Inside The Blueshirts
With the regular season only two weeks away, the Rangers broke camp and took half their roster to Nassau Coliseum for a preseason game against the Islanders Tuesday night. It was their first chance to play under new NHL rules- tag-up offside, two-line passes allowed, strict enforcement of obstruction and crosschecking, smaller goalie equipment, goalies restricted from playing pucks in the corner, delay of game penalties and shootouts.
Naturally, the new look Rangers struggled with the quicker pace resulting in 11 penalties including four on 18-year-old number one draft choice Marc Staal. Though Staal was penalized frequently, the 6-4 203 pound defenseman was one of the few bright spots on a night the Rangers lost 5-1 to the Islanders.
Just how bad were they? Before 5:22 elapsed, the Islanders converted their first two power plays and scored at even strength on three shots- goals by new captain Alexei Yashin and two by ex-Sabre Alexei Zhitnik. Ex-Carolina netminder Kevin Weekes was victimized on all. Not exactly the kind of debut the 30-year-old Toronto, Ontario native had in mind.
Jamie Lundmark got one back 2:07 later when he came off the bench to one-time a Michael Nylander feed for a power play goal, the Rangers only goal on the night.
After the first of two bench minors for too many men on the ice, the Rangers paid dearly when ex-Blueshirt Mike York setup Jason Blake, who had way too much time thanks to a blown assignment by Tom Poti. Blake made no mistake whistling the puck upstairs for a 4-1 lead.
Weekes allowed four goals on 17 shots in 29 minutes. Swedish prospect Henrik Lundqvist played the rest of the game, giving up just one goal on 19 shots. The 23-year-old Lundqvist is a former 2000 seventh round pick who starred for Frolunda leading them to the championship in last year's Swedish Elite League. If Tuesday's performance was any indication, he could challenge Weekes for the top spot.
Though they gave up only one more goal to rookie Chris Campoli 5:12 into the third period, it wasn't a good start for the Rangers.
Free agent pickup Marek Malik was a step slow all game taking one minor and was on for three goals against. Poti, who changed his number from three to 16 had no luck. He was on for four of five Isles goals. Anders Eriksson fared no better and was on for at least two goals. The former Red Wing defenseman is playing on a tryout basis.
Rookie Martin Grenier didn't play badly on D but was faked out by Isles a few times for scoring chances.
Second-year defenseman Fedor Tyutin was steady in 21:05 of ice-time. He and Staal teamed up to form the most reliable pairing.
While the defense had issues, the top line of Jaromir Jagr, Nylander and Martin Straka didn't get much done at even strength. Jagr in particular wasn't sharp. Straka had one breakaway chance against Rick DiPietro but hit the post. Nylander was the best of the Czech trio, registering an assist and was more assertive. The Rangers need more from this line to be successful in '05-06.
Former 2002 eighth rounder Petr Prucha made his debut playing 10 minutes on a line with Lundmark and Martin Rucinsky. Prucha took a hit earlier in the game but returned later.
Bright spots in the defeat were Jed Ortmeyer and Blair Betts. Both created chances and played well in their end. Ortmeyer was one of three Rangers who wore an 'A.' He hustled back to break up a two-on-one, proving his worth. Jagr and Straka were the other alternates.
Also playing well were Lundmark (goal), Craig Weller and Garth Murray. Weller's hustle forced a turnover and Murray had some clean hits.
Even though they lost, as part of the new NHL policy to promote new rules, there was a 3-on-3 shootout. That's where the Rangers shined on goals by Straka and Nylander beating Garth Snow. Lundqvist denied Yashin and Miroslav Satan to seal it.
Not suiting up on the blueline were Darius Kasparaitis, Max Kondratiev, Bryce Lampman, Thomas Pock, Dale Purinton, Michal Rozsival, Joe Rullier and Jason Strudwick. Up front, Jozef Balej, Nigel Dawes, Jarkko Immonen, Dominic Moore, Ville Nimeinen, Steve Rucchin, Jason Ward and Chad Wiseman didn't play. Goalies Chris Holt and Al Montoya still could see preseason action.
The Rangers left for three days of training and chemistry at West Point Wednesday. They return to preseason action Sunday afternoon (5 ET) versus Boston at Madison Square Garden.
Rangers Sign Staal: In the wake of his debut, the Rangers signed Staal to a three-year entry level contract Wednesday. If Staal makes the club, he can play the entire season or the Rangers could play him in 10-or-less games before opting him back to Sudbury (OHL).