The New York Rangers came into tonight's matchup off a long break and with a shorter roster. They faced the Calgary Flames, set to be arguably the worst team in the NHL. An offense highlighted by Curtis Glencross and Matt Stajan managed to put four pucks in the net, which is not indicative of good defense. The Rangers, meanwhile, scraped together one goal against a goaltender who hasn't played an NHL game since 2009.
Of course, it's the pre-season. The results don't matter. What does matter, however, is execution and productivity. With a new coaching staff and, thus, system in place there are going to be some bumps in the road even once the regular season starts. So of course the team is not going to be firing on all cylinders right now. Nonetheless, I come away a bit frustrated and disappointed with tonight's showing The roster has been reduced from where it once was. Guys who were in training camp for the sake of the experience itself are, for the most part, long gone. Play time is over. The players who made this road trip are mostly guys who are competing for roster spots, and the 19 guys on the ice tonight collaborated for a poor showing. Keep reading for some of my observations.
Henrik Lundqvist: It looked like 2009 again. With him receiving no help in front of him. The scoreline is unfair to Hank, who was phenomenal tonight. The shorten leg pads have given no reason for concern, as he is still a black hole for low shots. I'm sure he could write a 10-page thesis on every little thing he should have done better tonight but he was the best player in a Rangers uniform tonight, as is the case often.
Kreider-Richards-Nash: The complete opposite of John Tortorella's philosophy, which was to change lines every other game, would be to stick with the same combinations well after it becomes obvious that what's been tried won't work. That's not to say that Vigneault has done that in this case because we haven't played so much as a single meaningful period yet. That being said, this line has shown virtually nothing through two games. Nash has had a few quality opportunities, but those were generated thanks to his own individual efforts. Chemistry isn't built overnight. But this line is going to have to show something soon or else Vigneault will be forced to try something else.
John Moore: Another strong game from Moore. Moore was given nearly 21 minutes, and that could have been higher if he didn't sit for fighting Curtis Glencross. Moore's skating was noticeable as usual and he made an effort to get deep in the offensive zone and try to generate some offense. Three shots, three blocked shots and three hits.
Marc Staal: I think (hope) we have reached the point where we no longer have to worry about Staal's eye in terms of general life consequences and can evaluate his play itself and how it might be affecting him. He looked pretty natural once again tonight, making plays in both ends of the ice. Staal scored the sole goal for the Rangers, and on the powerplay no less, by crashing the net and collecting on a puck received from Fast. With the new coaching staff and the stinking pile of garbage that was last season's powerplay, it's a wide open competition for powerplay roles. Staal has shown flashes of ability with the man advantage in the past and could flourish if given an opportunity.
Stu Bickel: Speaking of defensemen who have played well tonight, Stu Bickel was not one of them. Bickel's first game of the pre-season was not very encouraging but he had a complete meltdown tonight. Two penalties which the PK bailed him out of, with the second one being and embarrassing display of defense, as he let Matt Stajan beat him on the inside, forcing him to hook him to prevent a prime scoring opportunity. I am not one to encourage scapegoats or pile on a player for fun, but Stu Bickel has shown absolutely nothing that suggests he belongs at the NHL level. We had fun in 2012, Stu. Unfortunately, we're two seasons passed that now. It's just not working out anymore.
Jesper Fast: Oscar Lindberg came into the pre-season in the pole position to be the prospect that makes it this year. Fast, however, might just be closing that gap. He was one of the best Rangers forwards tonight – not saying much, but still – and assisted on Marc Staal's goal. The comparison is convenient and possibly stereotypical – Fast and Hagelin are both in the Rangers organization and both Swedish – but the similarities between the two are uncanny. Fast has that combination of speed and tenacity that Hagelin has. Not so much in a physical sense, but with his body positioning and stick work. He doesn't give up on plays. He's willing to dig for pucks behind the net. He looks to make life difficult for the opposition in their own zone when they have the puck. He's responsible defensively. It won't hurt Fast if the Rangers decide to give him some time to develop in Hartford, but he's earned himself a long look, at the very least.
Danny Kristo: After a strong Traverse City showing, Kristo looked like a guy who wasn't ready for the NHL in his first pre-season game. Did he prove himself worthy tonight? Not surely. He did look much more comfortable, however. Whereas he looked a bit passive against the Devils, Kristo looked much more confident and went at defenders with the puck on his stick, looking to make plays. He led the team with four shots. No matter what choices Vigneault and the coaching staff make there is going to be a prospect or two who will get the short end of the stick and get sent down despite a strong campaign. Kristo is among the handful of young guys who are making the decisions difficult, and that's only a good thing.
The Rangers have a chance for immediate redemption tomorrow, though certainly with many different players, as they take on the Oilers in Edmonton.
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