Alain Vigneault stepped behind the bench for the first time as Rangers head coach Monday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, and though his team outshot the New Jersey Devils 34-27 they could not secure a win, dropping their pre-season opener by the score of 2-1.
"There's obviously room for improvement without a doubt," said Vigneault afterwards. "It was our first exhibition game, first time veterans and younger players got a chance to step on the ice and get the rust off. It was a first step and it's going to get better."
Trailing 2-0, the Rangers broke through and scored their first goal of the pre-season at 4:59 of the third period when Dominic Moore slipped a rebound past goaltender Keith Kinkaid. A pair of top prospects who hope to make the opening night roster, Danny Kristo and Marek Hrivik, assisted on the goal with Hrivik setting up Kristo for a close in shot which resulted in the rebound Moore swatted into the cage.
Both Kristo and Hrivik stood out throughout the contest in the offensive zone, in particular with their playmaking. Kristo also had a quality scoring chance in the opening period that was turned aside by the Devils starting goaltender Cory Schneider, who stopped all 22 shots he faced through 40 minutes before giving way to Kinkaid to start the third period. And with 67 seconds to play in the third period Kristo found himself all alone 15 feet out from the net, but had his shot denied by Kinkaid.
"I liked Kristo's game tonight, he showed some real poise and some really good offensive abilities," noted Vigneault.
The goal made for a sweet return for Moore, who sat out all of last season following the tragic passing of his wife. The veteran center, who began his career with the Rangers, rejoined the club as a fee agent this past summer, and made the most of his first game action in 16 months by scoring and playing a solid two-way game on Monday night.
"I think (I) was a little bit more unsure because I hadn't played in so long," Moore said of his play. "I feel good, I feel strong. Just the feel of the game will get better each game I play."
The Rangers lineup included established veterans like Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marc Staal---who all wore "A"s on their sweaters, vets fighting to secure spots on the opening night roster such as Arron Asham and Darroll Powe, newcomers Justin Falk and Aaron Johnson, and up and comers Kristo and Hrivik.
Nash and Richards showed some early chemistry creating a string of scoring chances along with linemate Chris Kreider, in particular during a pair of second-period power play opportunities. Richards was robbed by a diving Schneider early in the middle period with the Rangers on the power play, and Nash helped earn the Rangers a two-man advantage 13:56 into the second when he bulled his way to the net and was hooked by New Jersey's Peter Harrold.
The Rangers were stymied during their 34 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time, and were 0-for-4 with the man advantage on Monday night. However young defenseman John Moore excelled when on ice during the power play, using his elite skating ability to generate chances both for himself and his teammates.
Henrik Lundqvist started in goal for the Rangers and played the first half of the game---30 minutes 46 seconds to be exact. Lundqvist faced 15 shots and stopped 14 of them, allowing only a Mattias Tedenby goal from five feet out, off a pretty pass from the goal line by defenseman Rotislav Olesz, 10:20 into the first period.
Cam Talbot replaced Lundqvist and closed out the second period with a pair of good stops through traffic with New Jersey on the power play. However 31 seconds into the third period Talbot surrendered a goal to defenseman Eric Gelinas on a slap shot from inside the blueline, which put the Rangers in a 2-0 hole. Talbot responded late in the game with a big-time stop on an Adam Henrique shot off an odd-man rush with the Rangers then trailing by a goal.
The game was fairly light on physical play, though 6-foot-4 forward Brandon Mashinter did drop the gloves with veteran Devils enforcer Cam Janssen at the 7:32 mark of the middle stanza. Mashinter, who on his previous shift had stood up for teammate Shawn O'Donnell after the rookie was shoved after the whistle by New Jersey's Anton Volchenkov, more than handled his own against the rugged Janssen.
The Rangers are right back at it Tuesday night when they travel to Philadelphia to face the Flyers in pre-season action before heading to Western Canada to continue their first training camp under Vigneault.