In what was the final warmup for the Rangers before it all begins for real on Wednesday at the Caps on TNT, Filip Chytil made a statement by posting a hat trick in a wild 5-4 overtime win over the Islanders at Bridgeport. Chytil scored in the extra session by converting on a four-on-three power play to win the game.
It was a nice way to wrap up a long exhibition schedule. I’ve been vocal against having six tuneups. It’s pointless and can only put players at risk. Caps superstar Alex Ovechkin is questionable for Wednesday due to leaving a recent game against the Flyers. Now, you can add Ryan Strome to that list. A freak collision with Scott Mayfield had him favoring his wrist before the end of the second period. Hopefully, they held him out for precautionary reasons. He was having a good night by setting up two goals.
A key veteran center, Strome is in the final year of his contract and can turn unrestricted next summer. He’s been a fixture on the second line alongside Artemi Panarin, who got Saturday night off. So did Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider as the Rangers wisely rested three of their top players. However, Strome played mostly with Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. They had a good game together before Strome exited. Kakko continued to look much better and Lafreniere had his best game by recording two assists.
The best part of the win was they defeated a full Islanders roster sans Matt Martin, who’s still recovering from off-season surgery. It was a dress rehearsal for coach Barry Trotz’ club as they played in front of fans in their AHL affiliate home at Bridgeport, Connecticut. A nice thing to do. I kind of wish the Rangers did that for Hartford. They have been without NHL hockey for nearly a quarter of a century. I am still preferential to the old Whalers. It’s too bad they never got another chance while horrible sports towns like Atlanta went through two NHL teams. That doesn’t make sense.
Aside from defeating a full Isles’ lineup that included a healthy Anders Lee (2 goals) and the ever dangerous Mat Barzal (game-tying goal with under a minute left), the Blueshirts got a solid game from possible seventh defenseman Jarred Tinordi. Even though I felt the signing was overreaction to Tom Wilson, the big veteran has settles in to have a good camp. With Zac Jones not surprisingly assigned to Hartford where he’ll get more pro experience with Braden Schneider, it looks like the organization made up their minds from the start. Libor Hajek looks to have no place. That too bad. I hope he winds up on another NHL roster.
As for Jones, he easily could’ve made the roster. But with veteran Patrik Nemeth brought in to help ease fellow Swedish countryman Nils Lundkvist along, the top six is set. It always was. Even if I believe Jones could be a more complete player than the offensive minded Lundkvist. My hope is it’ll all work out. Besides, I don’t want to see Jacob Trouba manning the point on the second power play. Yikes. He was their least impressive defenseman in these games. But remember. It doesn’t count. Ryan Lindgren also struggled. I’m sure they’ll both be ready to go by Game 1 of 82.
I also came away pleased with K’Andre Miller. He got his shot through to set up a goal. He also took the body more when the Islanders were mucking it up. I also am beginning to dislike Kyle Palmieri. He took a cheap run at Lafreniere near the bench. Dryden Hunt had a strong response. They don’t call it a rivalry for nothing. Speaking of Hunt, he also made a nice cross-ice pass for a Chytil one-timer past Ilya Sorokin. He definitely helped himself.
My favorite of the three Chytil goals was the beautiful wrist shot he scored on. He simply whipped a perfect snapshot from the right circle far bar and in. That was a goal scorer’s goal. Seeing him also use the one-timer twice on the power play including the winner was refreshing. Chytil has always shown flashes of brilliance. But most of the goals came in transition. This was better. Especially after Strome’s injury.
Alex Georgiev went the whole way. He was very good in a hectic third when the Islanders upped their intensity following a lackluster second period. Although he let in the Barzal tying goal, he made several strong saves. He dealt with a lot of traffic and also denied Anthony Beauvilier on a breakaway earlier.
I also didn’t care for Ross Johnston running around and roughing up Kevin Rooney. Without Ryan Reaves, who actually could be ready for the opener miraculously, you had this goon picking on a much smaller Rooney and bloodying him. Of course they gave both matching roughing penalties. Typical NHL. Nothing ever changes.
The other positive development was that Vitali Kravtsov returned and scored a goal to even it in the first. He needed one. Although he missed time with an injury, it was nice to see him contribute. I really think he can be a key contributor on the third line. The question is will that be with Chytil and Barclay Goodrow. That could depend on the status of Strome.
If there’s one difference I like, it’s the amount of solid depth this team has. With interchangeable forwards like Goodrow, Sammy Blais and Hunt, they seem better equipped if there’s an injury to a key player. You could add Morgan Barron to that along with Julien Gauthier. Both could start on the roster.
There isn’t much else to add. I’m glad preseason is finally over. Let’s hope for the best with Strome. Who knows. Maybe we’ll even get our wish and see Reaves for the season opener on national TV.