Thoughts on the First Preseason Game

The Rangers took on the New York Islanders in the first preseason game of the 2017-2018 season last night. They won 1-0 in overtime when Neal Pionk caught the Islanders tired and flat-footed, did a Brian Campbell-esque spin-o-rama around Brock Nelson, and put it right through the goalie.

Here are some of my thoughts on what I saw:

  • First and foremost, the Rangers’ coaching staff will have a lot of tough decisions to make on defense. We knew this going in, but now it’s being borne out during the preseason games. Anthony DeAngelo stood out as one of the most active defensemen of the game. He made some nice plays with the puck, was solid in front of his own net, and used his above average skating ability to wheel the puck out of the zone on a few occasions. Neal Pionk also had a good game. Excluding the goal, which was nice, he made good decisions with the puck, wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck from the point, and overall had a solid game. Both DeAngelo and Pionk had four shots on goal.

  • On the other hand, Nick Holden. Holden’s spot in the lineup was in question by many considering how last year ended. And, last night, he played an average “Nick Holden” game, which is not good enough. Behold:

  • Holden simply can’t be susceptible to those kinds of mistakes. Those are weak, rookie lapses and the coaching staff will consider passing him over if he cannot differentiate himself from someone who offers more upside while having the same propensity for defensive miscues. He needed to improve on last year and if last night was any indication, that’s not the case.
  • The Rangers outshot the Islanders 42-17 with most of those shots coming on the powerplay. Ondrej Pavelec, the presumed Rangers’ backup this season, started the game and played two periods, but it’s very hard to gauge his performance given the low number of shots he faced.
  • J.T. Miller looked good in his debut as an undisputed center. He won 71% of his draws and played both on the powerplay and penalty kill. Miller has never been afraid to shoot, but his most underrated ability is probably his vision. It will be interesting to see how he uses that playmaking ability as the season progresses.
  • Vinni Lettieri had the most ice time of all the forwards at 18:27 and played 6:16 on the powerplay. That’s all with him having four minutes in penalties to serve. It’s obvious that the coaching staff is giving Lettieri a good look and wants to see what he can contribute offensively. He was all over the ice last night, had three shots, and played a heavy forechecking style of hockey. Unfortunately, that resulted in an offensive zone holding penalty which is something he would have to clean up if he wants to win a spot on the roster.
  • Finally, Lias Anderson made his Rangers preseason debut and played a good game, especially for someone who played his first North American game against NHL competition. He assisted on Pionk’s game winner and had the third most ice time among forwards with 16:10 time on ice. His one penalty came when he got into a pushing and shoving match with an Islander in the neutral zone and they both went off with coincidental minors. He will need to reign that in should he expect to make the big team. Alain Vigneault is a heavy proponent of turning the other cheek and he does not like it when his players, especially rookies, get caught in scuffles behind the play. Given his ice time and deployment (100% offensive zone starts at 5-on-5), it’s clear the coaches want to get a good look at what he can contribute offensively. He will need to prove he can do that and also not be a defensive liability if he wants to make the team.

P.S. What in the world is the NHL doing? There were 18 penalties called last night, 15 of them came in the first two periods. Half of them were slashing penalties. It’s well-documented that the NHL is trying to crack down on the slashing of the hands, but I certainly hope this season we don’t see 2005-2006 magnitudes of number of penalties called (if you recall, that’s when the NHL tried to end “clutching and grabbing” by calling every little hooking and holding infraction).

Further, coaches will have a tough time evaluating players if all they’re seeing is their special teams play for almost half of these preseason games. It’s very difficult to establish a rhythm and roll four lines, which is crucial in preseason, when there’s a whistle every minute and a half for a penalty call.

Hopefully the teams can work with the league to establish some sort of happy medium where there can be some semblance of normal hockey in the preseason and the referees can educate players on what is now going to be called.

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