Vigneault, Rangers begin season-opening trek in Phoenix

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( - The New York Rangers and head coach Alain Vigneault have plenty of time to work out the kinks before making their season debut in front of the home crowd.

The Rangers begin the Vigneault era with a season-opening nine-game road trip, starting on Thursday night versus the Phoenix Coyotes.

New York begins the season on the road for the sixth straight campaign as it won't play its first home game until Oct. 28. The Rangers lost their season opener in Boston to begin the lockout-shortened campaign before playing five of their next six at home.

It will be quite some time before the Blueshirts return to Madison Square Garden, though it will give Vigneault some time to take a polished product home with him.

"I think it's going to be good for our team in the sense that it should give myself and my staff and management a real good read on our group, where we are now and where we need to improve as we move forward," said Vigneault.

"There's not a road way and a home way to play. There's one way to play and that's the right way. That's what we're going to try and do."

Vigneault begins his first season as New York's head coach, replacing John Tortorella, who coincidentally took over for Vigneault in Vancouver. Vigneault got the Canucks to the playoffs in six of his seven years with the club, a run that included six division titles, back-to-back Presidents Trophies in 2010-11 and 2011-12, and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

Vigneault takes over a Rangers club that has been to the playoffs in three straight and in seven of the last eight seasons, but also one that struggled on the power play a season ago. Under new direction, New York is likely to engage in more of an up-tempo style than the defense-first style under Tortorella.

That should bode well for forwards Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan.

Nash led the Rangers with 21 goals and was second with 42 points in his first season with the club after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Stepan led the team with 44 points and was a holdout for much of camp before finally agreeing to a new deal on Sept. 26.

When Stepan returned, Richards moved from his natural center spot to left wing in the hopes of sparking his game.

New York will have to survive this road trip without the speedy Carl Hagelin, who is on injured reserve due to offseason shoulder surgery. Captain Ryan Callahan also had a procedure on his shoulder over the summer and won't play tonight, but could return by this weekend.

The Rangers have a superb top-four at the blue line with the presence of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto and had one of the top goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist, a five-time Vezina Trophy finalist and one-time winner, went 24-16-3 with a 2.05 goals against average and .926 save percentage in 2013.

The Coyotes will play their first regular season game under new management, finally being sold after having been owned and operated by the league since 2009. That should give Phoenix some stability it has not had in some time, though the club still managed to make the playoffs in three straight years before a 10th-place finish to the lockout-shortened campaign.

With an increased ability to spend, the Coyotes inked center Mike Ribeiro to a four-year contract and he'll play on the top line with captain Shane Doan and forward Mikkel Boedker.

Ribeiro had 49 points in 48 games with the Washington Capitals last season, finishing fifth in the league with 36 assists. He is looking forward to opening the season with his new club.

"You want to show them what you can do, show your teammates and the city that you're here for a reason -- to show up every night and help the team win," said Ribeiro.

Offense from the back end is one key to Phoenix's game. Keith Yandle led the club with 30 points off 10 goals and 20 assists last year, while Oliver Ekman- Larsson had 24 points.

Goaltender Mike Smith begins the season with a new six-year contract after going 15-12-5 with a 2.58 GAA in only 34 games last year due to injury. However, he was coming off an excellent 2011-12 campaign in which he had gone 38-18-10 with a 2.21 GAA, .930 save percentage and eight shutouts.

Phoenix is without defenseman Rostislav Klesla due to a concussion, while forward Paul Bissonnette will miss the first three games due to a suspension for his role in a preseason fight with the Los Angeles Kings on Sept. 15.

Bissonnette was originally banned for 10 games after is was ruled he had left the bench to join the altercation, but had the suspension reduced after a hearing.

Phoenix will hit the road for five straight after this contest and has won each of its last five season openers that have been played at home.

The Rangers have won three straight and eight of their last 10 versus the Coyotes, taking both meetings in 2011-12. The clubs did not meet last season.

New York has won three of its last four in Phoenix.