Madison Square Garden (NY) – Not all preseason games are made equal, but the New York Rangers are going back to the drawing board after a disappointing 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils Thursday night at the world’s most famous arena.
Miscommunications, a lack of scoring chances, and shotty goaltending all culminated in the Rangers falling to 1-1-1 in the preseason.
As ugly as the final score will tell, there were plenty of standouts in the third preseason game for the Rangers.
Let’s get to it.
Penalty Kill Strikes Again
It’s never a good sign when your special teams are the only group that’s scoring. In the case of the Rangers, their powerplay isn’t even the group that is making the most noise.
The penalty-kill group scored twice on Thursday night, adding to three total goals in three games during the preseason. The first play came in the first period when Mika Zibanejad forced a turnover in the defensive zone that was pushed forward by Adam Fox for a two-on-one fast break opportunity.
Chris Kreider made the breakaway shot for the Rangers that got the MSG crowd up and rocking.
While the Devils dominated the rest of the way, Alexis Lafreniere also got on the scoresheet when forced a turnover in the offensive zone and pulled one through to make it a two-goal game.
These are two plays that get overlooked in the grand scheme of a 5-2 beatdown, but it outlines the Rangers’ aggressive nature and will suit them well for when the season starts.
The Kid Line Dominates
Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant was full of praise for the Kid Line saying they were “the best group out there tonight” after the game.
That wasn’t hard to do either. While the Rangers only put up a total of 14 shots on the net and eight of them came from the line of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko. The Kid Line has made a name for themselves with their speed, aggressiveness, and ability to move the puck.
They looked as good as they did during their deep playoff run last season. Lafreniere got the goal on the short-handed side, but it doesn’t take away from what the Kid Line looked like today.
New York has a very serious conundrum on its hands with the youngsters here. On one end, they offer a dominant lower line that will be one of the toughest to gameplan against whoever they play. On the other, splitting up the group means a more balanced attack that suits the entire team, and their respective careers.
The Rangers don’t have to make a decision yet on what is expected of the Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko line, but the more the group plays together, the more they dominate, and the more difficult it will be to break them up.
The Defense Struggles
Adam Fox’s breakaway assist to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead was about the only highlight from what was a poor night by the entire defensive unit. Almost every goal from the Devils came on a defensive breakdown that even Gallant said afterward was “sloppy.”
The first goal given up was a poor defensive play from both Fox and Adam Welinski when the defenseman wasn’t fast enough to get to the puck, and Miles Wood buried his chance in front of Shesterkin.
Not even 40 seconds later, Dougie Hamilton made the most of a Libor Hajek turnover and found open space in front of the net for an easy one-timer to give New Jersey a 2-1 lead: Shesterkin never had a chance on either.
Whether it was a lack of communication, sloppy turnovers, or not enough speed/hustle, the defense for the Rangers was poor on Thursday night.
Sammy Blais makes his return
It’s been close to a year since Sammy Blais suffered a torn ACL for the Rangers and was lost for the season. For the first time since his injury, Blais took the ice at Madison Square Garden and got right into his first real action in months.
After a few early hits, Blais also got involved in the offense having a few nice shots that didn’t go in but showed that he can be a dependable offensive weapon as well. After the game, Blais understood the long road that had gotten him here.
“It was good just to be back out there,” Blais said. “Now that the first one is over, I can just think about getting ready for the season…it was really important for me”
Blais wasn’t the only one who was pleased with his performance either.
“He had a lot of energy and was running around a lot.” Gerard Gallant said after the game. “We’re happy with him and happy for him that he got through the game and everything went perfect.”
Gallant later added that Blais is getting “better and better” as well in regards to his performance. Sammy Blais may not show up much on the stat sheet, but his spot on the team is all but rightly secured.
Whether it was the fact that Igor Shesterkin gave up two goals in under 40 seconds or concern over Adam Fox and the defense, the Ranger faithful has been highly concerned through three preseason games.
In reality, they shouldn’t be. The stars of the team have shown enough promise when they need to and the players that need to step up this year have shown early signs of that.
Was a 5-2 thumping a good thing? Absolutely not. But even Gallant sad after the game that it was “better to be game three than the last two (of the preseason.”
The Rangers are loaded with talent at almost every level on offense and defense. These bad showings are also going to happen in an 82-game season. The key will be if the starters continue to work together and if the chemistry is still there with the stars.
Neither has been questioned. A 5-2 loss isn’t pretty, but it’s not the end of the world in the preseason.
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