Pionk’s highlight reel goal offsets penalty fest in first preseason game


If this is the new standard for officiating, it’s gonna be a long season. The first Rangers’ preseason game against the Islanders was marred by a penalty fest.

Apparently, the powers to be have finally decided to focus on slashing. The two teams didn’t get the message. But then again, they called every ticky tack thing which seemed to befuddle players and coaches. Between that and the cheesy new face-off violation, sometimes I wonder how the NHL decides what to call. A first look:

In between the nine zillion penalties which must’ve bugged all the Corsica charts, the Rangers were able to score a goal. Yes. It actually happened during 3-on-3 for a 1-0 overtime win over the Islanders. The goal was a beauty scored by offensive defenseman Neal Pionk. Take a look!

Quite a move by the college free agent who GM Jeff Gorton signed. Pionk has excellent wheels and obviously can contribute offensively. He was good in this game. The question is the defensive end with him.

The main competition Ryan Graves performed very well. Working alongside vet Steven Kampfer, Graves showed off his unique combination of size, speed and transition while being defensively responsible. Graves looks NHL ready. If he doesn’t make the Opening Night roster, it’ll be due to Marc Staal and Anthony DeAngelo, who looked alright in his Rangers debut. He showed off his top heavy right shot and even mixed it up during a scrum. There’s pressure on DeAngelo to make it.

As for Staal, he didn’t play. We’ll be focused on him if he does Wednesday. He is in competition with younger talent. It all depends on Alain Vigneault. You know how much he respects Staal. But it should be based on performance. His partner Nick Holden debuted a new number after generously giving number 22 to Kevin Shattenkirk. He didn’t get money. Holden wore 55 and looked fine without Staal, even making a couple of key defensive plays. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

First round pick Lias Andersson made a impressive debut. The Swede center wasn’t intimidated. He showed good skating and forecheck pressure even coming close on a couple of scoring chances. One off a tough, hard shot from the left circle with traffic in front that was blockered away. He’s very mature for his age and confident.

He also got involved physically with Scott Mayfield behind the play on what would’ve been a goal for Brock Nelson. Instead, the ref behind the play blew his whistle for matching roughs, which angered Isles coach Doug Weight. He took a tantrum on the bench because it was really close. Hey. It’s PRESEASON for the stripes too. Based on all the penalties, that was pretty obvious.

Ondrej Pavelec made the start playing two periods withou t permitting a goal. He may have let up when the whistle went which is why Nelson’s shot went in. He didn’t see much action in terms of shots stopping 10. But from the indication of MSG’s John Giannone, it was goalie coach Benoit Allaire who made the call to sign the former Winnipeg Jet starter. He had offers from a couple of other teams. But the chance to work with Allaire and learn from Henrik Lundqvist appealed to the veteran. We’ll see how it goes.

Brandon Halverson got the third and OT. He made a couple of nice saves and even channeled his Ron Hextall on the penalty kill clearing a puck all the way down. A Rangers rarity. 😱

In terms of the game or lack there of, blame the refs. Err NHL. It was one of the worst games I’ve seen. If it’s like this to start the season, plenty of tickets will be available.

I liked the combo of J.T. Miller and Rick Nash. They made things happen when they were together, including shorthanded. Nash looked very good. I fail to think how this roster would be without him. He’s got those wheels and skill set no one else does. It’s a contract year. Hopefully, he’ll stay healthy and score more.

Most of the 18 skaters were effective. How about that stretch pass from Graves to spring Gabriel Fontaine for a break in that Halak stopped? Very Yandleesque.

I also liked Cole Schneider. A 27-year old AHL veteran who posted a career best 63 points (24-39-63) for Buffalo affiliate Rochester last year before getting into four NHL games with an assist, he’s not shy about shooting the puck. Someone oughta tell Ryan McDonagh that after he passed instead of shot, allowing Isles’ forward Joshua Ho-Sang to come back and break it up. A good defensive play from a offensive player who could be a factor for the Isles.

Bobby Farnham donned number 23 and made his presence known. He finished with four shots and four hits along with some scrums in his nine minutes. A long shot due to what Vigneault prefers, the former Devil didn’t hurt himself.

Michael Grabner showed flashes of why he had a bounce back season with his defensive instincts and lightning speed in transition. He also was guilty of over passing when he should’ve shot. A team epidemic that still stands.

The power play got plenty of looks. Like clockwork, the puck wouldn’t go in. Both teams had nine penalties. They were a combined 0 for 15. It was brutal.

I was disappointed with Pavel Buchnevich. He was barely noticeable in 23 shifts with only one shot in over 15 minutes of ice time. Where was he? It is only the first game of PRESEASON. I hope he shows more.

Cristoval Nieves was okay. Nothing earth shattering. But at least he was around the net. He missed a tap in on a elevated pass. But did pick up a secondary assist on Pionk’s Denis Savard spin-o-rama goal.

Nineteen-year old American Kiefer Bellows dressed for the Islanders. He’s got talent. He will be a good one down the road.

It’s worth noting that Vigneault stuck Andersson out for that OT shift. He immediately factored in getting the puck across to an open Pionk, who did the rest going top shelf by Isles’ reliever Eamon McAdam (19 saves). Halak made 22 stops before being replaced.

The shots were lopsided in favor of the Blueshirts, 42-17. Look for other top pick Filip Chytil to play on Wednesday versus the Devils. Everyone is raving about him. It’s time to see what all the hype is about.

The Devils won their exhibition game over the Caps 4-1. In case you’re wondering, first overall pick Nico Hischier did this:

He’ll be tormenting opposing goalies for a long time.

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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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