ST. LOUIS -- There is a definite respect factor that exists between the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers, who open the 2014-15 regular season Thursday at Scottrade Center.
The teams only see one another twice during the regular season, but the Blues, who have been one of the top regular-season teams in the Western Conference the past three seasons, are eager to test what they feel is a revamped lineup looking to make another strong regular season run that translates deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"The Rangers know how to win," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the defending Eastern Conference champions. "I said this to the players, we're going to know in the first six games what we got because we play the Rangers, we play L.A., we play Chicago, we play Anaheim … we're going to know what we've got.
"Going through what New York went through last year, especially the way Alain [Vigneault] built it up, they had a tough start, tough schedule. He built it up real strong at the end of the year and they had great chemistry, they found a reason to compete and play for each other. That's a tough nut. That core is back. I told our players today we're in for a real challenge. They just don't have speed and skill. They've got moxie to them. That's what I think our players are looking forward to. We think we've got moxie and gamesmanship, and we know they do after watching them in the playoffs."
Vigneault knows more than enough about the Blues and their players, having coached against them with the Vancouver Canucks for seven seasons from 2006-13.
"Our focus as a group is on St. Louis [Thursday]," Vigneault said. "They've been one of the best teams in the NHL the last couple years, so it's going to be a good game.
"They're a team that plays the right way. It's a good test for us."
For the Rangers, it will be the NHL debut for left wing Anthony Duclair, selected in the third round (No. 80) of the 2013 NHL Draft.
"No, I don't really get nervous," Duclair said. "I get more excited than anything else. Like my first [preseason] game in Chicago, I was so excited to get out there. I think it's going to be the same here.
"I like to ask questions if I don't understand something. The veteran guys have come up to me and helped me out position-wise and with little details. If I don't understand something, I can ask the older guys."
Forward Kevin Hayes, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, will be eligible to come off injured reserve after the game Thursday.
"I think he'll be medically cleared [Thursday] or [Friday]," Vigneault said. "If we need him after, we could use him after [Thursday].
"He had a real good camp. I like a lot of things he brings to the table. Skill set, the size. For [Thursday], this is the lineup we have and once he's cleared, if we have some decisions to make, we will."
Here are the projected lineups:
Chris Kreider - Martin St. Louis - Rick Nash
Carl Hagelin - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Anthony Duclair - J.T. Miller - Lee Stempniak
Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
John Moore - Kevin Klein
Scratched: Ryan Malone, Matt Hunwick
Injured: Derek Stepan (broken leg), Kevin Hayes (shoulder)
Patrik Berglund - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Joakim Lindstrom
Steve Ott - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves
Ian Cole - Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester - Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman - Jordan Leopold
Scratched: Chris Porter, Magnus Paajarvi
Injured: Carl Gunnarsson (hip)
Status report: Stastny makes his St. Louis debut after spending eight seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. … Lehtera will play in his first NHL game. … Lindstrom will play in his first NHL game since Nov. 23, 2011. … The Blues hope to clear Gunnarsson sometime next week, which means he will miss at least the first two games, including Saturday against the Calgary Flames. … The Blues are the only team Lundqvist has yet to beat in his career. He's 0-4-0 in five games with a 2.82 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. … Stempniak began his career with the Blues in 2005, where he played three-plus seasons before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. … Bouwmeester, who holds the current ironman streak at 717 consecutive games, did not take part in the morning skate, but Hitchcock said he will play.