It may be only preseason, but the Rangers are doing what they can to exorcise their demons of the 2015-16 season…and they exorcised literal demons out of Madison Square Garden during their second preseason game on Thursday night.
Brandon Pirri contributed on the three Ranger scores, tallying two goals and an assist in a 3-1 exhibition victory over the New Jersey Devils. Having dropped three of the four games against their cross-Hudson rival last season, encouraging signs could found all over in the victory.
While many youngsters took the ice for the Rangers, they showcased a top line featuring one of those kids paired with two veterans, as highly touted rookie Jimmy Vesey of Harvard made his unofficial New York debut, co-starring with Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash on the top unit. The unit immediately crashed into the New Jersey zone, harassing Devils goaltender Scott Wedgewood. The unit drew an early penalty, a slash by Nick Lappin, putting the Rangers on the first of their six power plays on the evening.
It was on the second Devils penalty just under two minutes later, charged to Andy Greene’s cross check, that led to the Rangers’ first goal of the night, as another talented rookie making his unofficial debut, defenseman and Providence alum John Gilmour, found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. Assists were provided by Pirri and Hayes.
Pirri scored his first tally just before the midway point of the opening period, beating Wedgewood for his second goal of the evening. He got assistance from fellow newcomers Nathan Gerbe and Pavel Buchnevich, the latter unofficially appearing on an NHL scoresheet for the first time.
The Devils drew things closer in the 2nd period, with Miles Wood converting a Chris Summers turnover into an unassisted goal, the final shot that starter Antti Raanta faced, spoiling an otherwise stellar evening for the Rangers incumbent backup goaltender. More than likely locked into the spot behind Henrik Lundqvist, who again sat out while resting alongside his fellow World Cup of Hockey participants Derek Stepan, JT Miller and Ryan McDonagh (the other, Mats Zuccarello, partook in Team Europe’s 2-1 loss to Canada to clinch the championship for the host Canadians), Raanta faced 16 Devils shots, saving all but the final one. He left the game with 7 minutes remaining in the 2nd frame.
Fortunately for the Rangers, Mackenzie Skapski picked up right where he left off from Tuesday night’s activities, posting 27 shutout minutes to secure the victory. It was another Pirri score that put the game away, another power play tally from Gilmour and Niklas Jensen at 4:42 to give the Rangers the 3-1 win.
Though the Rangers would like to control their trips to the penalty box…11 through the first couple of preseason contests…the penalty kill unit has taken down each one. Michael Grabner, 2nd in the league last year in shorthanded ice time, led the unit as he dressed for the first time this preseason. As for the the other half of the special teams, the power play went 2-for-6, making them 4-for-9 after six periods of play.
With his scoring, Pirri now has a team-high 5 points, consisting of 3 goals and 2 assists. Gilmour tallied a couple of points in his debut, while Vesey, despit going pointless, had 3 shots on net. Summers led the team in hits with 6.
With tonight’s game completed, the Rangers will hit the midway plateau of their preseason slate following their game on Saturday, the completion of a home-and-home exhibition set with the Devils at Prudential Center (7:00 PM, MSG, MSG+2). Be sure to stay tuned to blueshirtsnation.com for pre and postgame coverage!