Panarin and Kakko click in preseason win over Bruins, Jones and Schneider stand out


After going four periods without a goal in the preseason, the Rangers scored three in a better second to edge the Providence Bruins 3-2 at MSG. Boston hardly played anyone except their fourth line, Mike Reilly and expected new starter Linus Ullmark for the first half. That is part of why it’s exhibition.

In their second tune-up of six, the Rangers got their first glimpse of Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko together with Ryan Strome. It went smoothly. Kakko scored a goal and picked up an assist while Panarin did what he can do by ripping up the young B’s for a goal (breakaway) and a pair of assists. It was nice to see Kakko look stronger. He worked hard in the weight room during the off-season. Gerard Gallant even tried him on the penalty kill. Something we could see more of.

While the main takeaway was the cohesiveness for the new second line (1 line B), Gallant was pleased with what he saw from potential future pair Zac Jones and Braden Schneider. They were good together. Each are only 20. You wouldn’t know it by how they played. Jones was a shining star with his smooth skating and transition. He tallied an assist on Kakko’s rebound goal in the second.

Schneider was strong defensively in his end. The former first round pick used his size and strength to finish with seven hits. It was impressive. The best aspect is the organization doesn’t have to rush the development of Schneider or even Jones, who would crack the top six if they didn’t sign Patrik Nemeth. If he isn’t on the Opening Night roster, it’ll be due to a numbers game with Nils Lundkvist the favorite to play third pair. Both Jones and Lundkvist have similar styles due to their skating, offensive instincts and ability to play power play. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Other young prospects that made an impression were Lauri Pajuniemi and recent first round pick Brennan Othmann. Both were good in the two Rookie Prospect games with the Flyers. Othmann due to his aggressive mindset on the forecheck and the older 22-year old Pajuniemi due to his lethal wrist shot. He demonstrated why he might be a steal by clanging iron and getting denied by Boston backup Kyle Keyser on the power play. He finished with three shots in less than 10 minutes. Othmann got a taste of playing at The Garden. I would expect him to be assigned to his Junior team.

Gallant also used Sammy Blais on the penalty kill. Acquired from the Blues for the more gifted Pavel Buchnevich and a second round pick, Blais threw his weight around with eight hits while working effectively with Kevin Rooney. Rooney is likely to center Blais and Ryan Reaves, who made his Broadway debut. He had some interesting things to say during the second period intermission, pointing out that they want to outwork teams. That’s a mantra Gallant wants to see. Of course, it helps that Reaves knows him from their days in Vegas. Look for Reaves to be a key locker room presence.

One other player who pleasantly surprised was backup Tyler Wall. After relieving starter Igor Shesterkin (11 saves on 12 shots), Wall performed well by turning aside 15 of 16 Boston shots. He definitely didn’t hurt himself. Wall was very good in college, but struggled with Hartford. Adjusting to pro level can take some time. At least last night, Wall looked unflappable. He will be with the Wolf Pack.

The first goal was from unlikely source Anthony Bitetto. On a Panarin rush, he missed connection with Kakko on a potential scoring chance. While I was venting at him for waiting too long, Kakko kept the play alive and got the puck back to Panarin. Like a magician, he found a cutting Bitetto for an easy goal past Ullmark. A few minutes later, Kakko was able to bury a rebound from Panarin and Jones for a 2-0 lead.

The Bruins responded with two goals to tie the score. After Jake Studnicka tallied, he won an offensive draw back to Urho Vaakanainen (don’t try pronouncing it) for a quick snapshot past Wall. Face-offs matter. Unless you are a chart person, who stares into the abyss. Hopefully, we won’t see a recurring theme of lost defensive draws leading to goals against. This is a New Era. Gallant has emphasized improving on face-offs as has GM Chris Drury. Let’s hope they move up from dead last with a more respectable win percentage.

The game-winner came with a minute to go in the second period. Who else but Panarin snuck behind the Bruins to take a K’Andre Miller pass and break in and beat Keyser with a wrist shot just past his glove short side. It happened that fast. That’s what makes Panarin so dangerous. He found a dead spot and then scored the breakaway goal that decided this one. Miller looked stronger. He paired with Jacob Trouba, who didn’t have a good night. Let’s leave it at that.

Most touching was the video tribute MSG Network did for Rangers legend and Hall Of Famer Rod Gilbert. The Rangers Ambassador who recently passed away at 80 loved being a New York Ranger. He was always front and center at games interacting with fans while having a smile on his face. Number 7 will be worn on their helmets during the season in remembrance of the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Sam Rosen definitely sounded emotional when discussing him with Joe Micheletti. Sitting at home, I was on the verge of tears. It’s gonna be a hard season. So many fans met Gilbert including our Dad, who definitely will miss him. It won’t be easy. I hope they can do him proud by returning to the playoffs.

This went a bit longer than I thought. That’s because I wanted to include the details. Particularly Gilbert, who’ll be remembered on Opening Night against the Capitals. He will be honored by the team all season. A moment of silence for a class act. 💜🏒

Until next time.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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