As training camp continues, so does the preseason. So far, the Rangers haven’t been that busy compared to the Islanders and Flyers. The latter of who they lost to 6-4 on Wednesday in the first game at Madison Square Garden. New coach David Quinn is getting used to being a NHL coach. He seems comfortable speaking to the press and looking to establish a strong work ethic for this young group.
Highlights from the second exhibition game included power play goals from Ryan “Spoonman” Spooner and Pavel Buchnevich, along with a highlight reel goal from 19-year old Filip Chytil. While it was nice to see Spooner and Buchnevich continue to score, seeing Chytil make a terrific rush around the D and beat Flyers goalie prospect Carter Hart with a great wrist shot to the short side, was encouraging. Especially after one too many turnovers the first two periods. It showed off his unique talent, which has Rangers brass and fans excited.
Buchnevich made the nice backhand pass to lead an attacking Chytil, who sniped by the goalie of the future for the Flyers. Hart was very good after he replaced Brian Elliott. He robbed a couple of Rangers on a two save sequence in the third period, helping the Flyers preserve the lead. They would add one more goal off some faulty defensive coverage for a two-goal win.
Philly didn’t dress many regulars, but Claude Giroux played. It was some of their younger prospects who had good nights. Oskar Lindblom did damage with a three-point first that included two goals past Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist. In his first appearance, he wasn’t sharp allowing five to get by him in 26:37 of work before Dustin Tokarski replaced him. I’ll cut Lundqvist some slack. He definitely would want two goals back. Better to get the rust out now.
Tokarsi did fine in his Rangers debut, stopping 10 of 11 shots. The one goal from Mikhail Vorobyev one he had no chance on. Old friend Dale Weise set it up. He also deflected a point shot past Lundqvist earlier with no one guarding him in front. An area the Blueshirts want to clean up. That’s been a sore spot the past couple of years. Defensemen must do a better job boxing out.
Brendan Smith made his first appearance. He looked sharp throughout, even going back at a Flyer following a whistle. There were plenty of scrums between the rivals. Quinn wants his team to be tougher to play against. It was a welcome change. The atmosphere for a preseason game was surprisingly good. There was actually energy in the third with the Rangers playing hard even though they came up short. Quinn didn’t like the first two periods. The second was sloppy. If the team brings a good work ethic, they’ll be fun to watch.
Of the two kids they got from Tampa, I noticed Libor Hajek more than Brett Howden, who had a tough night, finishing minus-two while losing 11 of 13 draws. Hajek wore number 43. He’s a good skater, but did take a holding penalty in his own zone.
I like what I saw from Tony DeAngelo. He saw a lot of minutes logging almost 24 with over 10 minutes on special teams, including 7:57 on the power play. He got his shot through and was denied by a good glove save from Hart. He totaled five shots on goal and looked like the player GM Jeff Gorton thought he was getting from Arizona in the Derek Stepan/Antii Raanta trade that also netted Lias Andersson (7th overall pick in 2017). It’s imperative for DeAngelo to have a good camp and make the team. Especially with a couple of spots open on the third pair. His skating is good enough. His defense will be the key. He made a good defensive play after breaking his stick on a shot. A great take out to prevent a shorthanded chance.
Vladislav Namestnikov struggled, taking a couple of ill advised penalties. That included one at the conclusion of the first 180 feet away from his own zone. He plays chippy, but must pick his spots better. A skilled player, he must become more disciplined. The Flyers cashed in on the bad penalty at the end of the first. Namestnikov remains a puzzling player. We’ll see if Quinn can straighten him out.
Veteran Matt Beleskey also scored the other night on a pass from Smith. A long shot to make the roster due to his contract, which the Rangers took from Boston, he can bring the edge in a secondary role. But how realistic is it for him to be on a rebuilding club? He only played 15 games for Boston last year and didn’t register a point, while winding up minus-nine. My guess is he’ll be ticketed for Hartford. He’s signed for two more years with a cap hit of $3.8 million.
While the Rangers only play six times in preseason, it feels like the Islanders are playing every night. They’re in action again against the Flyers currently. I caught some of their 2-0 shutout over the Devils. Kieffer Bellows scored for the second time in two games. He is a good prospect, who’ll be a first-year pro. A impressive finisher who performed well for Team USA at the WJC, it looks like the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows will be the next good Islander. He has the skating and hockey sense. He also knows where to go, which is what you want to see from top prospects. If he doesn’t make them out of camp, I see no reason we won’t see Bellows at some point. He could be the second best finisher on the Islanders behind 40-goal man Anders Lee. Don’t forget Lee is due a raise next summer. He can hit the open market.
The Isles will look different for two reasons. No John Tavares, who already is fitting in with his hometown Leafs, scoring for a third time in preseason tonight. Barry Trotz behind the bench. A proven coach, who finally got over the hump by guiding the Capitals to the Stanley Cup, he will change the mindset of a team that was the NHL’s worst defensive club last season. They’ll play a more structured defensive system under the demanding Trotz. There will be accountability.
Don’t forget Mathew Barzal will now grab the mantle as the team’s best player. What can last year’s Calder winner do for an encore with the spotlight on him? He’ll be facing tougher assignments. I protected him in our keeper league. We’ll see if the extremely gifted playmaking center is up to the challenge.
They drop the puck tomorrow night in Brooklyn after 7 PM.