The Rangers beat the Devils in the first preseason game of the 2010-2011 season, and did so in dramatic fashion, winning 4-3 in overtime. The game itself had the intensity of a regular season game between these two rivals, and with good reason. Both teams had fringe players fighting (literally) for a spot on the roster come October. The physical game included two fights, with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust each dropping the gloves. Neither fight was conclusive, but Prust landed some heavy rights.
The Rangers opened the scoring with a powerplay goal off some nifty passing. Rookie Derek Stepan collected the puck, skated to the slot, fed Alex Frolov at the blocker-side post, who one-touched a pass to Marian Gaborik at the right post, who buried the puck into the empty net. It was a very pretty goal on the powerplay, which will hopefully be a sign of things to come from the Rangers. The Devils countered five minutes later off a Marc Staal turnover tying the game at one a piece.
After a Frolov goal (unassisted) five minutes into the second period, Ilya Kovalchuk tied the game on a breakaway after a beautiful pass from Zach Parise sprung the winger alone on Martin Biron. Brian Boyle gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead when he picked the puck up off the boards, and beat Martin Brodeur five-hole, on what was a very weak goal. Weak or not, a goal is a goal. Dale Weise collected an assist on the Boyle goal, and the line of Weise-Boyle-Derek Boogaard was surprisingly strong in the game.
Biron played very well for the Rangers tonight, and gave way to Chad Johnson in the third period. Dos-Nueve had a relatively strong game, but unfortunately allowed an extremely weak tying goal to Zach Parise with under two minutes to go in regulation. The game went into overtime, where Marian Gaborik (naturally) won the game with a ridiculous snipe from the slot on the powerplay. The Rangers were on the powerplay because Michael Sauer drew a boarding call, and coach John Tortorella took a risk and played four forwards on the powerplay.
The line of Frolov-Stepan-Gaborik combined for six points in the preseason opener, with Alex Frolov leading the way with a goal and two assists. Marian Gaborik added a goal and an assist, and rookie Derek Stepan added an assist to round out the scoring for the top line. Brian Boyle (goal), Dale Weise (assist) and Dan Girardi (assist) finished out the scoring in the victory.
Derek Stepan had a glorious debut tonight. He brought creativity and energy to a scoring line that thrived. It has been a while since the Rangers have had more than one weapon on offense, and the line of Frolov-Stepan-Gaborik kept the Devils guessing. Stepan is showing a lot of maturity for such a young kid. He is also showing that he may actually be ready to take on the burden of being that top line center. What remains to be seen, of course, is whether Stepan hits the proverbial NCAA wall around 40-50 games into the season.
What surprised a few, but not me, was to see that Mats Zuccarello-Aasen was tossed around and knocked down more often than Petr Prucha. Of course it did not slow him down, but it does go to show that MZA may need a bit of time in the AHL to adjust to the physical nature of the game before he is ready to showcase his skills, which he has in abundance.
On defense, Michael Sauer is showing that he is ready to compete for a spot, which may be bad news for tryouts Alexei Semenov and Garnet Exelby. Sauer did a good job playing a physical game tonight, and also drew the penalty that led to the game winning goal (he also paid for that dearly). Rookie Ryan McDonagh also provided a very physical presence on defense, and the combination of McDonagh and Sauer on defense provided a physicality that the Rangers have not seen in years.
Notably absent from the “notables” were Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Semenov. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as sometimes being unnoticed is better than being noticed for poor play, but for two veterans trying to beat out rookies that impressed, it means that they are going to have to either step up their games, or pray for an injury. This is not a knock against either, it’s praise for the rookies instead. The Rangers and Devils face off again on Saturday at the Rock, but first comes the initial round of cuts tomorrow morning.