They played a preseason game in Bridgeport. The Rangers and Islanders renewed acquaintances in Connecticut off I-95 for a second exhibition this week. It went to the home side with the Islanders prevailing 2-1 before a mixed crowd. No different than most Rangers/Islanders games.
Of course, plenty of regulars didn’t play. There was no John Tavares again for the Isles. No Mika Zibanejad for the Blueshirts with the projected number one center due back this weekend after a bout with the flu. It was also disappointing that the Isles didn’t play too prospect Matthew Barzal for a second time in three games. He’s a player with high potential. Perhaps the plan is to have him start his first pro year in Bridgeport.
They do have Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang. Both of who’ll be crucial in the top nine up front. Ho-Sang’s the more skilled while Beauvillier is the grittier of the two. Fittingly, the second-year forward netted the winner after a power play expired in the one-goal win.
Similar to Monday, goals were hard to come by. At least in the rematch, there were no face-off violations. There were still plenty of slashes called. Even love taps. This is what they want. But it’s still okay for them to miss blatant high-sticks like the one Neal Pionk took. At least they got the next one.
Pionk is one of four young defensemen trying to make the roster. He played another good game. Paired with Ryan Graves, he and the 22-year old prospect were effective offensively. Both are smooth skaters with good point shots. Graves is a former 2013 fourth round pick while Pionk signed as a college free agent following two years at Minnesota-Duluth. If they don’t crack the roster Opening Night, it won’t be long before they’re heard from.
The other two D who played are Russian Alexei Bereglazov and Tony DeAngelo. A former first round pick in 2014 with Tampa Bay, the 22-year old DeAngelo is on his third organization. Known as skating offensive defenseman with a good right shot, he’s shown a willingness to get dirty so far. The Sewell, New Jersey product has mixed it up in his two showings which included a fight tonight. A player who went 5-9-14 in 39 NHL games with Arizona last season, he came over as part of the Derek Stepan deal that also sent Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for DeAngelo and a 2017 first round pick that became Lias Andersson (7th overall).
Meanwhile, Bereglazov is 23 and has four years of pro experience playing in Russia for Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the KHL. More of a defensive defenseman with size listed at 6-4, 192, he quietly had a strong game. Considering he is more polished, the Rangers could decide to include him on Opening Night. DeAngelo is waiver exempt. Graves and Pionk can go down.
Personally, I would like to see two of the four on the roster. That would mean GM Jeff Gorton making a move with either Marc Staal or Nick Holden. Holden is the more likely candidate due to having a year left on his contract. He is capable of playing top four minutes elsewhere and can contribute offense. Nobody is taking Staal’s contract. They’re stuck. Even if he doesn’t improve on Wednesday’s performance.
It really sucks. This isn’t on Staal but rather Glen Sather for giving him that no-movement clause along with a risky long-term deal for the oft injured veteran. What are they supposed to do? At least the organizational depth is there.
You have Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk locked in along with Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith. That’s your top four. After that, it depends on coach Alain Vigneault. If Holden stays, then that leaves one opening due to Staal. You can see the dilemma.
The action on the ice was a marked improvement. You had the usual bite between blood rivals. One scrap and a few scrums with Bobby Farnham making his presence known. If he doesn’t make the team, it won’t be from lack of effort. The undersized bulldog knows his role and plays it well. He even created a good scoring opportunity with a nice pass that wasn’t handled. Who wouldn’t love having Farnham as a extra for a deterrent?
At this point, it looks like a long shot with both 2017 first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil playing well. Andersson is the checking pivot who can slot in on the fourth line and play penalty kill. Chytil is the Rangers’ most talented draft pick up front since Alexei Kovalev. The recently turned 18-year old Czech who just made the draft deadline has that rare combination of size, speed and hockey instincts which can make him a future star.
After a memorable Broadway debut that included him getting the overtime winner, he was again very noticeable. Playing exclusively with J.T. Miller and Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers’ 21st overall pick had instant chemistry with his linemates. It really is a joy to watch a young player with Chytil’s arsenal. Some guys just have it. He does. He’s so instinctive and doesn’t hesitate. Watch him during shifts whether it’s five on five or on the power play. He’s dangerous.
It was those quick reflexes that set up the only goal of the game. Trailing by one, Chytil quickly one-timed a pass right to Vinni Lettieri for a power play goal past Isles starter Jaro Halak. The only puck he couldn’t stop in a game the Blueshirts controlled. Halak (34 saves) went the distance looking like the same goalie who reclaimed his starting job last April from Thomas Greiss.
Ondrej Pavelec was good. The two Isles goals weren’t his fault. The first coming following a strong kick out. But Graves and Pionk miscommunicated to lose the battle leading to a tap in for Casey Bailey following the expiration of a power play.
Beauvillier’s winner was the direct result of Chytil losing position. It caused a two on one down low with Beauvillier able to tap home a goal past Pavelec with Skjei kneeling.
Pavelec looked controlled in his two periods making steady stops. Chris Nell replaced him. He’s competing with Brandon Halverson and Alexandar Georgiev for the job in Hartford. Give it another year and you’ll probably see top prospect Igor Shestyerkin, who again is dominating in the KHL. He’s got a 1.41 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage in eight games with SKA St. Petersburg. He won’t turn 22 until December 30.
Tyler Wall enters his sophomore year with UMass-Lowell. Goaltending won’t be a problem post Henrik Lundqvist.
A couple of other takeaways from tonight:
-I like what I’ve seen from Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey. It’s pretty obvious they have something going. Maybe Hayes and Vesey start together with Mats Zuccarello. That would move Rick Nash to a third line with Miller and Chytil, who I believe should be given the max nine games before they decide whether to keep him or designate him to either Hartford or more likely PSG Zlin of the Czech Extraliga.
-All I know is Chytil and Andersson deserve spots to start. I also like what I’ve seen from David Desharnais. He is a nice secondary scorer that can play power play and win draws. If he started on a fourth line with Andersson and Matt Puempel until Jesper Fast returns, I’m for it.
-There’s also Michael Grabner who can be moved around between the third and fourth line or higher. You know what he brings. That speed and dangerous breakaway element which made him so popular last year when he sniped 27 times.
-It really appears the Rangers’ depth is much improved. It all comes down to what they get from the center ice position. Obviously, Zibanejad and Hayes must deliver with AV expecting more leadership from each. Hayes sounds ready for it.
-Buchnevich played his most assertive period in the final stanza. He just missed following a DeAngelo blast. He sent the puck off the goalpost. He obviously needs to perform this season. Especially if the back is a thing of the past.
-Vesey looks really strong. He definitely is looking more complete making some excellent passes to Hayes for great chances. Vesey is always around the net. I see him scoring 25 goals.
The next game is at the Devils tomorrow. Do you think they play their rivals enough in preseason? Geez. It’s almost more than the season. It’ll be on. If I’m around, I’ll post a review.
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