GREENBURGH, N.Y. — After the end of last season fully exposed the Rangers’ lack of physicality, Chris Drury went to work, adding pieces meant to make them a bigger, bruising, more formidable opponent. Now, as they set to take on the Capitals in their season opener Wednesday – and a very disliked Tom Wilson in the process– they’ll get to see if any of that has paid off.
One thing they do have in their favor is the official return of Ryan Reaves, who missed time after a brutal hit by Devils defenseman P.K. Subban last week that, at first look, appeared to be far more damaging than it was. Reaves, one of those offseason acquisitions, returned to practice Monday and both he and coach Gerard Gallant said he’ll be ready for action. Meanwhile, the Capitals may be without Alex Ovechkin, who is questionable after suffering a lower-body injury.
“I prepare for it all summer,” Reaves joked of the hit. “This body…it’s a temple, and I prepare for 250 pounds coming down on my knees and ankle while my toes are touching my years, so no problem . . . (With the Capitals) I’ve gone through this many times in my career, (played against) guys I’ve hated before, had rivalries, great games all the time, so I just go about it the way I usually go about it.”
And while the quest to make the Rangers more intimidating wasn’t all about Wilson, it can’t be denied he was a part of it. Wilson, the Capitals enforcer, infamously ragdolled Artemi Panarin late last year, costing Panarin the rest of the season. He also punched Pavel Buchnevich.
When the two teams met again later that year, there was a full-line brawl, followed by five more fights in the first five minutes. This time, the Rangers will bring more firepower both in the form of Reaves and possibly with defenseman Jarred Tinordi, a grittier potential replacement for Nils Lundkvist. Gallant wouldn’t commit to whether Tinordi will play, but said it was a real option.
“That’s what we signed them for,” Gallant said of Reaves and Tinordi. “That’s what they came here for. They’re good hockey players and two big, strong guys. I want teams to know they’re playing the Rangers now. It’s not the same team we’ve had in the past. We’re a big, more physical team and you know, when you have to use it, use it.”
Not, he said, that the team is gunning for Wilson, or anyone else, for that matter. It’s simply that they want to establish this new identity – one that isn’t quite as easy to push around.
“We’re going to play a game tomorrow night and if stuff happens, stuff happens, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the last incident,” he said. “We’re not planning to go out there and say, if you get a chance to run over Tom Wilson, run him over. That’s not the objective. The objective is to win a hockey game…. We’re a different team. We know what we’ve got. We’re a more physical team than we’ve been in the past and we want people to worry about us a little bit.”
Kravtsov gone? Vitali Kravtsov, the ninth overall 2018 draft pick, has been given permission to speak to other teams after not cracking the Rangers’ opening day roster, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Gallant said that Kravtsov, who was nursing a lower-body injury during parts of the preseason, was simply outplayed by others.
“There was no reason why” he was sent to Hartford, Gallant said. “It was about picking your team and you’re moving forward trying to win hockey games. We told him it was a battle from training camp…Those guys (who stayed up) played really well in camp and earned those positions.”
Kravtsov was among the last cuts of the preseason and originally looked primed to be in the Rangers’ top nine.