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Rangers' Nash expects to return against Coyotes

by Dan Rosen

COYOTES (20-34-7) at RANGERS (37-16-6)


NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Rick Nash expects to play Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes after sitting out the game Tuesday against the Calgary Flames because of neck spasms.

Nash is second in the NHL with 37 goals, two fewer than Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin. The Rangers are 7-0-2 in their past nine games.

"I talked to him on the ice and I got the thumbs up," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.

Nash said the only thing that would prevent him from playing against Arizona is if his neck spasms return, but he didn't seem concerned. He said his neck started bothering him Monday afternoon and by that night he was experiencing the spasms. The massage therapy treatment he got from the Rangers training staff has helped.

"We'll see how it reacts this afternoon but everything is positive to play tonight," Nash said.

Nash's return means rookie Kevin Hayes will move back to center on the third line between Carl Hagelin and J.T. Miller.

Hayes scored the only goal in the 1-0 win against Calgary while playing in Nash's place on the left wing on the Rangers' top line. It was his first game at left wing; he has played center all season after playing right wing at Boston College last season.

"Being versatile is a big bonus," Vigneault said. "Anybody that can play left, middle, right, it's such a huge bonus for a hockey team. In Kevin's case he can do all three of those. I would say I think he prefers the middle, but we're going to do what's best for our team."

Arizona has lost seven consecutive games in regulation and has been outscored 28-9 in those games. The Coyotes are turning to a 21-year-old rookie who the Rangers should be quite familiar with to try to snap out of their scoring funk.

Forward Henrik Samuelsson will make his NHL debut against the Rangers. His father, Ulf Samuelsson, is an assistant coach for New York.

"Even though it's my first NHL game I don't want it to just be a one- or two-game stint," Henrik said. "I want to come up here and play good, show them what I can do."

Ulf Samuelsson played for the Rangers from 1995-99. Henrik, who was born in 1994, said he remembers playing mini-sticks hockey in the wives room at Madison Square Garden when his father was playing for the Rangers.

"He's on the other team, so I'll talk to him after the game," Henrik said.

This is the second time Ulf Samuelsson will coach against one of his sons. Philip Samuelsson, now a Coyotes prospect playing for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League, played against his father and the Rangers in his second career game last season, when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I'm more worried about what coach Tippett has to think right now than what my dad has to think," Henrik said, laughing.

Samuelsson has 10 goals and 25 points in 50 AHL games this season. He had 95 points in 65 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League last season, and had eight points in five games to help Edmonton win the Memorial Cup.

"I expect a young player to play with a lot of energy," Tippett said. "Obviously there is a lot of excitement and it's unique for him that his dad is on the other bench. He's a young player but he's been around the game his whole life. We're going to put him in a situation where he can go out, get up and down the ice, work hard, bang around and try to use his assets as best he can to get his feet wet in the NHL."

The Coyotes are making sure that Samuelsson knows this isn't a sentimental call-up just because his father is on the other bench.

"If you look at how we've scored the last 10 games, we're looking for scoring from anywhere, and Sammy, to be an NHL player, he's going to have to contribute in that area," Tippett said. "We'll give him an opportunity tonight and hopefully he can start off on the right foot."

Here are the projected lineups:


Lucas Lessio - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan

Tobias Rieder - Kyle Chipchura - Sam Gagner

Martin Erat - Mark Arcobello - David Moss

Lauri Korpikoski - Joe Vitale - Henrik Samuelsson

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michael Stone

Keith Yandle - Andrew Campbell

Brandon Gormley - Connor Murphy

Mike Smith

Louis Domingue

Scratched: B.J. Crombeen, Dylan Reese

Injured: Zbynek Michalek (upper body), Martin Hanzal (upper body), Mikkel Boedker (upper body)


Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis

Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - J.T. Miller

Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - Lee Stempniak

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Kevin Klein

John Moore - Dan Boyle

Cam Talbot

Mackenzie Skapski

Scratched: Matt Hunwick

Injured: Jesper Fast (knee), Henrik Lundqvist (neck)

Status report: Vigneault wouldn't commit to the Rangers' defense pairs because there could be a player who is under the weather and might not be able to play. He did not specify who that would be. All seven defensemen participated in the morning skate Thursday. … Vigneault said Fast will need one or two more practices before he can be medically cleared to get back in the lineup. … Lundqvist skated Thursday before practice and took low shots from goalie coach Benoit Allaire. A Rangers spokesperson said Lundqvist has not been scheduled for a follow-up visit with doctors yet. He will miss his 12th consecutive game with his vascular injury, a result of getting hit in the throat by a shot against the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 31. The Rangers are 8-1-2 without Lundqvist. … The Coyotes recalled Domingue from Portland and re-assigned Mike McKenna, who is expected to play for the Pirates this weekend.

Who's hot: Hayes has goals in back-to-back games and five goals in his past eight games. He has 11 points in his past 13 games.


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