The Rangers played their first pre-season home game last night against the Flyers and promptly lost 6-4. In a see-saw game,where very few of the Blueshirts’ regulars took the ice, and where the ice itself played a role in their defeat, the Rangers showed why this could be a very long short season.
First, although there was no question that the ice was bad, so was the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist. In net for close to a period and a half, Lundqvist’s was both a victim of the Garden’s ice issues and his own bad play. With his timing definitely off and then letting pucks slip through his legs more than once for goals against, Henrik did not look like himself. Five of the Flyers six goals were scored with Lundqvist in net and, although Head Coach Quinn later tried to chalk most of that up to bad bounces in his post-game press conference, one has to at least raise an eyebrow with Lundqvist’s play last night.
To be honest, you could at least in part attribute Henrik’s horrible numbers to the defensive corps in front of him. On several of the goals, Flyers were left uncovered in front of the beleaguered goaltender. That is expected to happen when it is only the second game in pre-season, there is a new head coach, and several of the defensemen on last night’s roster are expected to be in Hartford before opening night. Defense always takes more time to gel than the offense anyway, so being concerned about defense is very premature.
The Rangers do appear to have some young firepower and last night the outcome of the game could easily have gone in their favor, except for one thing. Or let’s say, one person. Carter Hart. The 20 year-old goaltender in waiting was as impressive as we all had heard, stopping all but two of the 27 shots he faced in a little over period and a half. Headed for the AHL this season, Hart is likely longer term to be the piece of the puzzle that Philadelphia has longed for to make them a highly competitive team.
In any game like last night, what was more important than the score was how the players performed, who excelled and who we should expect to be heading to Hartford shortly, if not by the beginning of the AHL training camp on Saturday, then shortly thereafter.
Let’s start with the good:
Pavel Buchnevich—for the second straight game, Buchnevichwas totally engaged and played with jam. He is very offensively talented, and last night he continued to add an edge that is unexpected and certainly against type. He has great hands and hockey sense and watching Buchnevich play on the top line with Mika Zabanejad and Ryan Spooner (who left the game early last night) really should give fans quite a bit of hope that this could be a breakout season for him.
Brendan Smith—we all know how Smith languished in Hartford for a good part of last season. Well, if last night is any indication, he will be playing regularly in New York once again. He looked like he was back to form—not perfect, but he was good, contributing on both ends of the ice very well.
Filip Chytil—a potential offensive star for the Blueshirts, Chytil’s speed and hockey IQ were on display last night. He needs more work in the faceoff circle, but there were times when he looked to be running the offense on the ice, he took a puck pretty much end to end for a score, and he plays with a huge amount of energy and fearlessness on every shift (too much so at times—at one point during the night, it looked like he put himself into position to get smashed in the face and in another he looked to have injured his hand). Probably the team’s second line center this season, Chytil is here to stay and will likely excite Rangers’ fans for years to come.
Dustin Tokarski—last night, the veteran journeyman netmindershowed why the Rangers signed him over the summer. If yesterday’s game was any indication, Tokarski should be Henrik’s back up this coming season—at least to start. He was poised and clam in net, handled all but one shot of the 11 he faced and just looked comfortable (no bad ice excuses from him).
As for the not as good.
There was Brett Howden, who looked overmatched last night and probably needs at least a year in Hartford to adjust to the pro game; Ryan Gropp and Gabriel Fontaine, who have potential, but are not ready for this level of play; and Joey Keane, the 2018 third round defenseman who has been very good in camp and was given a chance on the first pairing with Brady Skjei. Of course, he will be sent back to juniors (i.e., Barrie, OHL), but what an impression he has made over the last few weeks.Finally, there is John Gilmour. The Gilmour that had the coaches in Hartford pulling their hair out was on display last night too–great speed and shot, but too defensive mistakes. I am not sure what the team will be doing with him over the course of the year, but he is very frustrating to watch—ah, what could be.
Both Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Shattenkirk did not play in the first two games but, according to Head Coach David Quinn, there is nothing wrong–he just wanted to give other players a chance. Likely before they get sent to Hartford to start camp there. Expect both Mats and Shatty to play on Saturday against the Islanders in Bridgeport (the game will be televised).
More cuts are expected today or tomorrow.