5 New York Rangers thoughts with 1 week remaining in NHL preseason
Training camp and the NHL preseason are rapidly coming to a close, but the New York Rangers still have a ways to go to get their game in shape before Opening Night against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 12.
The upcoming week features their final two preseason games, along with decisions about final cuts, line combinations and defense pairings.
Sunday’s off day seems to be a good time to take a breath and share a few Rangers thoughts before they go through the final week of camp and preseason games.
5 New York Rangers thoughts
1. Peter Laviolette was clearly not happy with the Rangers “unacceptable” play the first two periods of a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday. But I’m guessing he was happy that the subpar effort and performance afforded him the chance to deliver a key message early in his tenure as Rangers coach.
That it happened in a preseason game and not one of the 82 that actually counts was a nice bonus.
“Backchecking is a universal language — there’s no system involved,” Laviolette said. “Finishing checks and competing for pucks is a universal language. Execution has to be a universal language, so there’s no excuses for that (performance).”
A pointed message like this works best after the fact, not just as a warning. Coaches pounce on these opportunities with good teams that have major aspirations, like the Rangers this season.
So, there was no “It’s just a preseason game” talk by Laviolette postgame on Long Island. Instead, he delivered the right message in the right moment. Good on him.
2. On the bright side Saturday, top prospects Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle each scored a goal. And Laviolette had to love how each big forward scored, going to the net and chipping it in from a few feet out.
In another season with different expectations and a different roster, Othmann and/or Cuylle might be locks to be on the Opening Night roster, at least to get a look at the start of the season. This feels like each will be sent to Hartford for some seasoning in the AHL. And that’s not a bad thing. Let each play top six minutes in important roles and when the need arises, assuming Cuylle and Othmann are playing well, call one or both up.
Having, say, Cuylle open the season on the fourth line and playing nine minutes a night in the NHL seems suboptimal at this stage of development.
Let Tyler Pitlick, Nick Bonino and Jonny Brodzinski fill out the 11th, 12th and 13th forward roles for now. And evaluate daily, up and down the lineup, to see if opportunities arise for Othmann and Cuylle.
3. Nice work by Deb Seymour the other day, breaking down whether Jonathan Quick can reverse recent trend and be a capable No. 2 goalie behind Igor Shesterkin this season.
The three-time Stanley Cup winner seems happy to be back home in the Northeast and accepting of his role on the Rangers after years of being “the guy” with the Los Angeles Kings. That’s a good start. But he’s got to stop the puck better than he did last season.
Saturday on the Island, Quick did make a string of big saves, including on a couple breakaways. But it was hard to fairly judge him on the shots that went in because the Islanders had some wide-open looks and the Rangers were pretty lackluster in their play on other goals, like when Bo Horvat effortlessly blew past Artemi Panarin and his stick check in the first period.
4. The Rangers have a dark history of high hopes and big seasons being ruined by injuries to crucial players like Jean Ratelle, Ulf Nilsson and Brian Leetch. That hasn’t been the case recently. Last season seven players played all 82 games and another three played 81. In 2021-22, Filip Chytil missed 15 games, but all the other stars and regulars were largely healthy.
So, that’s to say it did cross my mind with Chytil out and when Panarin and Mika Zibanejad missed time, even briefly, in camp that it does make you wonder how long their good luck when it comes to health and injuries can continue. And if you are a good team and fortunate enough to be healthy, you better take advantage of that in the playoffs.
Health, luck and playing your best at the most important time of the year are three components of every Stanley Cup champion. An upper echelon team simply cannot squander multiple seasons of being healthy.
6th spot on defense
5. Zac Jones or Erik Gustafsson on Opening Night lined up with Braden Schneider on the third D pairing? It feels like Gustafsson, the known quantity who’s played for Laviolette and has three points (one goal, two assists) in two preseason games, will get the nod. But Jones is going to get some October run. The Rangers need to find out exactly what and who he is at the NHL level.