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Nash to Play in 1,000th NHL Game; Derek Stepan Returns

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Rangers (2-6-2, 6 pts) vs. Coyotes (0-8-1, 1 pt)
7 pm, Madison Square Garden
MSG Network; ESPN 98.7 FM

The Game

After two days of practice time, the Rangers wrap up their six-game homestand with a visit from the Arizona Coyotes at Madison Square Garden.

Head coach Alain Vigneault said after both practices he needs more from his top players and is still in search of chemistry up front. That's led to a reshuffling of three of his forward lines.

Mika Zibanejad will center Rick Nash, who is playing in his 1,000th NHL game, and J.T. Miller on the team's top line, while David Desharnais will be between Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. Kevin Hayes' line with Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast remains untouched.

Rookie Boo Nieves will play in his first game of the season - and his second career contest - after being recalled from Hartford (AHL) on Monday, and will pivot between Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich.

The team's top two defensive pairings remain in place while Brady Skjei will be partnered with Nick Holden following Tony DeAngelo's AHL assignment on Monday. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec will get his second start as a Ranger.

Arizona comes into Thursday's game as the only winless team in the NHL, and is in the midst of a five-game road trip through the east coast that began with a 5-3 loss Tuesday night against the Islanders.

The Coyotes' 39 goals against are the second-most in the NHL. That, coupled with an offense that hasn't found its rhythm yet, has created trouble in the early going.

Rookie Clayton Keller has six goals and 10 points through nine games to lead all first-year players. After Keller, though, no player has more than two goals. Former Ranger Derek Stepan is second on the team in points with seven, tied with Max Domi.

The Rangers are 26-10-2-0 at home against the Coyotes dating back to the team's time in Winnipeg. New York has won each of its last seven games against Arizona dating back to March 24, 2014.

Players to Watch

As stated, Nash is playing in his 1,000th career game Thursday night. No. 61 has been one of the Rangers' better forwards of late despite the lack of numbers to show with just one goal in 10 contests. Nash was penciled onto a line with Miller and Zibanejad, the team's two leading point producers, in an attempt to get the big winger going.

The 19-year-old Keller was in the Calder Trophy discussion prior to the start of the season, and thus far he hasn't let down his supporters. The 2016 first-round pick has six points during his current three-game point streak.

Say What?

"It's certainly a different situation for him being on a different team. Different here a little bit for us too without him being in our group. At the end of the day, he's a competitor, we're competitors. We're going to work hard against each other on the ice. Both teams are in dire need of points here, so that's going to take over as the game progresses." - Ryan McDonagh on facing Derek Stepan for the first time.

Rangers Projected Lineup

Rick Nash - Mika Zibanejad - J.T. Miller
Chris Kreider - David Desharnais - Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast
Michael Grabner - Boo Nieves - Pavel Buchnevich

Ryan McDonagh - Brendan Smith
Marc Staal - Kevin Shattenkirk
Brady Skjei - Nick Holden

Ondrej Pavelec

Inside the Numbers

New York has won each of its last eight home games against the Coyotes, dating back to Nov. 24, 2008. In addition, the Rangers have won 17 of their last 19 home games against the Jets/Coyotes franchise, dating back to Jan. 6, 1992.

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