Monday, September 22, 2014

Rangers Drop Pre-Season Opener, 5-4, To The Devils

Following the Rangers' first scrimmage of training camp Sunday afternoon head coach Alain Vigneault stated that the real evaluation process would begin Monday night when the team opened its pre-season schedule against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden.

The head coach was presented a mixed bag during the Rangers' 5-4 loss to the Devils.

J.T. Miller, who has had a very impressive start to training camp, continued his strong play by assisting on both Ranger goals, which were scored in the first period by Carl Hagelin and newcomer Ryan Malone after the Blueshirts had spotted the Devils a 2-0 advantage.

Miller sprung Hagelin up left wing with a pass and the speedy Swede snuck a shot off Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen and over the goal line at 4:23 for the Rangers' first goal of the pre-season. He then earned another primary assist with a neat chip into the low slot where Malone hammered a power play goal past Clemmensen at 9:42. The 21 year-old former first-round pick generated several other scoring chances while centering Hagelin and Ryan Bourque, and played a physical game, as well, in his quest to earn a spot on the opening-night roster--a case that seems more solid by the day.

"J.T had some good moments," offered Vigneault. "You can see his skillset, and he battled hard on the puck."

Malone, the 34 year-old veteran signed last week as a free agent, is also battling to make the team; and he made a strong first impression with his power play goal and physical play throughout, especially on the forecheck. The six-time 20-goal scorer nearly scored again in the second period on a neat spinning shot from the high slot that was kicked away by Clemmensen. Malone finished with four of the Rangers' 24 shots on goal, a team high.

"You can't really judge yourself on points," stated Malone after the game. "You have to make sure you are constantly making plays, playing in the defensive zone, making forechecks, and making sure all the little parts of ther game are taken care of. It was a pretty good start tonight."

Added Marty St. Louis, who was a teammate of Malone's in Tampa Bay, "It was nice to see him have a good first game under his belt. These are good building blocks for him."

Another newcomer, center Chris Mueller, earned the secondary assist on Malone's power play goal, while Dan Boyle, Tanner Glass, and Matthew Lombardi were among the veterans who wore the Blueshirt for the first time on Monday.

Young Boston College standout Kevin Hayes, Chicago's 2010 first rounder who signed with the Rangers as a free agent this summer, centered a line with Chris Kreider and Danny Kristo to somewhat mixed results. That threesome was on ice for each of New Jersey's first two goals as the Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 3:29 into the game. Hayes and Kreider also both took penalties in the offensive zone on separate occasions during the second period.

However Kristo made a pretty pass to set up a scoring chance for defenseman Matt Hunwick midway through the third period, too--with Hunwick's shot ringing off the iron behind goaltender Keith Kinkaid. Then Kristo sent Kreider in alone on Kinkaid and the left winger ripped a shot that beat the Devils goalie short side with five minutes remaining in regulation to bring the Rangers to within 4-3.

"
It was a tough start
," said Kristo. "But it was nice that Ryan Malone told me on the bench that it's a pair of deflections and that's just hockey. It calmed me down because I was nervous at the start. Even though, obviously, it's in the back of your head, I thought we got better as the game went on. And obviously it was nice to be rewarded with a goal there at the end."

Jesper Fast drew the Rangers even just two and a half minutes later, ripping a slap shot from the slot past Kinkaid, tying the score 4-4 with 2:30 left to play.

However Adam Henrique settled things with a long slap shot goal past Cam Talbot with 51.7 seconds remaining to hand the Rangers the 5-4 defeat.

Henrik Lundqvist started in goal for New York and allowed goals on the first two shots recorded against him--both on deflections. He stopped the next 11 shots he faced before giving way to Talbot 9:29 into the second period. Talbot made a pair of strong saves right off the bat, but was beaten by a Michael Ryder deflection--his second goal of the night--at 16:14 of the second, and the Devils regained the lead.

"It was a tough start, two deflections like that, but it's just a good feeling to be out there again," Lundqvist said in the postgame dressing room. "I did enjoy myself, being out there and playing the first half of the game. It was a good first step."

Three Rangers wore an "A" on their Blueshirt for the pre-season opener Monday, including Marc Staal who was an alternate captain a year ago. He was joined by Hagelin and St. Louis in wearing an "A" Monday night. The team is expected to name its full time captains after training camp and before the regular season begins.

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