Rangers 3, Devils 1.
1) Jimmy “Rhymes with Easy” Vesey. Holy shishkebab. Kid has a breakaway from Kevin Hayes on his first shift in an NHL uniform, and draws a penalty. It’s not a big deal, but here’s a sample of his hockey awareness. He was on the bench when Andrew MacWilliam took a penalty. Vesey was the first Ranger to his feet waving goalie Antti Raanta to come to the bench for an extra skater. In the second, Andy Greene stepped up to hit Vesey and Vesey put him on his wallet. Then Vesey nearly got decapitated by the crossbar on his fearless rush to the net and crosscheck by MacWilliam. No big deal, he said, “just my chin on the crossbar.” Vesey, who played three games at MSG in college, said he was pretty nervous at the start. He was jittery on the breakaway.
2) So, as I wrote yesterday, I think it’s Brandon Pirri vs. Pavel Buchnevich for one spot, as a top-nine winger. I don’t think Pirri plays the fourth line … though maybe if he can be a power-play specialist …
3) One more time, the supposed out-clause Buchnevich has – it’s been reported he can return to the KHL if the Rangers put him in Hartford – isn’t a black-and-white deal. It’s more along the lines of the agreement Raphael Diaz had last season. If Buchnevich starts the season in Hartford, it doesn’t mean he’s going to bolt to Russia. The Rangers aren’t going to let that happen.
4) Buchnevich had a couple of good chances on the power play. Pirri had a chance low left circle, fired and missed the net. Which you can’t really do there. Puck right out.
5) Then Nick Holden saved a goal when Raanta was caught behind the net, the Rangers went the other way, and Pirri drove to the net behind Ben Lovejoy to deposit Nathan Gerbe’s rebound. Assist by Buchnevich, who also had a creative goal-mouth pass for Hayes that just missed, and Wedgewood had to make a save on the pass. Holden was very, very solid and calm in his first Rangers action.
6) Pirri scored his third goal in two games on the power play in the third to finish a three-point night.
7) Pirri assisted on the first PPG by John Gilmour, after Nicklas Jensen drew a second penalty. So do the Rangers have a power play this season? You don’t draw conclusions off preseason games, but it sure looks like they’re determined to get more pucks to the net, a.k.a. shoot it. They did it vs. the Islanders, too. On the PP and at even strength. And with bodies in front. Gilmour’s shot went through the Vesey and Rick Nash screens. Pirri’s second was helped by Jensen causing trouble in front.
8) “We’re trying to make an impression right now, and the harder we push each other and the better we work together the bigger impression we’re going to make,” Pirri said of his line with Gerbe and Buchnevich. “There’s competition in the lockerroom, but at the same time, if we’re all doing well, we’re all going to get noticed.”
9) There is no better way to get noticed that to put pucks in the net (we saw Oscar Lindberg do it last season), and Pirri has not only done that with his shot, but he’s done it by going to the net to collect garbage, and he’s aided a power play that’s been sharp and thinking shot-first. “You take them when you can get them,” Pirri said of his goals. “I’m a shoot-first type player. It’s hard to score in this league. They’re not all going to be on the flank on the power play. Sometimes you’ve got to go to the net and get a grittier one.”
10) As you probably know by now, Kevin Hayes dumped about 10-15 pounds or so this summer. Looks lean and a step quicker so far, and very motivated. AV said Hayes’ physical tests improved more than any player from last year to this year. You always like it when a young player makes a commitment like that. Maybe he has a big year? Even made some real hustle plays on the backcheck. Played a complete game. That line looks superb through camp.
11) Before the game, Hayes advised his long-time friend Vesey to just be himself and play his game. Hayes told the great Steve Zipay of Newsday that Vesey’s debut “can’t be worse than mine. I was minus-2 against the Devils on my first two shifts. Marty St. Louis said, ‘Don’t worry, it can’t get any worse from here.’ ”
12) So the Rangers got back their three American World Cuppers, Henrik Lundqvist will practice and play one and a half games next week, and Mats Zuccarello will be back soon after last night’s Team Europe loss to Canada. I think the Rangers will be energized each time one of these guys returns, especially since so much is going so well without them. Meanwhile, there are more chances for some fringe/bubble guys to play more minutes. And you get some of your important players back game-ready. As long as nobody gets hurt or beaten down in the World Cup, it’s win-win-win, really.
13) Maxim Lapierre was a bit of a rat. I say that in the most complimentary way possible. Hit the pipe short-handed at the end of the first. Not saying he’s the guy, but as you know, the Rangers sure need guys who can kill penalties. And as Steve Valiquette says, they could always use a rat.
14) I liked it that Dylan McIlrath went after Mike McLeod after a whistle, after McLeod took a shot at Nash, who was down in a pileup, not that McLeod would ever fight him. I liked it even more that no penalties were called. And good for Mahopac’s Steven Santini going in to get in McIlrath’s face. I’m really rooting for Santini to make the NHL roster, and I’m hearing he has a very good chance to do so.
15) McIlrath looked steadier in this one than he did Tuesday. Had a nice hip check along the wall early, later went stride for stride with Vernon Fiddler, who tried to go wide on him, and pinned him against the wall hard. Squished Coleman in open ice. I thought it was his man, Miles Wood, who scored the only goal against Raanta. I repeat, these are important games for him and his chances of being a top-six this season. He has to be better than the guys in front of him. Not to mention guys who, theoretically, are behind him, i.e. Adam Clendening.
16) “There’s no doubt that there’s an improvement,” Vigneault said about McIlrath. “You can tell Dylan’s more confident in his abilities. He’s trying to make plays defensively. He’s using his long reach and strength and he has to continue that moving forward.”
17) AV also said that he will get a look at Brady Skjei and Nick Holden on the right side during this preseason. … so McIlrath’s path isn’t getting any easier. And some of you will interpret that as me saying I hate McIlrath.
18) Another thing I’m starting to notice these first two games: The Snow Angel is disappearing from the games of the Rangers’ defensemen. We’ll see if that lasts. I do know that Jeff Beukeboom didn’t spend a lot of time sliding on the ice when he played. I also know that some defensive coaches insist their D-men stay on their feet as much as possible. Larry Robinson taught the great Devils teams to do that, and I’m sure Scott Stevens is teaching that in St. Louis.
19) Great to see my friend and former and now current teammate Andrew Gross at the game. It also makes me happy to see somebody wearing a jersey that says “Graves” on the back. As you know. Ryan Graves got his money’s worth on the crosschecking penalty in the second. Played pretty well. And his number, 63, adds up to 9.
20) For the second game in a row, Mackenzie Skapski had a strong outing (a shutout over his 27 minutes), though he wasn’t tested as much as he was Tuesday. Hey, he’s not going to make the team, and the Rangers are deep prospect-wise in goal, but these are important games for him, and important games for the Rangers’ brass to see. If they need a callup, Skapski, now healthy, could be the guy.
21) So Carey Price goes 16-0-0 in his last 16 appearances with Team Canada, dating back to the 2007 World Junior championships. I’m sure the fans and media in Canada now think he’s the best goalie who ever lived. He’s a tremendous goalie, IMO, but honestly, they could put Garth Snow in goal and he would have won some of those 16 games behind those teams. The media up there certainly seemed to be celebrating the World Cup that this country pretty much ignored.
22) Speaking of which, the NHL is going to come up with its list of top 100 players all-time as part of its 100th year celebration. I imagine it will go, like: Crosby, Ovechkin, Gretzky, Orr, Matthews …
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Brandon Pirri.
2. Kevin Hayes.
3. Jimmy Vesey.
Photos by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports.