NEW YORK – New York Rangers forward Rick Nash is playing after missing two games with stiffness in his back, and his return has bumped veteran forward Dominic Moore out of the lineup for the first time in two seasons against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden.
Nash injured his back during practice in Denver prior to the Rangers playing the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. He has one goal and five assists in 12 games.
Moore skated with the extras at the morning skate and will be a healthy scratch, coach Alain Vigneault confirmed. Moore played in all 14 games this season and all 82 last season. The last time he was a healthy scratch was March 1, 2014 against the Philadelphia Flyers. The next game he plays will be the 700th of his NHL career.
"Anytime you're faced with decisions like that, it's not easy, especially a guy like Dom, and what he's done for our team," Vigneault said. "But I'm looking at the bigger picture and I'm trying to see if I can't come up with a combination tonight."
Vigneault explained that in Moore, Oscar Lindberg and Jarret Stoll, he has three natural centermen and two of them have to play on the wing. Lindberg, he said, seems to have made the transition more easily than Moore and Stoll, who are similar players.
Moore, 35, and Stoll, 33, are each fourth-line players who kill penalties and win faceoffs. Moore is a left-handed shot and Stoll a right-handed shot, and each have one goal on the season. But Stoll has two assists (Moore has none) and is winning more faceoffs (56.6 percent, compared to Moore's 50.3 percent). He's also slightly bigger (6-foot-1, 216 pounds versus Moore's 6-0, 192).
"I tried one game, the game in Montreal, I sat out Jarret and tried Dom with two wingers," Vigneault said. "I haven't tried Jarret with two wingers, so I want to look at that option tonight."
In scratching Moore, Vigneault chose to keep Emerson Etem, who filled in for Nash on the top line over the weekend in back-to-back games at Colorado and the Arizona Coyotes, in the lineup. Etem, 23, who was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks over the summer in the Carl Hagelin trade, has one assist in five games, but Vigneault clearly wanted to see more of him.
"I thought his overall game was good, with [Derick Brassard] and [Mats Zuccarello]," Vigneault said. "They got some good looks, offensively. Defensively, other than a shift where they lost the faceoff in our end, and the other line had three great scoring chances, I thought they were dependable. [Etem] skated well; he skated well with the puck; he played the body when the opportunity was there, so hopefully tonight, with Jarret and Jesper [Fast], he can do the same thing."
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist will start for New York and will break Mike Richter's Rangers record for appearances (regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs, combined) when he appears in his 743rd game. Lundqvist needs eight saves to break Richter's record for career saves (regular season and playoffs, combined).
Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce will be playing his first NHL game in Madison Square Garden, but he's played here before. Pesce, a native of Tarrytown, N.Y., skated on the Garden ice in between periods as a 6-year-old with his Westchester Vipers team. He's expecting at least 20 family members and friends in the building for the game.
"They'll be wearing red and white, don't worry," Pesce told the Hurricanes website. "They all used to be Rangers fans, but now they're obviously Canes fans.
"It's just pretty surreal getting the opportunity to play them. It's exciting."
Here are the projected lineups:
Eric Staal – Victor Rask – Elias Lindholm
Nathan Gerbe – Jordan Staal – Chris Terry
Jeff Skinner – Riley Nash – Kris Versteeg
Joakim Nordstrom – Jay McClement – Brock McGinn
Ron Hainsey – Justin Faulk
John-Michael Liles – Brett Pesce
Michal Jordan – Ryan Murphy
Injured: James Wisniewski (knee)
Scratched: Noah Hanifin, Andrej Nestrasil, Brad Malone
Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – J.T. Miller
Oscar Lindberg – Kevin Hayes – Viktor Stalberg
Emerson Etem – Jarret Stoll – Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Kevin Klein
Keith Yandle – Dan Boyle
Scratched: Dylan McIlrath, Dominic Moore
Status report: Nordstrom will play for the Hurricanes. He was recalled from Charlotte of the American Hockey League following a two-game conditioning stint Sunday after he missed 11 games with a lower-body injury. "He played well," coach Bill Peters said. "He scored a power-play goal in the Sunday game. As importantly, he got back on the ice in a game situation. He hasn't played in forever. It was good to get him in for two games." … Boyle will play his second straight game for the Rangers after sitting out the previous two as a healthy scratch.
Who's hot: Lindberg leads all rookies in even-strength goals (seven), which is tied for second in the League. He is tied for seventh overall and is second among rookies with a plus-9 rating … Jordan Staal has three goals in his past three games. His overtime goal Saturday at the Ottawa Senators lifted Carolina to 3-0-0 in overtime games.