Before everyone starts demanding trades, firing coaches and writing off the season as a total loss let’s remember that pre-season games are hardly must-win scenarios (a lesson Rex Ryan learned the hard way). That said, with 46 players competing for half that many roster spots, there is certainly an aspect of “must impress” for all of the youngsters and a few of the old guys too. For forwards such as Marek Hrivik, speedster Ryan Bourque and Danny Kristo, along with defensemen Justin Falk and Stu Bickel (who felt well enough to go and got the nod over “The Undertaker,” Dylan Mcllrath) the pre-season games will provide an opportunity to showcase their value against (mostly) NHL-level competition.
The Rangers’ bottom six forwards—along with a Prucha or two—are not anywhere close to set in stone. There is quite a battle at the forward position and it’s going to be really exciting to see if Jesper Fast(h), Danny Kristo, J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Marek Hrivik, Micheal Haley and others, such as Ex-Peterborough Pete Andrew Yogan, can crack the lineup in place of Arron Asham, Chris Kreider, Darroll Powe, Taylor Pyatt, Mats Zuccarello Aasen and maybe even Dominic Moore. On the defensive end, there are a few guys battling for a possible opening on the third defensive pairing and some of the aforementioned candidates—get excited boys and girls—might even have some grit, toughness and the ability to drop the gloves (attributes last season’s roster was severely lacking). Finally, an unexpected yet interesting, battle is shaping up between veteran netminder Johan Hedberg, incumbent Martin Biron and the youngster Cam Talbot for the honorable task of backing up the league’s No. 1 goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, who will most likely start between 60-65 games this season. You can expect dollars and cap space to make an impact on that front.
1) We aren’t seeing the full implementation of the offensively heavy Vigneault system this early on. Safe is exactly what it is—safe. But we are seeing some changes, er, lack thereof. Line combos remained consistent throughout the game with a slight change on the third defensive pairing in the second period.
2) We have to assume at this point, based on his size, talent and chemistry with Nash, that the top line LW position is “The Kreider’s” to lose. Vigneault loves highly skilled players and The Kreider certainly is a good example of one.
3) Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Brian Boyle, had a great night starting most of his shifts in the offensive zone and winning a remarkable percentage of face offs including 4/4 in the first period.
4) We all went nuts about the Brad Richards non-buyout and there is nothing that can change my mind that he has to be bought out at the end of this season. But, you have to like what you saw. Tentative early, he became more aggressive with the puck, shot more, followed his shots and went to the net on the PP.
5) Marc Staal, despite recovering from what some considered a career-threatening injury, looked like the Marc Staal of old. Maybe even a bit more offensive minded than before. Sporting a tinted visor that covers most of his face, Marc relieved a lot of Rangers fans by playing a solid, Marc Staal style game on the first pair, with Michael Del Zotto.
6) John Moore. Boy oh boy this kid can flat out skate. Another assumption would be that his spot on the first PP unit is his to lose. His ability to carry the puck coast to coast, enter the zone with speed and his above average wrist shot make him an ideal candidate for that role.
7) We heard very little about the shallower goalie nets in the offseason, but, when you watch a big guy like Boyle work back there, you realize that it really does free up a lot of space for a sizeable player who can protect the puck to try for wrap-arounds. Can’t wait to see little speedsters like Hagelin try that move.
8) I expect Del Zotto to silence the critics this season and I think he showed some real confidence playing under a new coach. He was much more decisive with the puck and much more useful on the left side of the PP unit.
9) Nice to see Mashinter drop the gloves. He’s not going to make the team, but you have to enjoy rooting for the kid. But this rule that the NHL doesn’t want players to take off their helmets because they might fall doesn’t make any sense. First of all, these guys are getting punched in their faces/heads, and the NHL is worried about them falling? Second, Mashinter wears a visor which puts him in a really tough spot: if he fights with his helmet on, he gets a minor penalty for instigating while wearing a visor and, on the other hand, if he takes his helmet off he gets a minor penalty for removing his helmet. Sometimes I think the NHL just doesn’t think things through at all.
10) Say what you will about the PP, which didn’t score, but they were moving the puck with a purpose, getting guys to the net and, most importantly, shooting the puck. The defenders were very active with some low wristers and guys like Kreider, who we have been dying to see go to the crease, actually went to the crease and set up a screen.
11) Hybrid icing is stupid. Enough said. It’s stupid.
12) Danny Kristo looked like a very energetic kid with a heck of a lot of potential. Probably needs another season out of the NHL but looks like the Rangers got the better of that swap when they moved Christian Thomas to Montreal for Danny Kristo.
13) Stu Bickel, Dylan Mcllrath or Justin Falk absolutely needs to make this team. This squad absolutely needs a tough defenseman that can get out there, bang bodies, clear the crease and drop the gloves if necessary. Not playing favorites but Bickel made a nice outlet pass to Nash and played a defensively solid game.
14) Rangers’ first goal of the [pre] season scored by Dominic Moore. Great, great comeback story from an early candidate for the Masterton Trophy. Everyone involved in hockey is really pulling for him to make the team.
Manny’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Dominic Moore
2. Michael Del Zotto
3. John Moore
Photos by Getty Images.