The Rangers won last night’s Prudential Center pre-season battle with the Devils 4-3 in OT. But as is always true in the lead up to opening night, it was more about how the players performed than the final score. This was particularly true of the Devils, who were playing a split squad game (the other game was in Montreal). As to be expected this early in the pre-season, offense was more on display last night than the defense (it takes more time to get the defensive systems working properly), and special teams were on display all night. In total, 15 penalties were called within regulation last night.
The Rangers never led in the game until the final overtime goal by Neal Pionk, the sophomore defenseman, who took a beautiful cross-ice pass from Pavel Buchnevich and poked the puck past New Jersey goalie Cam Johnson for the overtime win. Until that point in the game, it had been a difficult contest for Pionk (he had several missteps on D), but all was redeemed at 1:20 of OT.
The Good and the Bad (who looked good and who not so good)
For the Rangers—Even though on the scoresheet, his numbers were not great, Alexandar Georgiev was excellent in net for New York. Georgiev played well into the second period (when he was replaced as scheduled by Marek Mazanec), tracking the puck extremely well, displaying excellent lateral movement and rebound control. According David Quinn, Georgiev “played well, made some big saves; I thought that he did a good job; stood tall.” The big question here is whether it is better for his development to be the backup to Henrik Lundqvist in New York or play a large number of games in Hartford; it is a decision that will be mad over the next few games. Mazanec is another candidate to be Henrik’s backup. He did not look as good last night between the pipes. He had a couple of issues with rebounds (into the slot) and just did not look as sharp as Georgiev. This battle is complicated by the signing of veteran netminder Dustin Tokarski, who was signed last month after appearing in the uniform of three other NHL teams. Tokarski is likely to play in Hartford this season, but he adds some interesting spice to this mix.
Rookie Lias Andersson also had a very good night. With two special teams’ goals, the first on the PK and the second with the extra man, Andersson at times looked like he was operating on an extra gear last night. His passion, vision, and skating ability were far above most others on the ice, and he appears to be able to make plays as well as score. Expected to make the NHL squad this season (an understatement), where he needs some work is on faceoffs. Last night, he was 4 and 8 in the circle, which just will not cut it in the NHL.
Jesper Fast’s skill and speed were on display from the first minutes of the contest. Wearing an “A” last night, Fast had a beautiful takeaway on the first penalty kill in the first period and then
continued to play a great defensive game throughout the night. He played on the second line last night (with Michael Lindqvist and Andersson), but he really should be on a third line player.
Until he started his second period march to the box, Lindqvist was playing quite well. He looks to be a very decent complementary player, but also needs to play a more disciplined game.
Is it possible that this is the season that Pavel Buchnevich finally comes into his own? His play last night was excellent. Not only the feed to Pionk for the winning goal, but Buchnevich’s second-period heavy PP shot from the point was a beauty to behold. He seemed to enjoy playing last night, which was very good to see—he has the potential to be a top six offensive contributor to this team. If he can keep up the energy and confidence, he will be.
Which brings me to Chris Kreider. He looked very good last night, as he has so many times in the past. He can bring so much to the team, with his speed and size. Kreider is great getting to the net and planting himself there. If he can do it consistently this season, his numbers could be through the roof.
Who I did not see much from was Cody McLeod, Cole Schneider, Tony Deangelo, or Tim(my) Gettinger.
For the Devils—It was New Jersey’s only pre-season home game last night and what could potentially be New Jersey’s top line (Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt) took the ice in New Jersey. None of the three contributed to the scoring (together they had a plus minus rating of -4), but there were times when Hischier looked like he was going to explode for a goal. His maneuvers with the puck at times were incredible. In fact, he and the Rangers’ Andersson looked like the most talented players on the ice last evening.
Nick Lappin had two goals and clearly has the hands to be an offensive difference maker on this team, however, as Assistant coach Rick Kowalsky (who was behind the bench for New Jersey last night) said of Lappin, “He has always had a knack for scoring goals… at this level he really has to focus on his first three strides and get his feet moving…foot speed is something that needs to be consistent in his game…he’s around the net, the puck finds him and he finds the puck.”
At 22 years old, it seems that John Quenneville has been a Devils prospect for quite a while. He too had a good game last night, picking up a goal and a fight (sticking up for a teammate). Quenneville has been on the cusp of making the NHL team for two seasons, but has just not skated well enough to make himself a presence in the games he has appeared in. Maybe this is his year to make the jump. He skated well last night—but he too has to skate consistently well to become a full-time NHLer.
Eighteen year-old defenseman Ty Smith has been so impressive since the draft in Dallas. In development camp and the prospect tournament in Buffalo, he has looked poised and his hockey IQ is off the charts. Small and an excellent skater, Smith, who was expected to go back to juniors for at least one year, may actually make this team out of camp. Last night, he played on the power play and at even strength with skill and vision for 19:25 and got two assists.
On the downside, Michael McLeod on the power play last night was not a success. Looking more like a third line center than a top six player, McLeod is an excellent faceoff man, a big body, who has potential, but he may need a year or two in Binghamton to start his professional career. Last night was not his best game though, and it looks like, at least for now, the power play may not be his thing.
The Rangers face the Flyers in their next pre-season game tomorrow evening at MSG; the Devils face the Islanders in Brooklyn on Thursday. These two teams will face each other once more in New York next Monday night.