Zibanejad makes first impression in Rangers preseason win over Islanders


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AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Twitter.

There was preseason hockey played at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. It was the first game played by a revamped Blueshirts. With it being the first one, it was a mix of roster players and minor leaguers who took on and defeated the Islanders’ B squad 5-2.

The best Rangers were forwards Chris Kreider (goal, assist) and newcomer Mika Zibanejad (power play goal, 2 assists). Playing on the same line with Russian prospect Pavel Buchnevich, they meshed well. Buchnevich didn’t look out of place registering three shots and getting chances while adjusting throughout.

Following a shaky start that saw no one pick up new Islander Jason Chimera in front for a rebound goal on starter Magnus Hellberg (1 GA on 13 shots), the Rangers went to work on the power play which looked much improved due to having a right-handed shot on the off wing. It was that different look that allowed Zibanejad to one-time home a Adam Clendening pass for a power play goal. He blasted one top shelf by Isles’ starter Jean-Francois Berube, who went the distance permitting four goals on 30 shots.

In particular, Kreider played one of his strongest games. He did everything well including hustling back on the back check to prevent an Isles’ chance. Looking even stronger and faster, he dominated a shift and scored from distance on another assist from Clendening, who had a good game. If he can carry his steady play through when the season begins, we could be seeing the best from Kreider.

Featuring a lineup that included regulars Dan Girardi, Brady Skjei and Marc Staal, the defense was okay for the most part. Skjei paired with Girardi while Staal worked with Clendening. The third pair was Mat Bodie with Dylan McIlrath, who scored a goal with his big shot in the third off a clean Zibanejad face off win.

Another player who impressed was Brandon Pirri. The offensive center assisted on the first goal and converted on the power play off a beautiful rush and backhand saucer pass from Zibanejad, which was started by Kreider. Even though he’s on his third roster in a year, Pirri has good hands and is capable of providing offense on one of the bottom lines.

Speaking of which, coach Alain Vigneault naturally played the fourth line a lot. On a night when Girardi and Staal wore A’s, Tanner Glass also wore an A. While some might chuckle over that, it was a good reward for a team first guy who remains a long shot to make the roster. Especially given the improved depth with key additions Nathan Gerbe, Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris and Pirri. Jooris only took four shifts before leaving with a groin injury. He’s day-to-day according to Vigneault and there will be a call up for Thursday against the Devils.

Eventually, Oscar Lindberg will be back too. There’s no reason to rush him. He can take his time. When he does return, that’ll be a nice bonus. Lindberg proved he is capable of playing key minutes at even strength and shorthanded. He also has size and goes to the net. Plus he’s a decent center who can win draws. You can never have enough of those.

As for that fourth line, Glass played with former Hab/Canuck Max Lapierre and Chris Brown. Lapierre is here on a tryout under his former coach. A well known pest who isn’t the most popular player, he spent last season in Switzerland and Sweden. He didn’t look bad. But the idea he can make the roster seems unlikely even if Vigneault knows him.

Forward prospect Robin Kovacs also played. He wore number 71. He’s likely ticketed for Hartford which should be good for his development. Marek Hrivik also dressed playing over 18 minutes. He centered a line going even in 14 draws. Malte Stromwall and Nicklas Jensen also played.

One of the best parts of the game was when Mackenzie Skapski replaced Hellberg. The fan favorite was cheered. Ranger fans never forget. As a 20-year old emergency call up two years ago, he won his only two NHL starts both against the Sabres. Last season was a rough one for him after undergoing hip surgery. Predictably, he struggled spending time in the ECHL and AHL. In his return at least in a Blueshirt, Skapski was sharp making a few sparklers including a nice kick out on a tough Isles’ chance. He finished with 17 saves and heard chants.

After a sloppy second in which they got the lone goal on Pirri’s one-time blast from Zibanejad, the third was a joy to watch. It was end to end skating with some good possession time for the Rangers. There weren’t many whistles.

The Isles finally solved Skapski when Nick Leddy had a shot go off the Ranger netminder and in. Former first round pick Matthew Barzal set it up as the Islanders had the Rangers hemmed in. The center played over 22 minutes leading all Isles’ forwards. Michael Dal Colle also played over 13 minutes. Andrew Ladd played on the top line and was in front on Leddy’s tally. Initially, he was credited with the goal. But replays showed he didn’t touch the puck. He should be a good addition to the Islanders.

P.A. Parenteau wore Matt Martin’s number 17. Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier also played. Both Gionta and Parenteau had assists. Brock Nelson also dressed as did Alan Quine.

The Isles had three regulars on the back end including Leddy, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan.

Prior to the game, MSG held a moment of silence for FDNY chief captain Mike Fahy of Battalion 19. He died in the line of duty during an explosion in the Bronx yesterday morning. Six police officers and nine firemen were injured during a marijuana-growing operation exploded. A horrible tragedy. He was a father of three children. Wishing all the best to his family. 😦

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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