The New York Rangers opened their pre-season tonight at the Prudential Center in front of literally dozens of fans and lost 2-1. Henrik Lundqvist started for the Rangers and showed his usual form, only letting in a first period goal to Devils winger Mattias Tedenby, who is fighting for possibly his Devils career right now. Cam Talbot replaced Lundqvist halfway through the game, as planned, and got beat by Devils defensive prospect Eric Gelinas, who blasted one glove side. Dominic Moore brought the Rangers within one in the third period with a backhander, beating Devils goaltending prospect Keith Kinkaid. But the Rangers could do no further damage before the final buzzer.
No reason to overanalyze what is ultimately a single pre-season game with nobody at full speed, but there are things to observe and take away from the game. Keep reading for some of my observations and which players I believe stood out.
Dominic Moore: Other guys might have had better games or stood out more, but first mention of the 2013-2014 season goes to class-act Dominic Moore, who must have felt an unimaginable number of emotions after scoring in his first game of any kind since April of 2012 and his first game as a Ranger since 2006. Anyone who doesn't know the hell that Moore has lived through should take a few minutes to read his tale. The Rangers lacked, among other things, any resemblence of consistent scoring from its bottom-six last season and Moore, who has averaged 10.3 goals per 82-game season over his career, has the ability to address that need. One has to feel extra happy for Moore potting a goal tonight, even if its a meaningless one as far as the standings are concerned.
John Moore: More Moore? More Moore. John Moore's roster spot was never in question but he is one player who could benefit from the "clean slate" mentality Alain Vigneault is employing. Vigneault mentioned Moore as someone who stood out during Sunday's telecast of the training camp scrimmage, claiming to have been surprised by his skating ability. Tonight, Vigneault gave Moore plenty of minutes, including first-unit powerplay minutes. Although only half the roster was used, it's becoming increasingly obvious that Vigneault is taking a liking to the 22-year old defenseman. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that Moore could play his way into 2nd-pairing minutes and consistent powerplay time.
Cam Talbot: I did not really believe Alain Vigneault when he claimed that Cam Talbot could legitimately win the backup goaltending job and I still am skeptical of how realistic that is, given Biron's likeability, experience, and perhaps most importantly the unlikelihood of finding a trade partner. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with Talbot's performance tonight against the Devils. It was only half of a pre-season game against many guys who aren't going to be in the NHL this season, but it still was a solid performance. Talbot stood strong despite some miscues from the guys in front of him and the imprint that Benoit Allaire has left on Talbot is obvious; he sets up in a very similar fashion to how Lundqvist does for shots. Talbot was unspectacular but was composed and patient in the net, which is of prime importance for an NHL goaltender and especially one who would play for a team with tremendous media and expectations. If Talbot can hold his own the rest of the pre-season I'll begin to buy Talbot as a potential backup to Lundqvist; even if it's not this season.
Marc Staal: Looked normal, which after all he's been through is notable in itself. It's going to take time to really evaluate how he is adapting to life with the eye injury but considering how bad things once looked it was encouraging to see him fly around the ice like he's always done. McDonagh and Girardi are phenomenal defensemen, but Marc Staal will be the team's best one if his eye allows it.
Justin Falk: Mixed results for Falk tonight in his first game as a Ranger. He has a long reach and some good weight behind his slapshot. That being said, he was partially responsible for Tedenby's goal and seemed awkward and uncoordinated in spurts. Of course, it was his first game after a long summer and he's now learning a new system with a new coach for a new team. The Rangers knew Falk was going to be a project when he was acquired and the team has so many quality defensemen that he'll be afforded time to adjust and learn.
Stu Bickel: And here is where it gets ugly. Bickel certainly would love a fresh start after John Tortorella more or less gave up on him. Bickel did not look good in really any facet of the game tonight. Most alarming, though, was his inability to react to the transition. On multiple occasions Bickel looked like a school bus trying to parallel park when the Devils caused a turnover and went on the counter. One of these instances resulted in a 3-on-1 and required a big blocker save from Cam Talbot. The bulk of Bickel's usefulness lies in his physicality, but Dylan McIlrath is just as mean and a significantly better skater and smarter with the puck on his stick. He's a great competitor and good teammate but I just don't see Bickel beating out Falk or Johnson for the #7 defenseman spot.
Danny Kristo: Traverse City is long gone. Kristo goes from being one of the older, more matured players on the ice to one of the younger, inexperienced guys. And it showed during tonight's first period. He took an offensive zone penalty in his first shift and turned over the puck a couple of times. However, he became more comfortable as the game went on and earned the primary assist on Moore's goal, as it was a rebound from a Kristo shot that found its way to Moore's stick. Did he do enough tonight alone to earn his way onto the NHL roster? Probably not. But it's a good first game for Kristo.
The Rangers play again tomorrow night against the Flyers and I imagine most of the guys who sat out tonight will take part.
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