The good news? Preseason is over.
The bad news? The games count starting a week from tonight. If the boys give another one period performance like they did tonight, it’s going to be a long season.
Things started well. The first period looked like 18 guys knowing this was their last chance to make an impression and wanted it to be a good one. The Rangers even scored first on a Buchnevich tip of a Girardi shot. The Flyers tied it 27 seconds later but the home team still looked good the rest of the first period.
Then came the second period, the dreaded middle frame where the boys forget how to play hockey. It doesn’t matter who is wearing the jersey, it just happens. Somehow they came out of the period with a lead but I’m still not sure how. As we’ve seen in the past, they can get away with one bad period. But can’t get away with two and the third period was somehow worse.
So since that was the players’ last chance to make an impression, let’s talk about the impression they made.
Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich will be a line. And they will be fun to watch. Is it possible teams figure them out and they go through a rough patch? Absolutely. But the chemistry is there so I expect them to stay together for a bit, which means Buchnevich is sticking around. I didn’t think that would be the case at the start of camp but he has gotten better each game and absolutely looked like he belonged tonight.
There were supposedly nine other Rangers forwards on the ice at MSG but most probably wished their coach wasn’t watching. If I had to pick one player who played decently, I’d say Boo Nieves was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t really expect him to get a game and when he did, I wasn’t expecting much from him. But he didn’t look out of place at all. Vigneault noticed as well as it sounds like they might bring him back sooner rather than later. We’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.
J.T. Miller and Brandon Pirri weren’t bad either. Everyone else…there’s no other way to put it, they were bad. Kevin Hayes looked horrible. His linemates, Jimmy Vesey and Nathan Gerbe, didn’t look much better. There may come a point when I understand why Michael Grabner was signed. It hasn’t happened yet. Jesper Fast and Josh Jooris were mostly invisible.
On defense, I thought Dan Girardi played his best game of the preseason. No the bar wasn’t set high but tonight he looked like an actual NHL defenseman. Honestly I thought it was his best game in a while. Was it perfect? Of course not. He will never be the player he was five years ago. But it’s a start and should give him confidence going into the regular season.
Unfortunately, while Girardi played better than he had so far this year, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein played worse. Much worse. I’m really hoping this was just one bad night for them. Adam Clendening looked average. It may be enough mixed with the rest of his preseason but we’ll see. I want to write about Nick Holden but I honestly haven’t noticed him at all this entire preseason. Perhaps that’s a good thing?
And then there is Brady Skjei. The Rangers first round draft pick who everyone assumed already had a top 6 role to start the year. To say he’s had a horrible camp would probably be an understatement and it continued tonight. Honestly, he looked like he would fit in perfectly with last years’ defense. That isn’t a good thing and I’m surprised I’m saying it. I didn’t expect this out of him but at this point, I really wonder if it’s better he starts the year in Hartford. Don’t keep him down there long; just enough for him to get some confidence. We all know what he can do. But right now he looks lost. The positive for him is it sounds like the coaching staff is thinking of keeping all eight defensemen. That might be the only way he stays.
Fortunately I don’t have to make that decision. My guess is the Rangers brass has had a lot of discussions about this team and will have a lot more in the coming days. We’ll be interesting to see what they decide.
(Photo: Melissa Andus)