When Ryan Reaves got tangled up with P.K. Subban during the first period, the meaningless exhibition between Hudson rivals became something more. With the Rangers ahead on an early Mika Zibanejad goal, Subban collided with Reaves during a scrum in the corner of the Devils end. It was Reaves who got the worst of it by falling awkwardly on his left leg. In obvious pain, he couldn’t put any weight on the leg as he was helped off the ice.
It looked ugly for the veteran enforcer, who went down in discomfort. For Subban, who came across Reaves’ right foot with his left skate tripping up the defenseless Ranger from behind, the question is was it intentional. Replays showed that the play could be classified a slew foot. A no no in hockey. Especially in a tune-up. Accusations flew Subban’s way from aggravated Rangers including Chris Kreider leading the charge. The veteran forward had words with Subban during a stoppage. He wasn’t done. Not by a longshot.
I’ve seen enough replays. I don’t feel there was any intent. However, it was bad with Subban’s left foot coming across the back of Reaves’ right foot. Looks can be deceiving. Subban isn’t that kind of player. He called immediately for the whistle after it happened. He also denied that he would deliberately injure a player.
After several Blueshirts made sure to finish their checks on Subban with even Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome double teaming him, then came the opening face-off to start the second period. Coach Gerard Gallant had his projected top line out for the draw. Once the puck was dropped, an irate Kreider made a beeline for Subban, who ducked his challenge for a fight. As usual, the refs gave Kreider a misconduct to go with roughing. Coincidentally, Subban wound up with an unsportsmanlike conduct even though he kept his gloves on. Kreider continued to yell at Subban as they went to the penalty box.
One thing Gallant made clear is he plans to name a captain before the start of the season next week in Washington. Judging from Kreider’s strong reaction which finally included a scrap with Subban in the third period, it looks like he wants that honor of being captain. The lone holdover from the ’13-14 team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals, Kreider has sometimes been criticized for not always standing up for teammates. However, that’s never been his main job. He’s an important player who can finish around the net and screen goalies. Even though he’s never been a consistent player, Kreider is usually good for between 25 and 30 goals. His combination of strength and speed make him a valuable commodity. That’s why the Rangers decided to keep him.
As for the hockey portion, the Blueshirts won that 6-2 against a mix of Devils, who are still figuring out their roster with more exhibitions left. The score wasn’t a surprise. However, the rag tag bunch that included former forward/defenseman Mason Geertsen, outplayed the Rangers in the first period. They had the better of the shots and dominated a good chunk at even strength following the Subban controversy. But Igor Shesterkin was sharp keeping the Devils at bay. He went the entire way making 34 of 36 saves. It was a good tune-up for the Rangers starter.
After Fox setup Zibanejad for the only goal in the first, Kaapo Kakko gave the fans a reason for excitement. He took away a loose puck and broke away from Subban and made a power move to beat Devils goalie Jonathan Bernier for a beautiful unassisted goal. The new and improved Kakko has looked good in the preseason. Leaner and faster, he looks like he could be poised for a breakout year. He’s playing with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome on the new second line.
After another Fox hookup with Zibanejad for a five-on-three power play goal made it 3-0, the Devils got one back courtesy of Andreas Johnsson from Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha. But before they could grab any momentum, Sammy Blais absolutely undressed the Devils defense by stealing a puck and scoring on a gorgeous move to make it 4-1. Barclay Goodrow followed up with his first of the preseason just 20 seconds later.
The third was all about Kreider avenging Reaves. This time, Subban took the challenge and the two squared off eight seconds in. The fun wasn’t done with Subban and Goodrow earning the rest of the night off with less than 10 minutes left. That’s who the Rangers now are. They will not duck anyone in the upcoming season. Even if that means no Reaves for the foreseeable future, they’ll be ready to go back at opponents. When even Panarin gets physically involved with Fox also putting a good clean hit on Subban, that tells you the mindset.
After the game, Gallant told reporters when asked if the Reaves injury was serious, he didn’t believe so. Right now, it’s being termed “day-to-day.” If that’s indeed the case, that’s encouraging news because it looked very bad. Especially the way Reaves landed. One thing I doubt we’ll see is Reaves lining up against Tom Wilson next week.
What could happen instead is if Vitali Kravtsov is ready after taking the morning skate, he could play on the third line with Filip Chytil and Goodrow. The fourth line could be Kevin Rooney with Blais and Julien Gauthier. Gallant might decide to mix and match due to how good Blais has looked. As I predicted, fans are taking notice of what the former Blues two-way forward can do.
The third period goals were from Marian Studenic of the Devils and Panarin for the Rangers. That’s how it wound up 6-2. They played an NHL roster with Jarred Tinordi dressing for Patrik Nemeth. Zac Jones and Libor Hajek sat out. So did Dryden Hunt and Morgan Barron. Everyone who played could make the final roster. That’ll depend on what the organization thinks is best. No doubt you’ll see Jones and Hajek along with Barron and Hunt in the final tune-up in Bridgeport versus the Islanders on Saturday.
Regulars for the Devils included Bratt, Ryan Graves, Mike McLeod, Subban, Johnsson, Zacha and Bernier in net. Both Nolan Foote and Christian Jaros could make the roster. So could Kevin Bahl. Jonas Siegenthaler is also in competition for a spot on the defense. Vets Mark Jankowski and Frederik Gauthier also played. Jack Hughes missed the game due to an injury suffered in the last exhibition. He left that one after the first period. Also missing were Nico Hischier, Miles Wood, Tomas Tatar, Yegor Sharangovich, Dougie Hamilton, Ty Smith, Damon Severson and Janne Kuokkanen. First round picks Alex Holtz and Dawson Mercer didn’t play. Neither did Mackenzie Blackwood.