Rangers-Coyotes Preview

The Associated Press

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.

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