Vigneault challenges top line as Blueshirts face Blue Jackets

Rick Nash battles Niklas Hjalmarsson during the Rangers’ 3-2 win over the Blackhawks. AP Photo via Getty Images

Even though his team won on the road against the Blackhawks, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t pleased with the performance of his top line. During yesterday’s practice in preparation for Columbus tonight and tomorrow, he challenged Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello to be better.

“Then compete a little harder,” Vigneault told the New York Post’s Larry Brooks when asked about the line being a slow starter. “Try a little harder and become fast starters.”

Despite Zuccarello’s hustle causing a Nash opportunity late which Corey Crawford denied, the first line wasn’t noticeable. With Vigneault emphasizing a fast start, he wants his best players to get off quickly. Last year, that wasn’t a problem for Nash who scored nine goals in nine games during October and 16 in the first two months.

“For sure we have to be better,” Nash said. “I don’t know exactly what was wrong. We weren’t really in synch and didn’t make any plays. There was a lot of rust out there.”

“For myself, I felt I did some good things. I felt I created some chances and was strong with the puck on the wall.”

Considering that Vigneault’s motto is Failure Is Not An Option, he’s not messing around. He fully expects this team to win the Stanley Cup. That means a good start in a competitive division that improved. They’ll get tested by one of those teams later tonight and in Saturday’s home opener. The Blue Jackets went out and added Brandon Saad in the off-season to a nucleus that features Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner and Ryan Johansen.

“My expectations of that are so high,” Vigneault noted of his top line. “I know how they can play. But they have to play like that every night.”

Henrik Lundqvist will start both games. So, no Antti Raanta in a back-to-back. Vigneault feels Lundqvist should be rested due to a six-day layoff prior to Wednesday’s win in Chicago.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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