Rangers-Coyotes Preview

The New York Rangers have a new face behind their bench, while
the Phoenix Coyotes finally have ownership.

Both are optimistic those changes will help bring better results
on the ice.

New York begins its first season under coach Alain Vigneault
with the opener of a nine-game trip Thursday night at Phoenix.
Renovations at Madison Square Garden will force the club to wait
until Oct. 28 for its home opener.

The Rangers fired John Tortorella after 4 1/2 seasons with the
club following a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and
an elimination in the conference semifinals.

He’s replaced by Vigneault, who was fired by Vancouver after two
straight first-round exits following a run to the 2011 Stanley Cup
finals. Coincidentally, the Canucks hired Tortorella.

Vigneault went 313-170-57 in seven seasons with Vancouver,
missing the playoffs just once. He said he doesn’t intend to make
sweeping changes to the organization, but will likely emphasize a
more finessed approached in contrast to Tortorella’s penchant for
hard-nosed play.

“The style of play we like to play is outnumber the opposition
aggressively so we can recover the puck, set the tone and go on the
attack,” Vigneault said. “As our players understand the different
principles we’re trying to put in place, then I think people will
be able to pick up (the system).”

Backed by non-league ownership for the first time in more than
four years, the Coyotes have added stability, but also heightened
expectations. Renaissance Sports and Entertainment purchased the
team from the NHL last summer.

The team overachieved despite the looming distraction, reaching
the playoffs in its first three seasons following bankruptcy before
finishing 10th in the West at 21-18-9 last year.

“In a lot of ways the past four years, we were kind of wards of
the state, poor Coyotes, this and that,” general manager Don
Maloney said. “We never used it that way, but now I think it’s
different. With strong, stable ownership, we have no excuses for
lack of performance.”

The new regime has already paid dividends, allowing the
franchise to sign free-agent center Mike Ribeiro, who has tallied
572 points over his last nine seasons. His 49 points last season
with Washington were 19 more than Phoenix’s team leader –
defenseman Keith Yandle.

The Coyotes were also able to sign goaltender Mike Smith to a
six-year extension last summer, though he’ll try to bounce back
from an injury riddled season last year with the added pressure of
a big contract.

“I don’t think it’s more pressure,” Smith told the team’s
official website. “If you’re a No. 1 goalie in this league, you’ve
accepted that.”

For New York, Rick Nash is trying to rebound after a
disappointing postseason in which he was hampered by injury,
scoring one goal in 12 games.

That’s especially important considering the Rangers will be
without captain Ryan Callahan, who underwent offseason shoulder
surgery. They will have Derek Stepan after finally reaching an
agreement on a new contract with the club’s top center last week
worth $2.3 million this year and $3.85 million next year.
Callahan’s 140 points over the last three seasons are the most by a
returning Rangers player.

Phoenix will be without rugged forward Paul Bissonnette, who is
serving a three-game suspension after being charged with a game
misconduct when he left the bench in a Sept. 13 preseason game
versus Los Angeles.

New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has won all four career
starts against the Coyotes while posting a 1.72 goals-against
average.

The Rangers are 5-1-0 in the past six meetings.