COLUMBUS -- Even though the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers are meeting for the first time as Metropolitan Division rivals Thursday there will be many familiar faces in Nationwide Arena.
Both teams will have four players who used to play for the other and former Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel, who was 45-60-18 from 2010-12, is in his first season as Rangers associate head coach.
In addition, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson is a former Rangers goalie and longtime broadcaster for the team.
One player who will miss the reunion will be Rangers forward Rick Nash, who has not played since sustaining a concussion Oct. 8 after an illegal hit to the head by Brad Stuart of the San Jose Sharks.
Nash spent nine seasons with the Blue Jackets and holds almost all the club's offensive records. He was traded to New York in July 2012 in a deal that included sending current Blue Jackets Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov to Columbus.
Then at the trade deadline April 3, Columbus traded Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore to the Rangers for Marian Gaborik. Also, Fedor Tyutin used to play for the Rangers while the Rangers' Anton Stralman is a former Blue Jackets player.
"There's a lot of familiar faces on both sides opposing each other," Dubinsky said. "That's different than what you see typically."
Because the teams did not play each other last season, all but Tyutin and Stralman will be going against their former clubs for the first time.
"I don't look at it as a distraction," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "It had to come to this point eventually where you have to show up. It's like running into your old girlfriend on the street. You're probably not looking forward to the first time but it's got to happen."
Dubinsky said not meeting last season has lessened the impact of this game slightly.
"It's certainly not as fresh in your head as it potentially would have been playing them last season," he said. "And they've got a new coach, lot of new guys I don't know, so it's not quite the same team I played for.
"That being said there's obviously a lot of core guys that I played with for a lot of years that are still friends of mine. The Blue Jackets need two points [Thursday] so I'm going to go out there without any friends. Then they'll be my friends again after."
Still, it could be a special game if Richards continues with the ex-Rangers line of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Gaborik.
"You're always excited but you have to find the fine line between emotion and excitement and just go out there and play the game," Gaborik said. "I think I'll be OK."
The Blue Jackets (5-9-0) have lost four straight, scoring only six goals. The Rangers (7-8-0) have won four of five and are coming off a 5-1 win at home Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
New York had an optional skate Thursday morning, with only a few players participating. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault would not reveal his starting goaltender for the game. Earlier in the week he had said it would be backup Cam Talbot. If Talbot starts he will be the third straight backup the Blue Jackets have faced.
Here are the expected lineups for the Rangers and Blue Jackets for their game Thursday:
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello
Derek Dorsett - Derick Brassard - Benoit Pouliot
Taylor Pyatt - Brian Boyle - J.T. Miller
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
John Moore - Michael Del Zotto
Scratched: Brandon Mashinter, Justin Falk
Injured: Rick Nash (head), Dominic Moore (oblique)
Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov - Marian Gaborik
Cam Atkinson - Ryan Johansen - R.J. Umberger
Mark Letestu - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll
Nick Foligno - Michael Chaput - Blake Comeau
Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson
David Savard - Nikita Nikitin
Ryan Murray - James Wisniewski
Scratched: Sean Collins, Dalton Prout
Injured: Matt Calvert (abdominal), Nathan Horton (shoulder), Boone Jenner (lower body)
Note: Umberger (neck) is a game-time decision. Collins would take his place if he is unavailable.