In what amounted to a entertaining preseason game between classic Hudson rivals, the Rangers and Devils split victories. The hockey part was won by the Blueshirts who prevailed 4-3 in 60 minutes. The 3-on-3 overtime part was won by the Devils. Both teams can take away something positive from the night at Newark in front of a good crowd.
For the Rangers, Derek Stepan was the best player scoring twice and setting up two power play tallies from Raphael Diaz. Centering All-American line mates Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, Stepan was splendid registering four points including the game-winner when he took full advantage of a Cory Schneider turnover for an empty net goal late in regulation.
To their credit, the young rebuilding Devils played till the buzzer nearly tying it with an extra. But Tyler Kennedy’s shot went off a sprawling Henrik Lundqvist and the crossbar staying out. Lundqvist made some key stops in the final seconds including a patented save with the mask. Afterwards, Marc Staal and Kyle Palmieri exchanged pleasantries.
Following a scoreless first that saw the Devils with a 10-5 shots-on-goal edge due to strong territorial play, the bitter rivals combined for four goals in the second. Reid Boucher got the Debbies on the board first when he deflected home a Damon Severson point shot past Lundqvist. It was Boucher’s second of the preseason. Paul Thompson outhustled Dan Girardi to a loose puck and set the play up. But Thompson was goaded into a silly penalty by Viktor Stalberg which led directly to Stepan and Miller combining to set up a Diaz one-time blast by Schneider.
More penalty trouble from the Devils allowed the Rangers to cash in on a 5-on-3. With one Devil already off, Palmieri accidentally fired the puck into the stands for delay of game. Once again, Diaz scored off a one-time set up from Stepan after he won a offensive draw. The big game for Diaz came at a good time with Dylan McIlrath having a strong showing. He was arguably the Rangers’ best defenseman making solid defensive plays while throwing his weight around. McIlrath also did fine keeping pucks alive in the offensive zone. He nearly won the experimental overtime but was denied by Schneider shorthanded.
Leading 2-1, the Blueshirts became undisciplined with Kreider earning a goalie interference minor after bumping into Schneider after trying to go around Damon Severson. There wasn’t enough real estate. As usual, he drew Devils who didn’t take kindly to him making contact with their goalie. With Kreider already off, Oscar Lindberg got nabbed for a trip causing a Devils two-man advantage. With six seconds left on the 5-on-3, Stefan Matteau converted at the doorstep from Joseph Blandisi and Devils 2015 first round pick Pavel Zacha. Zacha had a strong game showing good skating and also coming back hard defensively to deny Lindberg of a goal.
Palmieri scored 31 seconds into the third putting the Devils back ahead. A turnover from Dan Girardi who went around the boards led to Palmieri firing a wrist shot from the point that changed direction past Lundqvist. After the turnover, Girardi went to defend Jacob Josefson in front but had the puck carom off him for an own goal. Originally, it was awarded to Josefson who nearly got his stick on it. But later changed to Palmieri.
The Rangers responded thanks to a great burst from Kreider. Flying all night, he backed up the Devils D before threading the needle to Stepan for the tying goal. It was a cardinal copy of the one Kreider scored to stave off elimination in Game 5 against the Capitals. The only difference is this time it was Kreider doing the skating and passing and Stepan finishing. Ever since 2010 when they played together for Team USA at the World Junior Championship, they’ve always had chemistry. Miller has been given the first chance to stick. That line was in sync most of the night. There’s no reason to change it at the season start.
Stepan continued his heady play when he got in on the forecheck and caused Schneider to move a puck faster than he wanted to. The end result was Schneider having the misfortune of the puck deflecting off a teammate’s stick right to Stepan, who flipped a backhand into an open net for the winner in regulation.
Both Lundqvist (23 saves) and Schneider (20 saves) went the whole way including the 3-on-3 which became 4-on-3 for the Devils. Dominic Moore nearly set up McIlrath for a shorthanded goal. McIlrath made a strong defensive play and jumped into the rush creating a 2-on-1. But he was stoned by a sliding Schneider. Once the Devils got set up, ex-Ranger John Moore switched places with Eric Gelinas who bombed a one-timer top shelf.
And so ended a fun affair which in the end meant little. However, there were players from both sides who helped themselves. I’ll take the Rangers first and then the Devils.
-Aside from Stepan, Kreider and Miller, Lindberg had another strong game getting a couple of scoring chances. Even though he took a penalty that led to a Devils PPG, he continues to do good things and should be a lock to make the roster. I’d like to see him start on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast.
-Stalberg also was effective on the forecheck. He seems to fit in seamlessly wherever AV uses him. More than one can say for Emerson Etem, who continues to look lost. He and Hayes have both had disappointing camps. Neither did much tonight. What’s Hayes story? At least the Swedes Stalberg and Fast competed.
-Diaz and McIlrath were the best blueliners. In their first action, Staal and Girardi struggled with the Devils’ speed. It was their return after surgery in the off-season. Hopefully, they’ll get the rust out.
–Mat Bodie looked okay again offensively. He makes things happen. Of course, he’s not making the roster and will be back to Hartford.
-Vigneault’s fascination with Tanner Glass on the penalty kill is enough to drive one mad. But there he was on the 3-on-5 late to the party on Matteau’s PPG. Glass is probably gonna get waived.
–Jayson Megna and Chris Summers also dressed as did Luke Adam who was caught out for a goal against.
-Lundqvist was pretty solid for his first full start. As usual, he made some sparklers which you come to expect. It would be nice if he had an easier night where the game wasn’t close. But that’s un-Ranger like even in preseason.
-Boucher and Matteau both scored which was a big positive. Each are important forwards the Devils need more from. Particularly Boucher who has more skill and speed than Matteau, who must do what he did tonight. Get the jersey dirty and score garbage goals.
-Schneider looked to be in form making some highlight reel stops. Even though he only faced 24 shots, he had to be good. The gaffe on the Stepan winner was a no no. A miscommunication between him and Severson, who got beat.
-Blandisi mixed things up and assisted on Matteau’s PPG. Originally an Avalanche 2012 sixth round pick, the 21-year old has impressed two straight nights also scoring a goal in the Devils 4-2 preseason win Friday over the Islanders.
-Palmieri is a guy the Devils expect big things from. Acquired by new GM Ray Shero in the summer, the ex-Duck has the skill set to become a 20-goal 40-point scorer. He got a break on his goal but was noticeable throughout.
-Zacha didn’t hurt himself. The big 18-year old Czech has the size and skill. He set up a goal and had a couple of nice rushes with one shot getting blocked. There’s no reason he shouldn’t start the season with the big club. Then they’ll decide if he stays.
-Severson and Andy Greene each played over 24 minutes. The veteran was steadier and headier. What it boils down to is Adam Larsson is head and shoulders above the rest.
–Mike Sislo flashed some speed but at this point, he’s an extra skater. Adam Henrique also played and had one good chance but a backhand never got through. He must rediscover the ’13-14 form that saw him record a career high 25 goals.
-Josefson was around the puck a lot on the forecheck. The former ’09 first round pick is starting to resemble the player the Devils had high hopes for.