by Mark Owens
The preseason could not have started any better for the Rangers, as Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Daniel Girardi led a host of rookies to a 4-3 win over a veteran-heavy Devils team Friday night at MSG.
Dubinsky and Girardi had two assists each and Callahan chipped in one goal and one assist. Veterans Martin Straka and Blair Betts also scored.
The Rangers played without Jaromir Jagr, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Michal Rozsival while the Devils dressed most of their regulars.
Al Montoya started in net and allowed one goal on 13 shots. Stephen Valiquette finished up, allowing two goals on 15 shots.
Rookie Dane Byers opened the scoring 1:53 into the game, banging a loose puck past ex-Rangers’ goalie Kevin Weekes during a Rangers power play. Weekes was replaced by Jordan Parise less than five minutes later after Sean Avery drove Devils defenseman Johnny Oduya into Weekes, knocking him to the ice. He appeared to hit his head on the post, stayed down for a few minutes then was helped off the ice. Avery received a two-minute penalty for goalie interference.
Midway through the period, the Rangers executed a 5-3 power play to perfection. Girardi, from the left point threaded a pass to Dubinsky, stationed to Parise’s left. Instead of attempting a bad angle shot, Dubinsky passed across the crease to Callahan, who had all day to rifle the puck into a wide-open net.
Betts made the score 3-0 at 1:53 of the second period, pouncing on a loose puck misplayed by the Parise brothers (goalie Jordan and Left Wing Zach) and stuffing his own rebound into the cage.
The Devils got on the board a minute later when a centering pass from the Devils’ Dainius Zubrus caromed off Darius Kasparaitis‘ skate and past Montoya.
Early in the third, Dubinsky and Callahan collaborated once again, this time at even strength. Callahan gathered the puck behind Parise’s net and passed to Dubinsky in front. Again passing up a bad angle shot, Dubinsky found Straka in the far circle for an easy redirect past Parise.
Zach Parise atoned for his earlier mistake by deking Kasparaitis to the ice and whistling a shot past Valiquette with three minutes left in the second period.
The Devils owned the third period, but got only one puck past Valiquette, a wicked wrist shot by Brian Gionta, who had just stripped the puck from Michael Sauer on the left wing boards. The Rangers’ hung on for the final six minutes.
Friday’s line combinations were:
Sean Avery–Artem Anisimov–Brendan Shanahan
Martin Straka–Brandon Dubinsky–Ryan Callahan
Ryan Hollweg–Blair Betts-Francis Lessard
Dane Byers-Mark Smith-Hugh Jessiman
The defense pairs were:
Darius Kasparaitis–Andrew Hutchinson
Marc Staal-Daniel Girardi
Jason Strudwick-Michael Sauer
Three stars of the game: 1) Dubinsky; 2) Callahan; 3) Avery (no points but at his antagonizing best).
The Rangers’ forward depth was in full display Friday night, and Coach Tom Renney may have a difficult time selecting 13 or 14 forwards for the opening-night roster.
Forwards Byers and Anisimov showed ability around the net but appear Hartford-bound for more seasoning and regular playing time. Jessiman needs to prove he can play at the AHL level before he is considered an NHL prospect. Lessard will serve as the Wolf Pack’s enforcer but may be called to New York if Colton Orr is injured or suspended during the season. Smith, who played the last five seasons with the San Jose Sharks, showed he can be counted on as a fourth-line center but is unlikely to unseat Renney-favorite Betts for that role.
On defense, Staal (one assist) and Sauer played solid defense against the Devils regulars and will get a chance to make the team. It will be interesting to see if one outplays the other during the rest of preseason. Hutchinson showed good skating and offensive potential but was a little shaky in the defensive zone, as was Kasparaitis, who made several bad passes that led to turnovers.
Expect Strudwick to make the team as the extra defenseman. MSG Network’s John Giannone emphasized Strudwick’s leadership and team-first attitude during Friday’s broadcast, even speculating that Strudwick may be looking at a coaching career when his playing days end.
Next Game: Tonight 7 pm vs. Flyers
Expect Henrik ‘The King’ Lundqvist to make his preseason debut, along with Jagr, Gomez, Drury and Rozsival. Petr Prucha, Marcel Hossa and Nigel Dawes may be auditioning for one or two roster spots.
Goalie: Lundqvist and Miika Wiikman