for the majority of his career, Richards has practiced at left wing since Stepan returned last Thursday.
"We've still got two guys out, and you've got three centers (Richards, Stepan and Derick Brassard) that want to play in offensive situations," Richards said. "I'm playing with Rick and Step, so hopefully we can get something going. If it works, that means we're staying, and if we're staying, that means it's working."
Injury report: Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette will miss the first of three games with a suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation in a preseason game. Defenseman Rostislav Klesla (concussion) remains out indefinitely after taking a hit from Kings forward Jordan Nolan in the preseason... Rangers captain Ryan Callahan (shoulder surgery) is out for the opener but could be back Oct. 7 in Los Angeles. Forward Carl Hagelin (shoulder surgery) is on long-term injured reserve and will miss the first 10 games.
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