The Rangers opened up their preseason with a 5-4 loss against the Devils at home. It was a shaky defensive performance, against a fairly weak Devils line-up that featued Scott Clemmensen and Keith Kincaid in net, against New York's projected opening pair of Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot.
It was a chance for several Rangers to push their chances for inclusion, or that a very least, consideration for a call up in the event of a slow start or injury to one of the projected starters. It was also the first hit-out in Rangers blue for nine of the twenty rostered players, as well as the first preseason game for Martin St. Louis as a New York Ranger, following his acquisition at the trade deadlnie last year.
Of the twenty players, eight are all but guaranteed spots on the opening night roster, with the likes of Tanner Glass and Ryan Malone appearing to be favorites to join them. Of the remainder, most eyes focused on the center position where J.T. Miller, Matthew Lombardi and Kevin Hayes all had their first chances to compete for the vacant third line center spot.
Of the three, Miller likely did the most to move his case forward, backing up a hard working off-season and notable training camp to date, with two assists and plenty of action in his 14:27 of ice-time. The 21 year old american born forward was called out for his maturity last year, and he appears to be doing everything he can to take the criticism to heart. He did have one defensive lapse late in the first that almost cost a goal, but the good outweighed the bad in this one.
While Miller's did some good things - per Alain Vigneault - Matthew Lombardi looked far less impressive in his first NHL game since the 2012-13 season. The 32 year old did not stand-out during 13:12 of playing time, though a substantial amount - 3:55 - was short handed. Despite playing with St. Louis and Malone, the veteran center was not able to show his offensive skills, and drew Vigneault to comment that it was his first NHL game for some time, leaving it at that.
Rookie UFA signing Hayes had more of mixed bag, showing some good passing skills, but failing to register a shot on goal in 15:50 of ice time, including 3:16 on the power play. After the game he noted that he was still learning plenty, particularly on the defensive zone, as he makes the transition to the pro ranks.
Of the remaining forwards, Malone helped his cause with a goal on the power play, and lead the team with four shots on goal. The veteran is not a lock for a spot on the roster, but another couple of performances like tonight will make it more likely than not. Glass around a third of his 12:46 ice time killing penalties, and did a fair job. It's hard to see how he won't make the team, given the Rangers' lack of a physical presence with Derek Dorsett and Dan Carcillo now both gone.
Jesper Fast scored the late goal - a wide open slap shot from 10-15 feet out - but will need to do more if he wants to press for a spot on the opening night foster. The young Swede does a lot of things right, but his offensive still looks promising rather than exciting, and he still needs to add some strength if he's to become more defensively reliable.
Likewise Ryan Bourque showed he can get opportunities, and that he's a smart player. His challenge, moreso than Fast, is that his lack of size is likely going to limit his opportunity to make the jump to the NHL, and it appears at best he'll be a depth call-up, who could be a reliable fourth line checker.
Veteran UFA Chris Mueller was not much of a factor either way, though he did pick up a secondary assist on the Malone goal. Coach Vigneault did say he noticed Mueller's skill level, but did not comment either way as to whether he might be one of the 30 or so that survive the first cuts.
Like last year, the Rangers have gotten off to a slow start defensively, including giving up two goals in the first 3:29 of the game, the first off a John Moore deflection past his own goaltender. Moore was arguably the best defender for New York, but it was an overally lacking effort from both the blueliners, and the forwards, who failed to put pressure on their opponents.
Boyle showed some of the pluses and minuses to his game. He's still relatively good skater with good decision making in the offensive zone, but his age has taken some of the sharpness, and his defensive limitations remain. Boyle lead both teams with three give-aways.
Mike Kostka had a rough night, and looked slow to read the play at times, and didn't do himself any favors on the depth chart. Matt Hunwick did enough to keep himself in the race for the seventh d-man spot, while Steven Kampfer fell somewhere in between the other two bubble veterans.
In goal, neither Ranger netminder particularly impressed in their first outing of the year.
The Blueshirts have the day off today, and will resume skating on Wednesday ahead of Friday's game in Chicago.