One of the changes in the Rangers routine made by new head coach Alain Vigneault this season is that morning skates for home games are now held at Madison Square Garden, whereas in the past they used to be held at the MSG Training Center in Westchester. The move certainly makes sense as all of the players and coaches — except for defenseman Anton Stralman — reside in Manhattan.
However on Sunday the Rangers were forced to change plans, skating up in Westchester because the New York Knicks have a 12:00 noon contest at The Garden against the San Antonio Spurs before the arena switches over to hockey mode for this evening's 7:00 start between the Rangers and Florida Panthers.
The trek up to Westchester on game day was no big deal to the players; and defenseman Marc Staal told Stralman to enjoy the one morning he did not have to battle traffic on the way down to the morning skate. Staal then smiled and said that his car will be getting a lot of rest in the month of December when the Blueshirts play ten home games — meaning plenty of morning skates in the city.
As for the skate itself, all healthy players took part; and afterwards Vigneault confirmed that Brandon Mashinter would replace the concussed Taylor Pyatt in the lineup, and that Henrik Lundqvist — who has allowed only six goals in his last five starts — would start between the pipes. Vigneault referred to Mashinter as a "depth player", but did have some positive things to say about the rugged forward, as well.
"I've seen improvement, and I've seen a young man that works real hard," Vigneault said of Mashinter, who will be appearing in his fifth game this evening. "He brings a physical dimension to our team that we need; and he will get another opportunity tonight."
Vigneault noted that the struggling Panthers played a much more physical game under new head coach Peter Horachuk yesterday against Ottawa---getting into three fights---and he expects a similar style this evening from Florida. That would make Mashinter — along with Derek Dorsett — a fairly valuable Blueshirt this evening.
Following the morning skate Rick Nash and Dominic Moore took to the ice for conditioning skating and drills with backup goaltender Cam Talbot. It was the second straight day Nash was able to take part in similar on-ice activity. On Saturday Nash, who will miss his 14th consecutive game due to a head injury tonight, said that he was feeling better and had been without headaches for the prior three or four days. Clearly he felt OK after his on-ice work on Saturday, or else he would not be back out there on Sunday.
Moore is working his way back from a strained oblique and has to be cleared to skate with the rest of the team.