It’s only preseason. But Taylor Hall looked the part in a Devils’ 5-4 preseason home win over the Rangers at The Rock. The former Oiler scored a goal and had an assist as the Devils held on for a one-goal victory over their Hudson rival.
Wearing his trademark number 9, the exciting Hall was dangerous for most of his shifts against a less than NHL caliber Rangers D. Having already cut down to 32 players, the Devils iced a better roster. It showed during a lopsided second period when they scored the last three goals to take a 5-2 lead.
Hall wasn’t the only player who stood out. 2015 first round pick Pavel Zacha scored a goal and set up Hall’s tally. A goalscorer’s goal which surprised Rangers’ reliever Magnus Hellberg. It started a three-goal barrage in less than six minutes. Zacha tallied off a sloppy Ranger turnover, snapping one top shelf over Hellberg for a two-goal lead. Considering how well he played and that coach John Hynes used him at the end to help protect a one-goal lead, Zacha looks like he’ll make the roster.
Former Blueshirt John Moore tallied the Devs’ fifth goal late in the second. A play set up by Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. They overwhelmed a lackluster Rangers on an extended shift with Moore finally beating Hellberg, who must’ve felt like he was put through hell.
The Rangers did dress some inexperienced players on defense including bright spot John Gilmour and Michael Paliotta. Mat Bodie also took part but struggled as did mainstay Dan Girardi, who got abused by Hall on one shift that almost resulted in a goal during the third. Girardi’s struggles are nothing new. He definitely had issues with the Devils’ speed. With Dylan McIlrath playing better in his first two appearances, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Adam Clendening had another solid performance assisting on two goals while logging 24:32 in 31 shifts including 5:07 on the power play. Brady Skjei was up and down. He had a strong first including making a great recovery to prevent a shorthanded chance. Skjei also made a great shot pass for a Jesper Fast deflection that beat Devils’ goalie Anders Lindback for the game’s first goal. But he also struggled mightily in the second with lazy turnovers and was caught out of position.
The Devils responded with two straight goals. Both coming off the stick of Beau Bennett. A player GM Ray Shero is familiar with from the Pens organization. On the first, Bennett got inside position and was able to steer home a rebound for a power play tally. The second came on a great feed from Hall with Bennett burying a one-timer past Rangers’ starter Antti Raanta.
Assisting on both goals was 27-year old Frenchman defenseman Yohann Auvitu. Having played overseas in Finland, the smooth skating lefty D now has five assists in the preseason. He picked up a third helper later in the contest on a Hall power play goal. If he makes it, that could be a huge bonus for the Devils.
Other defensemen who dressed for New Jersey were regulars Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, Jon Merrill and Moore. Kyle Quincey also debuted after signing. The ex-Red Wing threw his weight around Only starter Damon Severson didn’t dress.
Prior to the Devils’ three-goal flurry, Ryan Gropp showed a flash skating in and spinning around and making a nice backhand feed for trailer Gilmour, who scored again. The 23-year old Providence College graduate has made an impression. He is a fast skater who makes good reads and jumps into the rush. In two straight games, Gilmour has two goals and an assist. His defense will need work in Hartford.
As for Gropp, he was one of the Rangers’ most noticeable forwards. Interestingly, he was buried on the fourth line behind Alain Vigneault favorite Max Lapierre, who didn’t look good taking a penalty due to not being able to keep up. The 20-year old 2015 second round pick has good size and can make plays with the puck. He’ll enter his first pro year and start at Hartford.
The Rangers responded well in the third getting the only two goals. Vigneault made a switch taking J.T. Miller off the top line and sticking Jimmy Vesey on it at right wing. The move worked with Vesey finding chemistry with Mike Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. For two periods, they were held in check. But in the third, generated quality chances. A great defensive play by Vesey sprung Kreider on a breakaway where he was hooked from behind leading to a penalty shot. On it, he shot but was beaten by Lindback’s glove. Kreider shanked it. For his NHL career, he’s 0-for-3 on penalty shots.
Zibanejad wound up with a power play goal and an assist. His assist came on a Michael Grabner goal which made it 5-3. Zibanejad fed Paliotta at the point for a shot which Grabner neatly redirected past Lindback. A nice play from a hard working player. Kreider’s penalty shot followed.
Lindback made some strong saves including a couple on Vesey and Kreider on a dominant shift with Zibanejad. Put on the power play with under five minutes left, Miller made a tough cross ice pass which Quincey partially deflected across to Zibanejad for a wicked one-timer off the bar and in at 16:28. Clendening started it for another power play point. If he does stick, the right D definitely should get power play time. For a guy who’s on his sixth organization, it’s amazing he’s only 23. Maybe he can be a steal.
The Rangers pulled Hellberg with under two minutes left. They came close to tying it. A big block of a Gilmour shot and a well timed Lovejoy hold with seconds to spare prevented Nathan Gerbe from possibly forcing overtime.
It was definitely a fun game that had peaks and valleys. The Devils controlled periods with their top players including feature attraction Hall showing why. It was their fourth preseason game. They have three left with a home-and-home against the Islanders Oct. 1 and 3. Then travel to Florida for the final one and must fly back there for the season opener Oct. 13. Odd scheduling.
This was the Rangers’ third of six exhibition games. The final three are at the Flyers Monday, at the Islanders Tuesday and home for the Flyers Oct. 6. They’ll see the Islanders at MSG for the season opener Oct. 13.