Tuesday, September 22, 2015

RANGERS SKATE PAST DEVILS, 6-3, IN PRE-SEASON OPENER

Following Monday's morning skate Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said he wanted to get a good look at some of the "youngsters" and less-heralded players in training camp to determine if and how each could possibly help the team this season, whether immediately when the regular season begins or at other points later on.
Judging by what took place in the Rangers 6-3 victory over the Devils at Madison Square Garden in the pre-season opener, Vigneault had to be happy with what he saw from those players who took part in the game.
"This is more about player evaluation and trying to put our style of play on the ice (rather than the result)," Vigneault said following the game. "It's exhibition. Veteran guys are tring to get their timing and the other guys are trying to impress us to show us that they belong here."
Brian Gibbons scored a goal and notched an assist within the first 4:24 of the first period and finished with three points, his linemate Jayson Megna scored a pair of goals, and Brady Skjei recorded an assist in his first game at The Garden. Oscar Lindberg scored late in the third period to ice the victory for New York.
"Jayson's line tonight played a real strong game," noted Vigneault. "Brady Skjei, for his first NHL game, you can see him feeling more comfortable as the game went on. I liked his skill and his skating."
Chris Kreider and Viktor Stalberg scored 35 seconds apart late in the second period as the Rangers snapped a 2-2 tie against Devils backup goalie Yann Danis and never looked back. 
It took only one minute 21 seconds for Gibbons to open the scoring, snapping a shot past Cory Schneider after a Stefan Matteau turnover deep in Devils territory. Gibbons then set up Megna for a goal at 4:24 and the Rangers led 2-0 after recording the first four shots of the game.
Gibbons, who has 66 games of NHL experience with the Penguins and Blue Jackets, and Megna, who spent part of last season with the Penguins, likely will start the season with the Hartford Wolf Pack, but they showed Vigneault plenty should the NHL club need a forward or two at some point during the regular season.
"When that shot went in I think it gave me some confidence early," said Gibbons, who previously had been a teammate of Kevin Hayes and Kreider at Boston College. "I think every time you get a chance to show the coaches that you can play at this level and they can trust you on the ice in different situations, I think that's all I'm trying to do."
New Jersey scored a pair of power play goals--one at 7:30 of the first period and the other at 16:40 of the second--before Kreider patiently waited for a screen to set up in front of Danis and then proceeded to zip a shot top shelf past the Devils goalie at 18:13 of the middle stanza. On the very next shift Stalberg beat Danis with a bad angle shot from left wing after taking a head-man pass from Skjei, who earned the primary assist.
Skjei, the team's first round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft, paired with the veteran Kevin Klein--who had three assists himself Monday--on defense, and played on both the power play and penalty kill. Though he was caught behind the net on Jordin Tootoo's first Devils goal, Skjei recovered and had a solid debut with both his parents and grandparents in attendance at The Garden. He played just under 20 minutes and had a +3 plus/minus rating.
"It was everything I could dream of," Skjei said if his first Rangers game. "I was pretty excited before warmups to get out there, and the fans here are pretty cool. It was a great experience and a lot fun. I thought I played my game and played pretty well."
Dylan McIlrath, another former Rangers first rounder trying to make the team on defense, was in the starting lineup and paired with Chris Summers. He played on the top penalty killing unit and, like Skjei, acquitted himself well over 18:19 worth of ice time, though he was in the box serving an illegal hit to the head penalty when New Jersey scored its first goal.
Lindberg centered a line with Jesper Fast and Ryan Bourque, and killed penalties with Fast. He buried a long slap shot past Danis with 5:13 remaining in the game after Bourque had driven a hard shot off the post and the puck had caromed out to Lindberg above the right circle. 
"I felt good out there," said Lindberg, who also won 7 of 11 faceoffs and finished a +2. 
Megna closed out the scoring with his second of the night, sweeping a Gibbons pass into the net for a 5-on-3 power play goal with less than a minute to play in regulation.
The battle to be Henrik Lundqvist's back up took its first turn on Monday as Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg both played against the Devils. Raanta started and was very sharp stopping 11 of 12 shots during the first period. He played the opening 12 minutes 29 seconds of the second period, as well, but did not face another shot. Hellberg stopped 12 of 14 shots in relief, beaten first when a Mike Sislo power play shot pinballed off Skjei's skate and over the goal line at 16:48 of the middle period and on an Adam Larsson power play blast in the final minutes of play.
"I thought both goalies stood their ground tonight," stated Vigneault.
Both Raanta and Hellberg will play again on Tuesday night when the Rangers face the Flyers down in Philadelphia, when Vigneault will get another chance to size up their back up goaltending battle, and see where some other players might fit in within the organization.

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